Imagine, if you will, what might happen if nice musty old WCCO radio were to hire a young program director who decided to turn the station overnight into a top-40 rock music outlet.
That is the comic situation, if not precisely the economic situation, in which the new CBS series, “WKRP in Cincinnati,” hopes to find success.
As the series begins, WKRP is an old family-owned station struggling along, and losing money with the traditional sort of radio format upon which WCCO thrives. So what do they know in Cincinnati, right?
Now arrives series hero Andy Travis, played by Gary Sandy, promising to turn around the station’s ratings and profit-and-loss numbers.
The resident star disc jockey, played by Howard Hesseman, has seen better days. Early in another decade in Los Angeles, he was known as Johnny Sunshine, and was making 100 thou a year until the day he said the word booger on the air and was fired.
Since then, he’s drifted from job to job in as many Southern and Midwestern cities, including Fargo, as it takes to have been known as Johnny Caravelle, Johnny Midnight, Johnny Duke and Johnny Style.
His style at WKRP finds him falling asleep at the turntable as he puts a needle to the station’s current notion of with-it-ness — a recording of “You’re Having My Baby” sung by the vocal equivalent of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
But now with the arrival of Andy and the top 40, he finds himself recharged in mid-program, renamed Dr Johnny Fever, saying “Goodbye to the elevator music” and reassuring his geriatric audience. “Now ah am talkin’ about your basic 50-thousand-watt intensive care unit, babies.”
The opening program, setting up the switchover, is funny enough. When Andy first arrives, the program’s award-winning special events and farm director is short with him. Later the award winner apologizes: “I wanted to get on the air with the hog futures.” Overhearing, the DJ moans: “Hogs have futures. I don’t.”
Loni Anderson, the tall and generously-curved actress from Minneapolis, has promising moments as WKRP’s receptionist. She’s overwhelmed when the change in station policy causes her switchboard to be jammed with a total of three phone calls: “If this keeps up, I’m going to have to have more money.”
For the moment, I’m regarding “WKRP in Cincinnati” as a program to keep watching. As creatures trapped at a station in transition, the WKRP folk are quite funny. As for how many episodes that fun can be kept afloat, it’s a matter left to the skills of the Mary Tyler Moore organization. Having made a TV newsroom in Minneapolis look funny for all those years, they probably have a few ideas. Hugh Wilson, who created the Tony Randall series for MTM, is the writing producer for this one.
Baby, if you’ve ever wondered
Wondered whatever became of me
I’m living on the air in Cincinnati
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 a while
I’m at WKRP in Cincinnati
WKRP in Cincinnati cast members
Andy Travis (Gary Sandy)
Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump)
Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman)
Les Nessman (Richard Sanders)
Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson)
Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner)
Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid)
Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers)