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'WKRP' Fired Sparky Anderson On Christmas Eve 41 Years Ago

Courtesy MTM
Sparky Anderson (center) speaks with station manager Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump, right) while program director Andy Travis looks on.

This week 41 years ago: Beloved Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson was fired from his sports talk show on WKRP In Cincinnati.

"I must be nuts. Every time I come into this town, I get fired," said Anderson at the conclusion of WKRP's "Sparky" episode.It was first broadcast on Christmas Eve 1979 during WKRP's second season.

Credit Courtesy MTM

The Reds Hall of Fame manager, who led the Big Red Machine to back-to-back World Championships, was hired to do a two-hour sports program by station manager Arthur Carlson (Dayton native Gordon Jump).

Carlson envisioned WKRP nationally syndicating The Bullpen, while righting a wrong, the Reds' firing of Anderson after two World Series titles, four National League pennants and five division titles in nine seasons. He was fired after the 1978 season and promptly hired to manage the Detroit Tigers.

"He got a raw deal in this town," Carlson said. "Those fools. As a member of this community, I'll do everything  I can to make it up to him."

Credit Courtesy MTM

Everybody at the station – except newsman Les Nessman – was excited about the return to Cincinnati for Anderson, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 with Tony Perez and Marty Brennaman.

Secretary Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) told Sparky she attended every Reds' home game, prompting this exchange:

ANDERSON: "Box 110. Row 6, Seat 3."

MARLOWE: "That's my seat. How amazing!"

ANDERSON: "I almost broke my neck trying to see you."

Credit Courtesy MTM

The Bullpen was sponsored by Sun Lux Petroleum, "makers of gasoline, heating oil and a cruel but very hearty wine," Anderson told listeners.  

On his premiere, Anderson interviewed Derek Doogle (Andrew Bloch) from the Cincinnati Skids indoor soccer team. Sparky didn't know much about soccer, and within 10 minutes he was asking questions like: You live around here? What's your favorite color?"

Credit Courtesy MTM

After getting only a handful of calls during The Bullpen, Carlson realized he made a big mistake, and struggled to fire Sparky after he was living on the air in Cincinnati just two weeks. Sparky was surprisingly gracious.

"You know something? You're right," Anderson told him.

"I've had to fire a lot of people – most of them 18-year-old kids. When you say they can't do it, they think you're talking about life – when really all you're talking about is second base."

Nessman, jealous to lose his sports slot to Anderson, helped the Reds icon get a new gig.

"Les called the network brass, and they thought I'd be perfect for television," Anderson told Carlson after his firing.

Credit Courtesy MTM

Perfect or not, Anderson only did three other acting roles – on The White Shadow (1980), a movie called Tiger Town (1983) and HBO's Arli$$ (2001). But he did color commentary on NBC's 1979 American League Championship Series with Dick Enberg; on CBS Radio's World Series broadcasts with Vin Scully or Jack Buck in the 1980s; and for Anaheim Angels cable TV games 1996-98. He died in 2010 at age 76.

"Sparky" was written by Peter Torokvei, Steven Kampmann, creator Hugh Wilson and story editors Dan Guntzelman and Steve Marshall. Guntzelman, a Cincinnati native, moved to Los Angeles for WKRP and later worked on Growing Pains and Just The Ten Of Us. 

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John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.