‘WKRP’ Started Living On The Air In Cincinnati In 1978

Sep 18, 2015

"WKRP in Cincinnati" stars (front) Loni Anderson, Howard Hesseman, (back) Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, Gary Sandy, Jan Smithers, Gordon Jump and Tim Reid
Credit CBS Television

On this date in TV Kiese history…

Sept. 18, 1978: “WKRP in Cincinnati” premieres on CBS with the first of a two-part episode about new program director Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) switching from boring elevator music to rock ’n’ roll.

Although never a big ratings hit, “WKRP” had a loyal audience for four seasons because of its great writing, actual rock music (selected by the actor DJs) and great cast: Howard Hesseman, Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Richard Sanders, Tim Reid, Frank Bonner, Jan Smithers and Sandy.

Baby, if you’ve ever wondered:  Atlanta advertising executive Hugh Wilson had never been to Cincinnati before creating the show. He based the series on an  Atlanta radio station.

In an ironic twist, WKRP DJ Dr. Johnny Fever (Hesseman) was based on Atlanta DJ “Crazy Bobby Harper,” who was at Cincinnati's iconic rock station WSAI-AM in the 1960s with Dusty Rhodes.

Wilson told me he chose the WKRP call letters – which were similar to WKRC-AM – to stand for a “crap” station. He set the show in Cincinnati to rhyme with “WKRP,” he said.

“WKRP” debuted at 8 p.m. in CBS’ Monday lineup which included “M*A*S*H” and “One Day at a Time.” It moved to 9:30 p.m. Monday the second season, between “M*A*S*H” and “Lou Grant.” For its fourth and final season, “WKRP” was banished to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday between “Mr. Merlin” and “Nurse.”

If you’ve got the time, here’s a link to the entire 27-minute premiere.

If you don’t have the time, then enjoy this two-minute video from the “WKRP” cast reunion at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills in June 2014.