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WKRP in Cincinnati

By Joe Quattrocchi of Poughkeepsie, NY

WKRP in Cincinnati was one of my favorites since I was a young man dreaming of a career in broadcasting when it aired on CBS 1978-1982. Ironically I tuned in while being involved with my HS radio station that at times was just as wild.

WKRP, unlike the more contemporary "Newsradio," did a wonderful job of balancing intriguing characters in a broadcast business. Many episodes brought you into the studio with star Howard Hesseman (Dr. Johnny Fever), a disc jockey who was living the dream of the day, namely "sex, drugs and rock 'n roll." Johnny was probably one of the most comical and sympathetic boozers that television had in the Super70s and Awesome80s and to his credit, Hesseman did an admirable job of balancing the character to show multi-dimensions and, at times, strive for personal improvement. There was an element of reality in the character for those who have worked in broadcasting with young people.

WKRP was run by Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump), a General Manager with all kinds of power but was simultaneously afraid of his owner-mother. Carlson found himself continually manipulated by Jennifer Marlowe's (Loni Anderson) beauty while acting like a tough guy to the rest of his staff. It took Jump a season or two to get out of stereotypical circumstances as his character developed and by Season Two, Jump hopped into a controversial abortion episode, which tested him greatly. As the show developed, Mr. Carlson truly became a lovable character rather than the initial fool, that so many broadcasters enjoy branding their bosses with.

Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) was the initial lead of the story. The series opened with Andy arriving in Cincinnati to transform WKRP into a rock n' roll powerhouse. It became clear that straight laced Andy could not compete with the other flamboyant personalities and he was soon delegated as an almost supporting actor. Andy was important for many transitions in plot and served as a good stabilizer for episodes dealing with rock fans being stampeded at a Who concert. WKRP was not afraid to take on many issues, including payola, truth in advertising and radio contest scams.

The WKRP writers and producers did a wonderful job at juxtaposition. Les Nesman (Richard Sanders) was a grammatically challenged and timid newsman. His news facts were wrong most of the time and when they were correct they were buried in a rather dull farm report. Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) was probably the most stagnant character but that was because he did such a good job of being unlikable. Tarlek looked the part of selling lemons on a used car lot and using corrupt means to try and get at least ONE sale. Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) played an introverted office worker who was quick to be abused as a whipping boy. In fact Carlson calls Bailey (who I found to be a beautiful woman) a male in early episodes, which truly was funny and ironic!

It is clear that WKRP was successful on many levels. In an age when many shows were becoming one-dimensional, it was nice to find a comedy that brought some realistic elements into some silly situational gags. Yes Loni Anderson's sex appeal was used for a cheap laugh but she was often turning the tables in the next breath and showing how silly "sexploitation" is. "Three's Company" never got close to achieving that.


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My favorite episode was the one where Venus Flytrap teaches the bad kid (son of a station cleaning lady) the Physics lesson -- priceless!


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Aired: September 18, 1978 - September 20, 1982

Cast: Loni Anderson, Gary Sandy, Gordon Jump, Tim Reid, Jan Smithers, Howard Hesseman, Frank Bonner

Network: CBS

Genre: Sitcom

Theme song

Image courtesy of CBS

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