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For more than 30 years, John Kiesewetter has been the source for information about all things in local media – comings and goings, local people appearing on the big or small screen, special programs, and much more. Local media is still his beat and he’s bringing his interest, curiosity, contacts and unique style to Cincinnati Public Radio and 91.7 WVXU. Contact John at johnkiese@yahoo.com.

Final 'WKRP in Cincinnati' aired 40 years ago today

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Courtsey MeTV
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WKRP In Cincinnati starred (clockwise from top left) Richard Sanders, Gordon Jump, Tim Ried, Gary Sandy, Jan Smithers, Howard Hesseman, Loni Anderson and Frank Bonner.

"The Impossible Dream" episode, pre-empted by CBS in April 1982, aired on Sept. 20, 1982, four months after 'WKRP' was canceled.

In a final, cruel twist of fate, CBS aired the last original WKRP In Cincinnati on this date 40 years ago — and the canceled comedy drew more viewers than ABC's hugely popular Monday Night Football.

As I wrote last April, it took 40 years to figure out that WKRP didn't end in April of 1982, as listed in the Internet Movie Database and the Shout Factory boxed WKRP set of all 88 episodes.

Researchers for Allen and Donna Stare, who do the weekly WKRP-Cast podcast about the beloved sitcom, discovered that the final new episode — "The Impossible Dream," about newsman Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) seeking a CBS News job in New York — was delayed five months after being pre-empted in April. The Stares today dropped a new WKRP-Cast podcast reviewing the last episode — but plan another one next week, a lengthy interview with star Gary Sandy.

Back in 1982, with WKRP in Cincinnati up for the best comedy series Emmy Award on Sunday, Sept. 19, CBS scheduled the last episode for the next night, the Monday starting the new TV season. ABC's Barney Miller, also canceled the previous spring, won the Emmy over M*A*S*H, Taxi (also canceled that spring by ABC and picked up by NBC), Tony Randall's Love Sidney and WKRP.

"The Impossible Dream" episode made a fitting finale after four seasons. Sanders played both Les Nessman and his mother, a Dayton resident who had encouraged her son Lester to leave WKRP on his birthday and seek a job in New York as a CBS News anchorman.

"Newspapers have had it! Mother says this is the electronic age. That's why I've decided to go into network news," he says. "A man's destiny is at stake … I just want to try, that's all. Just try."

Jennifer (Loni Anderson) throws a birthday party for Les, during which he lets coworkers preview his horribly inept VHS resume tape.

In the final scene, Mrs. Nessman comes to the radio station the next morning and reveals that her son didn't go to New York after all. Salesman Herb Tarlek, who arrives as she exits, thinks that the woman is Les dressed in drag.

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Courtesy MTM
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Newsman Less Nessman ignores former Reds manager Sparky Anderson when he was hired by WKRP to do a sports talk show in a December 1979 episode.

"The guy is ready for the loony bin! First he wants to be a network anchorman, now he's dressing up like somebody's mother. The guy's nuts," Herb says as Les walks into the station.

Next week the Stares will release a WKRP-Cast from their interview yesterday with Gary Sandy. "He was great. We talked for nearly two hours. He had some great stories," Allen Stare says.

The Stares, based in Missouri, began the WKRP-Cast in September 2020. They've done an episode-by-episode review of the beloved CBS sitcom which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1982.

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Courtesy Allen Stare
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Allen and Donna Stare do a weekly podcast about "WKRP In Cincinnati" from Rogersville, Mo.

Allen, a WKRP fan who worked in radio years ago, says their episodes have been downloaded more than 90,000 times. It's available by searching "WKRP-Cast" wherever you get your podcasts, or on Patreon.

They also may do one more podcast next month called Misses and Messes which includes "anything we missed or messed up throughout the run of the series. After that, we are probably going into perpetual reruns" because people have discovered the WKRP-Cast in the past six months.

"What's odd is how we suddenly seem to be taking off," he says. "Our numbers over the summer have been bigger than anything we've had in the entire run of the series. It's like people are finally finding us after two years. Now, since school has started, our weeklies have bumped up again. We're getting a very solid weekly audience just as we're about to finish releasing new product! Ah, well, maybe I can move them over to our next thing," although he's not sure what that will be.

I didn't know about it until March, when they contacted me about making their first visit to Cincinnati.

I didn't know that the final episode was bumped from April to September by CBS, or why.

As I've often said, WKRP in Cincinnati is the gift that keeps on giving. I'm always amazed to learn something new about the sitcom which boasted about "living on the air in Cincinnati" over 40 years ago.

Stay tuned.

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.