WKRP in Cincinnati

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WKRP in Cincinnati
WKRP in Cincinnati.jpg
Created by Hugh Wilson
Starring Gary Sandy
Gordon Jump
Loni Anderson
Richard Sanders
Tim Reid
Frank Bonner
Jan Smithers
Howard Hesseman
Theme music composerTom Wells
Hugh Wilson
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons4
No. of episodes90 (list of episodes)
Executive producerHugh Wilson
ProducersRod Daniel
Bill Dial
Blake Hunter
Steven Kampmann
Peter Torokvei
Hugh Wilson
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time24–25 minutes
Production company MTM Enterprises
Original release
Network CBS
ReleaseSeptember 18, 1978 (1978-09-18) 
April 21, 1982 (1982-04-21)
Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) and Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) WKRP Bailey and Andy.jpg
Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) and Andy Travis (Gary Sandy)
Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) and Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) in the studio WKRP Les and Johnny.jpg
Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) and Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) in the studio
Fever flirts with Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) WKRP Jennifer and Johnny.jpg
Fever flirts with Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson)

WKRP in Cincinnati is an American sitcom television series about the misadventures of the staff of a struggling fictional AM [1] radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio. The show was created by Hugh Wilson and was based upon his experiences working in advertising sales at Top 40 radio station WQXI in Atlanta, including many of the characters. [2] Wilson once told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he selected WKRP as the call sign to stand for C-R-A-P. [3]


The ensemble cast consists of Gary Sandy (as Andy Travis), Howard Hesseman (Dr. Johnny Fever), Gordon Jump (Arthur Carlson), Loni Anderson (Jennifer Marlowe), Tim Reid (Venus Flytrap), Jan Smithers (Bailey Quarters), Richard Sanders (Les Nessman) and Frank Bonner (Herb Tarlek). [4]

The series won a Humanitas Prize [5] and received 10 Emmy Award nominations, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series. Andy Ackerman won an Emmy Award for Videotape Editing in Season 3. [6]

WKRP premiered on September 18, 1978, on the CBS television network and aired for four seasons and 90 episodes, ending on April 21, 1982. Starting in the middle of the second season, CBS repeatedly moved the show around its schedule, contributing to lower ratings and its eventual cancellation. When WKRP went into syndication, it became an unexpected success. For the next decade, it was one of the most popular sitcoms in syndication, outperforming many programs that had been more successful in prime time, including all the other MTM Enterprises sitcoms. [7]

Jump, Sanders, and Bonner reprised their roles as regular characters in a sequel series, The New WKRP in Cincinnati , which ran from 1991 to 1993 in syndication. Hesseman, Reid, and Anderson also reprised their roles as guest stars.


The station's new program director, Andy Travis, tries to turn around struggling radio station WKRP by switching its format from dated easy-listening music to rock and roll, despite the well-meaning efforts of the mostly incompetent staff: bumbling station manager Arthur Carlson, greasy sales manager Herb Tarlek and clueless news director Les Nessman. To help bolster ratings, Travis hires a new disc jockey, New Orleans native Gordon Sims (with the on-air persona of Venus Flytrap) and allows spaced-out former major-market DJ John Caravella (with the on-air persona of Dr. Johnny Fever), already doing mornings in the easy-listening format, to be himself on-air. Rounding out the cast are "bombshell" receptionist Jennifer Marlowe and junior employee Bailey Quarters. Ruthless business tycoon Lillian Carlson appears periodically as the station's owner and the mother of Arthur Carlson.


Main ensemble

Other characters


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
1 22September 18, 1978June 4, 1979
2 24September 17, 1979March 31, 1980
3 22November 1, 1980April 12, 1981
4 22October 7, 1981April 21, 1982
Special 1980

Timeslots and success

WKRP in Cincinnati debuted in 1978 in CBS's Monday 8 p.m. timeslot, competing against ABC's Welcome Back, Kotter and NBC's top-20 show Little House on the Prairie. The show initially earned poor ratings, and WKRP was put on hiatus after only eight episodes, even though they included some of the most famous of the series, including "Turkeys Away." But owing to good reviews and positive fan reaction, especially from disc jockeys, who immediately hailed it as the first show that realistically portrayed the radio business, CBS brought WKRP back without any cast changes.

WKRP was given a new timeslot, one of the best on the network, following M*A*S*H . This allowed creator Hugh Wilson to move away from the farcical radio-based stories that CBS wanted and to start telling stories that, while not necessarily dramatic, were more low-key and character-based. To allow the ensemble cast 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 and roll music and the sex appeal of Loni Anderson were better suited to the earlier slot, which was mostly aimed at young people. The mid-season timeslot change did not affect the show's success; WKRP finished at No. 22 in the ratings for its second year. For the next two seasons, the writers and producers often fought with CBS over the show's content in the so-called family hour.

Starting with the second season, CBS moved WKRP around repeatedly, and the show lost nearly 2.5 million viewers on average for each of four timeslot changes in the 1979–80 season. [11]

At the end of the fourth season, the network canceled WKRP. The final first-run episode of WKRP aired on April 21, 1982, and ranked No. 7 in the weekly Nielsen ratings, though the series had already been canceled.


WKRP was videotaped in Hollywood before a live studio audience at KTLA's Goldenwest Videotape Division, later moving to the CBS Studio Center lot in Studio City. [12]

Awards and nominations

1979 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Loni Anderson Nominated [13]
1980 Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy Nominated
1981 Nominated
1981 Humanitas Prize 30 Minute Network or Syndicated Television Hugh Wilson (for "God Talks to Johnny")Nominated [14]
1982 Hugh Wilson (for "Venus and the Man")Won
1980 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Comedy Series Hugh Wilson and Rod Daniel Nominated [15]
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series Howard Hesseman Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series Loni AndersonNominated
1981 Outstanding Comedy SeriesHugh Wilson, Rod Daniel, Blake Hunter, Steven Kampmann, and PJ Torokvei Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or Music SeriesHoward HessemanNominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Variety or Music SeriesLoni AndersonNominated
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series Rod Daniel (for "Venus and the Man")Nominated
Outstanding Video Tape Editing for a Series Andy Ackerman (for "Bah, Humbug")Won
1982 Outstanding Comedy SeriesHugh Wilson, Blake Hunter, PJ Torokvei, Dan Guntzelman, and Steve MarshallNominated
Outstanding Video Tape Editing for a SeriesAndy Ackerman (for "Fire")Nominated
2005 TV Land Awards Classic TV Broadcaster of the Year Tim Reid Nominated
2006Broadcaster of the YearHoward HessemanNominated
2008Broadcaster(s) of the Year Richard Sanders Nominated

Fact vs. fiction

"Real" WKRP people

While Andy Travis received his name and some personality elements from a cousin of creator Hugh Wilson, [16] he was based primarily on innovative program director Mikel Herrington, [17] who also was the inspiration for the character Jeff Dugan in the 1978 film FM , written by Ezra Sacks, who had worked at KMET. [18] [19] Dr. Johnny Fever was based on a DJ named "Skinny" Bobby Harper at WQXI/790 in Atlanta, Georgia in 1968. WKRP writer Bill Dial worked with Harper at WQXI, which is considered Dial's inspiration for the show. [20] Coincidentally, Harper had previously worked at Cincinnati AM Top 40 powerhouse WSAI in 1964, before moving to 11 other stations, including seven in Atlanta. [20] In 1997, Bobby Harper told WSB's Condace Pressley, "He went on record as pointing out which ones, including myself, that he based the characters on. [That recognition] was a nice little thing. You know? That was nice. I appreciated that." [20] The Carlsons were a pastiche of Jerry Blum, WQXI's longtime general manager. Mrs. Carlson inherited Blum's brashness while Arthur borrowed his nickname "Big Guy," sense of style, and some of his unorthodox promotions (including the turkey drop). [21]

Transmission tower

Although the show aired on CBS, the self-supporting transmission tower seen at the beginning of WKRP in Cincinnati actually belongs to Cincinnati's NBC affiliate, WLWT. [22]

Studios and offices

In the show, WKRP's offices and studios are in the Osgood R. Flimm Building, an art deco office building. The building shown during the show's opening credits is actually the Cincinnati Enquirer Building at 617 Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati. [23]

Real stations with similar branding

Cincinnati has two radio stations with call letters similar to WKRP. WKRC, an AM station that had a "middle of the road" music format when the series debuted, did not object to the use of WKRP, saying that it was the best publicity that they had ever had, and it was free; [24] it currently brands itself (as it did during the show's run) as "55KRC". [25] WKRQ is an FM station with a similar "contemporary hit radio" format; its primary branding is "Q102." [26]

Other stations have adopted similar branding in reference to the series. In 1986, a Salt Lake City FM station (now KUMT) changed its calls letters to KRPN, and branded itself as WKRP, using the similarity of the spoken letter "N" to the word "in" for a sound-alike station identification: "W KRPN Salt Lake City". [27] [28] [29] In 2008, Cincinnati television station WBQC-LD promoted its conversion to digital broadcasting by rebranding itself "WKRP-TV". [30] In 2015, a low-power FM station in Raleigh, North Carolina began broadcasting as WKRP-LP. [31]


Musical themes

WKRP had two musical themes, one opening and the other closing the show.

The opening theme, a soft rock/pop number called "WKRP in Cincinnati Main Theme," was composed by Tom Wells, with lyrics by series creator Hugh Wilson, and was performed by Steve Carlisle. [32] [33] [34] An urban legend circulated at the time that Richard Sanders (who had comparable vocal characteristics to those of Carlisle) had recorded the song. Wilson stated in the commentary for the first season's DVD set that this was not true. Sanders would later "sing" the lyrics in a promo spot on VH1 for The New WKRP in Cincinnati that parodied the U2 song "Numb."

The closing theme was a different song with more of a hard rock sound performed by Atlanta musician Jim Ellis, played over scenes from the episodes followed by a still photo of the Cincinnati skyline. [35] [36] Ellis recorded the song as a demonstration for Wilson, and as he had not yet written lyrics for it, Ellis mumbled nonsense words. Wilson chose to use the demo version because he found the gibberish lyrics funny and a satire on the unintelligible lyrics of many rock songs. Wilson also knew that the lyrics would not be heard clearly in any event, as a CBS announcer always talked over the closing credits of the network's shows. [37]

A longer 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 Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1981 [38] and at 29 on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1982. [39]

Music licensing

The show's use of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" was widely credited with helping the song become a major U.S. hit, and the band's record label Chrysalis Records presented the producers with a gold record award for the song's album Parallel Lines . The gold record can be seen hanging on the wall in the "bullpen" set in many episodes.

The songs were often tied into episode plots, and some pieces of music were even used as running gags. For example, the doorbell at Jennifer's penthouse apartment played "Fly Me to the Moon" (which was later replaced by "Beautiful Dreamer" for copyright reasons).

Wilson has commented that WKRP was videotaped rather than filmed because at the time, music-licensing fees were lower for videotaped programs, a loophole that was intended to accommodate variety shows. [40] [41] Music licensing deals that were cut at the time of production covered only a limited number of years, [42] but when the show entered syndication shortly after its 1982 cancellation, most of the original music remained intact because the licensing deals were still active. [43] After the licenses had expired, later syndicated versions of the show did not feature the music as first broadcast, with stock production music inserted in place of the original songs to avoid paying additional royalties. In some cases (such as during scenes with dialogue over background music), some of the characters' lines were dubbed by soundalike actors, a practice evident in all prints of the show issued since the early 1990s, including those used for its late-1990s run on Nick at Nite. [42] [43]

The expense of procuring licenses for the original music delayed release of a DVD set for years. [44] When a Season 1 set was finally released, much of the music was again replaced and the soundalike vocal dubs were present. Some scenes were shortened or cut entirely, [45] but some deleted scenes that had not been included in the original broadcast were added.[ citation needed ]

Home media

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the first season of WKRP on DVD in region 1 in 2007, with a number of music replacements. Sales of the set were poor, and Fox released no further seasons.

In 2014, Shout! Factory acquired rights to the series for DVD release. [46] Shout! had planned to include all of the copyrighted music that originally aired on the show, [47] and obtained the rights to include what they called "the vast majority of the music", but explained, "In a few cases, it was simply impossible to get the rights." [48] Most of the dialogue dubs done for the 1990s syndication airings were removed, and the original dialogue restored. [49] [50] [51] This release presented the second-season episode "Filthy Pictures" and the third-season episode "Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide" in their original hour-long formats instead of the syndicated two-part versions, bringing the episode count from 90 episodes to 88 episodes. [52]

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