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WKRP in Cincinnati is an Americanmarker situation comedy that featured the misadventures of the staff of a struggling fictional radio station in Cincinnatimarker, Ohiomarker. The show was created by Hugh Wilson and was based upon his experiences working in advertising as a client of a classic album-oriented rock radio station. The ensemble cast consisted of Gary Sandy, Howard Hesseman, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers, Richard Sanders and Frank Bonner.

As was typical of most MTM productions, 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 since the show has a realistic setting. The characters also developed somewhat over the course of the series.

The series won a Humanitas Prize and received 10 Emmy Award nominations, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series. Andy Ackerman won an Emmy Award for Videotape Editing in season 3.

WKRP premiered September 18, 1978, on the CBS television network and aired for four seasons and 88 episodes (90 in syndication) through September 20, 1982. During the third and fourth seasons, CBS repeatedly moved the show around its schedule, contributing to its eventual cancellation.

When WKRP went into syndication, it became an unexpected blockbuster. For the next decade, it was one of the most popular sitcoms in syndication, outperforming many much bigger prime time hits, including all the other MTM Enterprises sitcoms.

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

Premise

New programming director Andy Travis tries to turn around struggling radio station WKRP, despite the well-meaning efforts of the mostly-incompetent staff: bumbling station manager Arthur Carlson, oily sales manager Herb Tarlek, and clueless news director Les Nessman. Rounding out the cast are super receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, enthusiastic junior employee Bailey Quarters, and spaced-out veteran disc jockey Johnny Caravella ("Dr. Johnny Fever"). To help bolster ratings, Travis hires a new disc jockey from New Orleansmarker, "Venus Flytrap". Lurking in the background and making an occasional appearance is the station's owner (and Carlson's mother) ruthless business tycoon Mrs. Carlson.

Characters

  • Andy Travis (Gary Sandy). For the most part, program director Andy Travis serves as the straight man for the eccentric staff of the station he has been hired to run. Before coming to WKRP, he had an unblemished record of turning around failing radio stations, but meets his match in his wacky staff members, of whom he becomes distressingly fond. The show's opening theme song is about Andy and his decision to settle down in Cincinnati; in the episode "The Creation of Venus", Andy echoes the opening theme lyrics in talking about his past ("Got kinda tired of packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial").


  • Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), occasionally called the "Big Guy", is the middle-aged general manager, whose main qualification for the job is that his business tycoon mother is the owner. His bumbling, indecisive management is one of the main reasons the station is unprofitable, although he is ultimately a principled, kind, decent and sometimes surprisingly wise man. (Coincidentally, Gordon Jump in real life had been a Dayton, Ohio, radio personality)


Les Nessman and Johnny Fever in the studio
  • Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is a burned-out veteran disc jockey who came to WKRP after being fired from a major station in Los Angeles when he said "booger" on the air. After the station changes format, one of his first on-air words (after being told he would not be fired for saying it) is "booger." Cynical and neurotic, he is usually in one sort of trouble or another. Though the character's real name is John Caravella, he often uses a stage name, notably including Johnny Cool, Johnny Duke, Johnny Style, Johnny Midnight, Johnny Sunshine, Professor Sunshine, Rip Tide and Heavy Early. This role is possibly Howard Hesseman's signature role. {Ironically Hesseman had been briefly a disc jockey. Although Fever appears as a burnt out 1960's relic and Nessman is still stuck in the 1950's anti-communist paranoia, in fact both actors were the same age-being born in 1940}


  • Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), the fastidious, bow-tied news reporter, approaches his job with absurd seriousness, despite being almost totally incompetent. For instance, he mispronounces golfer Chi-Chi Rodriguez's name as "Chy Chy Rod-ri-gweeze". He is best friends with fellow employee Herb Tarlek. As a running gag, Nessman wears a bandage in a different spot each episode. It is suggested that these bandages are the result of repeated attacks by Phil, Nessman's monstrous dog (who is never seen but is heard growling offstage in another room in Nessman's apartment). In fact, the bandages are a running in-joke. During the taping of the pilot episode, Richard Sanders bumped his head on a studio light and had to wear a bandage to cover the cut. From then on, Sanders decided, Les Nessman would always wear a bandage. Other gags are Nessman winning the "Silver Sow" award for hog reporting and having masking tape on the carpet in front of his desk-which represent Nessman's office "Walls".
Johnny Fever flirts with Jennifer


  • Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) is the station's gorgeous blonde receptionist, and the station's highest-paid employee. Despite her image, she is informed, wise, and able to handle practically any situation with aplomb, no matter how absurd. Although very aware of her sex appeal, with various wealthy, powerful men at her beck and call, she is friendly and good-hearted with the station staff.


  • Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), full name Herbert R. Tarlek, Jr. the boorish, tasteless advertising account executive, wears loud plaid suits, with his belt matching his white shoes. He can't land the big accounts, usually succeeding only in selling air time for trivial products such as "Red Wrigglers — the Cadillac of worms!" Although married to Lucille (Edie McClurg), he persistently pursues Jennifer, who has absolutely no interest in him. While Herb is portrayed as buffoonish most of the time, he does occasionally show a sympathetic side. Tarlek was based on radio executive Clarke Brown.


  • Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid), the soulful, funky evening DJ, runs his show with a smooth-talking persona and mood lighting in the studio. His real name, Gordon Sims, is almost never used and he maintains an aura of mystery. In an early episode, it is revealed that Gordon Sims is a Vietnam veteran who is wanted for desertion from the US Army. In later episodes, Venus's backstory is changed, and it is revealed that he spent several years as a high-school teacher before becoming a radio personality.


Bailey Quarters and Andy Travis
  • Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), the young ingénue of the radio station, is originally in charge of billing and station traffic. However, having graduated from journalism school with some training in editing, and intent on becoming a broadcast executive, she is later given additional duties as an on-air news reporter, in which capacity she proves much more capable than Les. As the series progresses, she overcomes her shyness and develops self-confidence. Beginning with the second season, she occasionally becomes linked romantically with Johnny Fever. The dynamic between Jennifer and Bailey has been likened to that between Ginger and Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island. Jan Smithers was one of the few WKRP cast members who was the first choice for the role she played (Gordon Jump being the other one). Creator Hugh Wilson said that despite Smithers' lack of experience (she had never done a situation comedy before), she was perfect for the character of Bailey as he had conceived her: "Other actresses read better for the part," Wilson recalled, "but they were playing shy. Jan was shy."


  • Mrs. Carlson (Sylvia Sidney in the series pilot, Carol Bruce afterward) is Arthur Carlson's ruthless, domineering mother and the owner of WKRP. An extremely successful and rich businesswoman, her only regret is that her approach to parenting (the "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger" school of child-rearing) backfired; her son ended up indecisive, weak-willed and afraid of her. In the final episode of the series, it is revealed that she had always intended WKRP to lose money (for the tax writeoff), which explains why she allows the incompetent employees to continue working at the station. The only one who is regularly able to get the better of her is her sarcastic butler, Hirsch (Ian Wolfe). She and Hirsch are not regular characters, only appearing in three or four episodes each season.


  • Three other DJs at the station are mentioned, but (with one exception) never seen: Moss Steiger has the graveyard shift after Venus and is mentioned as having attempted suicide at least twice; Rex Erhardt (who was finally seen in the fourth season episode "Rumors") hosts a program after Dr. Johnny Fever's morning show; and "Dean the Dream" has the afternoon drive slot. Another DJ, Doug Winner (Philip Charles MacKenzie), is hired and fired in the same episode ("Goodbye Johnny...Part 2").


  • Series writer Bill Dial occasionally shows up as engineer Bucky Dornster.


  • Longtime actor William Woodson (though not credited) served as the announcer of the series (imploring the audience to stay tuned for the tag scene, in the episodes that had one) and did various voice-over roles during the run, including the pre-recorded announcer of the intro/outro to Les' newscasts, and the narrator of the trial results in the first season episode "Hold Up".


Episodes

In the pilot episode, Andy Travis comes to the station as the new Program Director, hired to improve the dismal ratings of the beautiful music station, run by weak-willed Arthur Carlson. Travis abruptly changes the programming format to rock music, but WKRP's ratings fail to improve significantly in the Cincinnati market (although even the mild rise that does occur is considered wonderful by the other employees), 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.

One of WKRP in Cincinnati's best-known and most-loved episodes (30/78)" href="/List_of_WKRP_in_Cincinnati_episodes#"Turkeys_Away"_(10/30/78)">"Turkeys Away") is a comic account of a disastrous promotion initiated by Carlson. As a publicity stunt, the station drops live turkeys out of a helicopter over a shopping center as a Thanksgiving Day giveaway. The domestic turkeys, which cannot fly, plunge to their deaths as shoppers run for their lives. The entire event, however, occurs entirely off-screen, as the viewer only sees and hears Les Nessman describe the scene in words reminiscent of Herbert Morrison's reporting of the Hindenburg disastermarker. A shaken Arthur Carlson later remarks, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." It was named by TV Guide as one of the greatest episodes in television history. This episode, along with the "dancing ducks" episode, is based on real events occurring at WQXImarker in Atlanta, a station at which series creator Hugh Wilson worked while in the advertising business.

The episode "In Concert" was inspired by a real event: the tragic concert by The Who in Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseummarker on December 3 1979.

Time slots

The show started out performing badly; placed in a tough time slot, it got poor ratings and was put on hiatus after only eight episodes, even though they included some of the most famous of the series, including "Turkeys Away". But due to good reviews and positive fan reaction, especially from disc jockeys, who immediately hailed it as the first show that really understood the radio business, CBS decided to bring WKRP back without any cast changes.

WKRP was given a new time slot, one of the best on the network, following M*A*S*H. This allowed creator Hugh Wilson to move away from farcical radio-based stories, which is what CBS mostly wanted at the beginning, and start telling stories that, while not necessarily serious, were more low-key and character-based. To allow the ensemble to mingle more, the set was expanded. A previously unseen communal office area ("the bullpen") was added to accommodate scenes with the entire cast.

Partway through the second season, the show was moved back to its original earlier time. CBS executives wanted to free up the prized post-M*A*S*H slot for House Calls (with former M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers). They also felt that the rock n' roll music and the sex appeal of Loni Anderson were better-suited to the earlier slot, which at that time was thought of as mostly aimed at young people. For the next two seasons, the writers and producers often had to fight CBS over what kind of content was appropriate for a show in the so-called "family hour".

During the third and fourth seasons, CBS moved WKRP around repeatedly, so much so that cast and crew members claimed that even they didn't know when the show aired. After the fourth season, the network decided not to renew the show. The final first-run episode of WKRP to air was seventh in the weekly Nielsen Ratings for all series, specials and sports events. Prior to the broadcast, the series had already been cancelled.

Production

WKRP was videotaped before a live studio audience at Goldenwest Videotape Divisionmarker, later moving to the CBS Studio Centermarker.

In the opening credits for the episode titled "Fish Story", Hugh Wilson went under the name of Raoul Plager. He was under pressure by CBS to write a more broad comedy, but since he didn't want to be credited for work that he believed that was beneath him, he used the alias. The episode turned out to be the highest rated in the show's run.

Los Angeles disc jockey Steve Marshall of KNX-FM submitted a spec script for WKRP (back when they were actually accepted by studios) which was bought by the producers. He later joined the writing staff of the show (briefly holding down both jobs simultaneously).

Producers Dan Guntzelman and Steve Marshall also created and produced Just the Ten of Us, which featured Frank Bonner in a supporting role as a Catholic priest. Blake Hunter co-created Who's the Boss?.

George Gaynes directed the finale episode ("Up and Down the Dial"). Gaynes is best known for playing Henry Warnimont on Punky Brewster and Eric Lassard in the Police Academy movies.

Fact vs. fiction

The "real" WKRP people

Characters on the show were based on real people, including those known by executive producer Hugh Wilson.The character of Arthur Carlson was based on an actual person, as was Dr. Johnny Fever. The real Arthur Carlson managed a group of radio stations across the country under the name Susquehanna Radio. Based in York, Pennsylvania, it was one of the first radio "chains" to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Susquehanna was owned by the Appell family, and is now known as CMPSusquehanna, the "CMP" standing for Cumulus Media Partners after a 2007 merger with Cumulus. Carlson also was a past president of the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB).

Dr. Johnny Fever was based on a DJ named "Skinny" Bobby Harper at WQXI-AM in Atlanta, Georgia (in 1968). WKRP writer Bill Dial worked with Harper at WQXI, which is considered Dial's inspiration for the show. Hugh Wilson was an Atlanta ad man then, before going on to create WKRP in Cincinnati. Coincidentally, Harper had previously worked at Cincinnati AM Top 40 powerhouse WSAI in 1964, before moving to 11 other stations, including 7 in Atlanta. In 1997, Bobby Harper told WSB'smarker Condace Pressley, "He went on record as pointing out which ones, including myself, that he based the characters on. It [that recognition] was a nice little thing. You know? That was nice. I appreciated that."

Bailey Quarters was based on Hugh Wilson's wife, who was also extremely shy, very intelligent and remarkably beautiful.

The "real" WKRP stations

The first assignment of the callsign was in September 1979, to a new, daytime only, AM station in Dallas, Georgiamarker, in the metro Atlantamarker area. At first, the FCC denied the call letters to the new station, stating that MTM had a 'hold' on the callsign. When the station's lawyer pointed out to the FCC, "MTM is neither a licensee, nor a permittee. Therefore, MTM has no legal basis to reserve the WKRP callsign", they allowed the assignment. In August 1989, the station switched to its current calls, WDPCmarker.

The call letters WKRP (supposedly a pun on the word "crap") were assigned to a low-power TV station in Washington, DCmarker until 2005; it is now WDDN-LP. Currently, they are assigned to a low-power TV station (WKRP-LP) in Alexandria, Tennesseemarker. The call letters are not currently assigned to any AM or FM radio station, and any potential user would have to obtain permission from the TV station owners and the FCC. These call letters were most recently assigned to an AM station in North Vernon, Indianamarker, about 60 miles from Cincinnati, but the call sign was changed to WNVI in 1997 (the station's calls are now WJCP). Another television station, WLPX-TVmarker in Charleston, West Virginiamarker, held the "WKRP" calls from 1988 to 1998, when the call letters were changed to its present calls. However, the calls were never used on-air—the station did not sign on until August 31, 1998, after the calls were changed.

Though WKRP was never identified by frequency in the original series (although it was on the AM dial), it was identified as being at AM 1530 in the 1991 series remake (which, in reality, was the original and current frequency for Cincinnati-based WCKY). Coincidentally, Cincinnati boasts the similarly-named WKRC radio and WKRC-TVmarker, which were co-owned entities (under the Cincinnati-based Taft Broadcasting and its successor companies, and eventually Clear Channel) until the early years of the 21st Century. At the time of the original series' airing, the CBS-TV affiliate in Cincinnati was WCPO-TVmarker.

WEBN, a Cincinnati radio station, originally had a classical and jazz format but eventually changed format to album-oriented rock, a format which continues to this day. In real life, the transition to rock-and-roll was gradual, unlike the fictional WKRP where the rapid change was played up for comedic effect in the opening two episodes.

Cincinnati also has a very popular rock/pop station called WKRQ (aka Q102) which was on the air during the show - and was also co-owned with WKRC-AM/TV at the time. This station is also referenced (among many now defunct Cincinnati stations) in the episode "The Airplane" as a direct competitor to the fictional WKRP.

WKRP's signal power was displayed in a radius on a framed picture of the Midwest in the front lobby. The poster on the pilot episode stated that WKRP had a 50,000 watt signal, but all later episodes downgraded the station's power to 5,000 watts (which is the operating power for WKRC-AM).

In the 1980s, a radio station in Salt Lake Citymarker, KRPN (now KMRImarker) identified itself on-air as "WKRP in Salt Lake City, The Oldies Network". For legal purposes, the calls were actually read as "W KRPN Salt Lake City", with everything after the "W" complying with FCC standards for station identification.

The transmission tower seen at the beginning of WKRP in Cincinnati actually belonged to Cincinnati's NBC affiliate, WLWTmarker. The tower has since been dismantled.

The building shown as the home of WKRP and referred to as the Flimm Building was the Enquirer Building at 617 Vine St. in downtown Cincinnati. The real Cincinnati Enquirer relocated its offices in the early 1990s.

Just before WKRP in Cincinnati left the air, a small AM station in the Cincinnati market flipped from a Country format to a Rock format. In 1981, 500 watt daytime station WCLU-AM 1320 based in Covington, Kentucky, became "Cincinnati's AM Rock." By 1983 it had evolved into a straight Top 40 station and remained so until April 1987. The on-air studio was very similar to that shown on "WKRP", with its rotary pot console and turntables covered in green felt. This station eventually changed call letters to WCVG and became the nation's first "All Elvis" station in 1988. It is now one of Cincinnati's two AM gospel stations.

In November 2008, Cincinnati low-power television station WBQC-CAmarker changed its branding to "WKRP-TV", and the station's owner, Block Broadcasting, has registered "WKRP" and "WKRP Cincinnati" as trademarks. It is of no relation to the Alexandria, Tennessee, station.

Music

Musical themes

WKRP had two musical themes, one opening and the other closing the show. The opening theme, called "WKRP In Cincinnati Main Theme", was composed by Tom Wells, with lyrics by series creator Hugh Wilson, and performed by Steve Carlisle. An urban legend had circulated at the time that Richard Sanders (who had comparable vocal characteristics to Carlisle) had actually recorded the song. Wilson stated in the commentary for the first season's DVD set that this was simply not true.

A full-length version of the original theme song was released in 1979 on a 45 rpm vinyl single on the MCA Records label. It peaked at 65 on the Pop Singles chart in 1981 and at 29 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1982. The lyrics refer to the life of character Andy Travis.

The closing theme, "WKRP In Cincinnati End Credits", was a hard rock number composed and performed by Jim Ellis, an Atlanta musician who recorded some of the incidental music for the show. According to people who attended the recording sessions, Ellis didn't yet have lyrics for the closing theme, so he sang nonsense words to give an idea of how it would sound. Wilson decided to use the words anyway, since he felt that it would be funny to use lyrics that were deliberately gibberish, as a satire on the incomprehensibility of many rock songs. Also, because CBS always had an announcer talking over the closing credits, Wilson knew that no one would actually hear the closing theme lyrics anyway. In one pop-cultural nod to the closing theme, a character performs the song in the film Ready to Rumble. The closing theme is also played at the end of the syndicated morning radio show The Big Show with John Boy and Billy.

Music licensing

DVD cover for the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati
The show was one of the earliest to use extensively contemporary music by big groups and artists of the time such as The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley, to name a few.

The show's use of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" was widely credited with helping the song become a major US hit, and the band's record label Chrysalis Records presented the producers with a gold record award for the album Parallel Lines, on which the song appeared. This gold record can be seen hanging on the wall in the "bull pen" where Les, Herb, and Bailey worked in many of the episodes in the second, third, and fourth seasons.

The songs were often tied into the plot of the episode. One of the most popular examples was "A Date With Jennifer", where Les was dressing in the bullpen for his date with Jennifer that evening, with Foreigner's then-current hit "Hot Blooded" playing on the station's speaker monitor, with Les moving to the music as he was getting ready. This song was cut from the episode on the DVD release and replaced with a generic sound-alike.

Music licensing deals cut at the time of production were for a limited amount of time (approximately ten years). In addition, the show was videotaped rather than filmed because it was cheaper to get the rights to rock songs for a taped show. Once the licenses expired, later syndicated versions of the show did not feature the music as first broadcast, but rather generic "sound-alikes" by studio musicians to avoid paying additional royalties. In some cases (when the music was playing in the background of a dialogue scene), some of the characters' lines had to be redubbed by sound-alike actors. This was evident in all prints of the show issued since the early 1990s, which included its brief late-1990s run on Nick at Nite.

As a result, production on a WKRP DVD was delayed for years because of the expense of procuring music licenses. It was feared that fans would reject edited versions. Sales of first-season DVD sets of Roseanne and The Cosby Show suggested that viewers prefer original, uncut episodes. However, as was done with many other television series, the DVD release of WKRP in Cincinnati - Season One has much of the music replaced by generic substitutes. In addition, some scenes have been cut or truncated and voice-overs used to avoid using unlicensed musical content. Other scenes that were originally edited for television and thus never before seen, were added back into the episodes and giving viewers the backstory which further explained a later scene that appeared in the episode. According to TV Guide magazine, creator Hugh Wilson said he was "satisfied" with the final product for DVD release.

A 2009 syndication package of the show, however, aired as part of "Outta Sight Retro Nights", a flashback TV block aired Sunday nights on the national WGN cable TV service with promos voiced by Casey Kasem, which appears to have all of the original music intact according to published references about the original release.

DVD releases

DVD Season Ep # Region 1 Region 2 Comments
Season 1 22 April 24, 2007 "Do My Eyes Say Yes?" featurette, "A 'Fish Story' Story" featurette, two commentary tracks featuring creator Hugh Wilson and cast members Loni Anderson and Frank Bonner
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4


Notes

  1. Kassel, Michael B., America's Favorite Radio Station: WKRP in Cincinnati Popular Press (1993) ISBN 0879725842, 9780879725846
  2. WKRP-TV (Alexandria, TN) website
  3. WKRP-TV website
  4. http://zvbxrpl.blogspot.com/2007/03/wkrp-dvd-not-ok.html


External links




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