The sitcom ensemble cast turned its eye to the world of radio – and spawned a unique bunch of characters in the 1978 debut of WKRP in Cincinnati.
The show’s premise was centred around new programming director Andy Travis, played by Gary Sandy, who has to turn around the radio station, and faces many obstacles, including his own odd staff.
The hapless station manager Arthur Carlson, the oily sales rep Herb Tarlek, and the obtuse news resporter Les Nessman, with imaginary walls surrounding him from his fellow radio employees, are part of the uniqueness that is WKRP.
Travis thankfully has blonde bombshell receptionist Jennifer Marlowe on his side, played by Loni Anderson, determined junior employee Bailey Quarters played by Jan Smithers and Howard Hesseman as veteran DJ Dr. Johnny Fever. Travis hires the cool soulful Venus Flytrap of New Orleans played by Tim Reid to help boost ratings, while the shadowy figure of Mrs. Carlson, the station owner and Arthur’s Mother, is never revealed to the audience.
The ensemble storylines were based on odd happenings and the individual odd quirks of the characters and stereotypes that were encouraged and shattered. Tarlek’s sleazy sales side was always lurking near bombshell Jennifer, who wasn’t a dummy and usually had good advice for Travis. Bailey was earnest and eager while Dr. Fever was spaced out and enamoured of the innocent junior staff member. Venus was always dressed to the nines and the soul brother was never short of lady friends.
Airing for four seasons, CBS consistently moved the show from time slot to time slot, but the show still garnered 10 Emmy nominations, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series. Once in syndication, WKRP in Cincinnati became even bigger in the 1980s, outperforming many dramas and comedies, thanks to an audience that couldn’t get enough of the cast’s oddities.
I loved this show, mainly because of the crazy characters. As a kid and young teen I was always listening to radio and to imagine that the station was staffed with these characters was my sincerest heart’s desire. Each character had his strengths and weaknesses, but never so much as to dislike any of them. Each character had the audience’s support.
Loni Anderson became a star from her appearance on the sitcom, and went on to become a poster girl of the early 1980s, but the ensemble cast of this series created laughs every week, a 30 minute escape into the silly reality of WKRP in Cincinnati.