'WKRP' And Me, And The Kentucky Symphony

Aug 31, 2017

So I had this crazy dream -- and it's about to become reality – about a concert saluting the great rock 'n' roll and pop music heard on "WKRP in Cincinnati."

Gary Sandy as program director Andy Travis
Credit Courtesy Shout! Factory

Many people fondly recall all the crazy 'KRP characters -- Dr. Johnny Fever, Les Nessman, Venus Flytrap, Andy Travis, Arthur "The Big Guy" Carlson, Jennifer Marlowe, Herb Tarlek, Bailey Quarters --on the CBS sitcom (1978-82) about a sleepy station which switched from boring elevator music to rock 'n' roll.

But a sizeable fan base loved the cool music heard on the TV sitcom, just like they heard on their favorite radio stations. Song by Queen, Bob Seger, Toto, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Sam & Dave, the Pointer Sisters, Booker T & the MGs, Kool & The Gang, etc. 

Yes, WKRP really rocked! And the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra's Boogie Band is going to prove it at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, in a free concert at Covington's Devou Park band shell.

This all started two years ago, when the KSO announced a July 2015 concert called "Hits Of The Big Red Machine" the weekend before the All-Star Game. I contacted KSO Executive Director J.R. Cassidy and volunteered to write the song introductions, tying the tunes to Reds history.

"WKRP in Cincinnati" publicity photo for 1978 premiere on CBS.
Credit CBS

After the Big Red Machine concert, I pitched him the idea of a nostalgic night playing the hits from "WKRP." Being one of the biggest "WKRP" experts in town, and having met most of the cast and creator Hugh Wilson in my 30+ years writing about television, I offered to compile a "WKRP" music list and write the script.

An impressive collection of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers provided a hip supporting role on "WKRP," most of whom were included in the Shout! Factory's 13-disc "WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series" box set released in October 2014.

On any episode you might hear the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen; the Rolling Stones; the Who; the Doors; Michael Jackson, Tom Petty; Stevie Wonder; Randy Newman; Blondie; Grateful Dead; Elton John; Ray Charles; the Beach Boys; Bob Dylan; Bob Seger; B.B. King; Sam & Dave; Marvin Gaye; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Earth, Wind & Fire; Janis Joplin; Van Morrison; Van Halen; the O'Jays; the Police; the Pretenders; Otis Redding; Steely Dan; Elvis Presley; or Elvis Costello.

Or maybe Debby Boone, Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, Brenda Lee, Helen Reddy, Johnny Mathis, Chuck Mangione and Maurice Chevalier.

Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Les Nessman the news: On "WKRP," you literally could hear anything from Perry Como… to disco…. to Devo.

What most people don't know about "WKRP" is that the actors who played the DJs – Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever (and TV disco host Rip Tide) and Tim Reid as Venus Flytrap -- often picked their albums to play on the show. Many times the WKRP jocks broke new music, just like real radio DJs.

Newsman Les Nessman describes the live turkey drop promotion at a Cincinnati shopping mall.
Credit MTM Productions

So I put together a "WKRP" song list from the IMDB, and sent it to J.R. He picked the songs -- everything from Queen and Bob Seger to Wilson Pickett, Michael Jackson, the O'Jays, Sam & Dave and Kool and the Gang… to Herb Alpert, Debby Boone plus a little Boogie Oogie Oogie disco for Johnny Fever's alter ego, Rip Tide.

I wrote the chatter for the MC. They're also going to show some "WKRP" video clips on a big screen. You'll hear lots and lots of great songs from the show: "Another One Bites The Dust," "Old Time Rock & Roll," "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough," and even "Le Freak." (As Johnny Fever often promised on "WKRP," again there will be "more music and Les Nessman.")

And someone might utter the words, "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

Here's a link to the concert details and logistics.

The KSO performing at Covington's Devou Park band shell.
Credit Provided by KSO

Admission is free, but a $5 contribution per person is encouraged. A TANK shuttle runs from Covington Catholic High School to the band shell for $1 each way.

Bring blankets or lawn chairs. And join me for a Saturday night living on the air in Cincinnati, Cincinnati, WKRP. I'll be the guy with the huge, silly grin on his face for the KSO finale – the "WKRP" theme song sing-along.

Baby, if you've ever wondered

Wondered whatever became of me

I'm living on the air in Cincinnati, Cincinnati, WKRP.

Got kind of tired packing and unpacking

Town to town and up and down the dial.

Maybe you and me were never meant to be

But baby think of me once in awhile.

I'm at WKRP in Cin-cin-nati.