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WKRP in Cincinnati

WKRP in Cincinnati(1978–1982) was an American situation comedy that featured the misadventures of the staff of a struggling radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio. It premiered September 18, 1978 on CBS and featured Gary Sandy, Howard Hesseman, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers, Richard Sanders, and Frank Bonner. The series won a Humanitas Prize and received three Emmy Award nominations during the early 1980s. The humor came more from running gags based on the known predilections and quirks of each character, rather than from outlandish plots or racy situations. The characters also developed somewhat over the course of the series, perhaps lessening the comedy of the series, but contributing to the fondness its fans have for the show.

Jump, Sanders, and Bonner reprised their supporting roles in a spinoff/sequel series, The New WKRP in Cincinnati, which ran from 1991 to 1993 in syndication.

Story and characters

    Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

The series begins as Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) comes to the station as the new programming director, hired to improve the dismal ratings of the beautiful music station, run by weak-willed Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump). Travis changes the programming format to rock music, but WKRP's ratings fail to improve significantly in the fictional Cincinnati market it inhabits, mostly because of his unwillingness to fire the existing personnel when he takes over; their idiosyncrasies are more to blame for the station's fortunes than its format.
Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) backs up Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump)
Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) backs up Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump)

The best-known episode is the first season's "Turkeys Away", named by TV Guide as one of the greatest episodes in TV history. It relates a disastrous Thanksgiving promotion, which includes Carlson dropping live turkeys out of a helicopter. The scene is reported live on the air by the station's news director, Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), breathlessly describing the unseen birds plummeting to the ground, in the same manner as Herbert Morrison's coverage of the Hindenburg disaster, “It's a helicopter, and it's coming this way. It's flying something behind it, I can't quite make it out, it's a large banner and it says, uh - Happy... Thaaaaanksss... giving! ... From ... W ... K ... R... P!! No parachutes yet. Can't be skydivers... I can't tell just yet what they are, but - Oh my God, Johnny, they're turkeys!! Johnny, can you get this? Oh, they're plunging to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Not since the Hindenberg tragedy has there been anything like this!”

Afterwards, the stunned and bedraggled Carlson explains, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

    * For the most part, the character of Andy Travis (played by Gary Sandy) serves as straight man or sane observer to the eccentric staff of the station he has been hired to run. He is a seemingly qualified professional, but is overpowered by the personalities of his staff.

    * Arthur Carlson, aka "the Big Guy" (played by Gordon Jump) is the station manager, whose main qualification is that his tycoon mother is the owner. His bumbling, indecisive management is one of the main reasons the station is unsuccessful. Carlson's mother confronts Travis about changing the station to a rock and roll format, but relents when her son uncharacteristically gets the courage to defend the decision.

Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) and Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) in the studio
Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) and Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) in the studio

    * Dr. Johnny Fever (played by Howard Hesseman), a burned-out veteran of the radio industry, is usually in one sort of trouble or another. For instance, he was fired from one major station when he inadvertently said "booger" on the air. In one episode, he tells his (supposedly few) listeners to dump their trash at city hall, and goes into shock when the trash heap turns out to be huge! He loses his voice and withdraws before finally finding the strength to confront his larger-than-he-imagined audience and tells them to stop the trashing of city hall. The show's theme song would seem to be about the much-traveled Johnny.

    * News reporter Les Nessman (played by Richard Sanders) approaches his job with absurd seriousness, despite the fact that he is almost completely incompetent. Les is forever working to obtain the fictional Cincinnati radio news industry trophy "the Buckeye Newshawk Award", though he had already won it in previous years. Before approaching his desk, one has to "knock" on the nonexistent door, attached to the nonexistent walls of the nonexistent office he feels he deserves; those who don't face his ineffectual wrath. He is always wearing a bandage somewhere on his body (a running gag begun when Sanders showed up for filming wearing one). Johnny takes delight in ribbing Les on the air, sometimes closing his own segment with the announcement, "And now, more news and less Nessman!" Les occasionally has to read sports news, a subject he knows little about; reading a piece about golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez, he pronounces the name "Chy Chy Rod-ri-gweez".

Johnny unsuccessfully flirts with Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson)
Johnny unsuccessfully flirts with Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson)

    * Jennifer Marlowe (played by Loni Anderson), the beautiful blonde secretary, is the station's highest-paid employee. She is informed, cool, and composed at all times. Although very aware of her sexual attractiveness with various important men at her beck and call, she is friendly and good-hearted with the station staff. Her apartment's doorbell chime, instead of the standard "ding dong", plays the opening bars of "Fly Me to the Moon" in dignified tones. One time Carlson tries vainly to lift the spirits of his staff, saying, "Nobody's perfect! I'm not perfect... You're not perfect... Jennifer probably is!"

    * Herb Tarlek (played by Frank Bonner), the advertising account executive, wears loud plaid suits (which he thinks convey the message "Trust me — sign my deal!") and can't sell the big accounts, succeeding only in selling commercials for trivial products such as "Red Wigglers — the Cadillac of worms!" (Available at finer worm stores everywhere). Another sponsor is a funeral parlor called "Ferryman's", whose staff sing a cheery-sounding jingle with lyrics, "There ain't no way to deny it / One day, you're gonna 'buy it'!" Although married to Lucille (Edie McClurg), he persistently pursues Jennifer, who shows no interest in him.

Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) and Andy Travis (Gary Sandy)
Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) and Andy Travis (Gary Sandy)

    * Venus Flytrap (played by Tim Reid) is the soulful and funky overnight DJ, running his show with smooth-talking persona and mood lighting in the studio. His full name, Gordon Sims, was rarely used and he maintains an aura of mystery, which turns out to be a cover for the fact that he is wanted by the law for desertion from the armed forces. He was also a schoolteacher in his native New Orleans for many years before getting into the radio game; his teaching abilities are featured in one noted episode in which he teaches a gang member physics.

    * Bailey Quarters (played by Jan Smithers) is the young ingenue of the radio station, originally in charge of billing and station traffic, but later given additional duties as an on-air news reporter. She proves more capable than Les although she once made the mistake claiming a fictional character in one of her reports which almost costs the station its broadcast license. She is the most wholesome member of the WKRP team, and in one episode, she mentions being a member of her church's choir. She is vastly overshadowed by Jennifer, the blonde bombshell of the station, but still pretty and likeable, and has been likened to "Mary Ann" in contrast to Jennifer's "Ginger".


The "real" WKRP

The call letters WKRP are currently assigned to a low-power TV station under construction in Carthage, Tennessee. [1] The call letters are not currently assigned to any AM or FM station.

Executive producer and show creator Hugh Wilson once worked at Atlanta radio station WQXI (then a pop music station) which served as inspiration for the series, station, and several characters.

There is a radio station WKRC in Cincinnati. Except for almost identical call letters, there is no known connection between the two entities.

Cincinnati also has a very popular rock/pop station called WKRQ (aka Q102) which was on the air during the show. As it is one letter away from WKRP in the alphabet, there has been speculation that it was the source of the name, but there are no other similarities. The station is owned and operated by Infinity Broadcasting, which, like CBS (the network that originally aired the show), is a subsidiary of Viacom.

In the early 1980s, a station in Salt Lake City briefly identified themselves on-air as "WKRP in Salt Lake City". Their actual call letters were KRPN, so they were really saying "(W)KRPN, Salt Lake City".

Musical themes

WKRP had two musical themes, one opening the show and one closing it. The closing theme had nonsense lyrics.

Opening theme lyrics:

Baby, if you've ever wondered
Wondered whatever became of me
I'm livin' on the air in Cincinnati
Cincinnati, WKRP.

Got kinda tired of packing and unpacking
Town to town, up and down the dial
Baby you and me were never meant to be
But baby think of me once in a while.
I'm at WKRP in Cincinnati.

Because of Music Rights Issues, WKRP has not been made available on DVD.


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