Sunday, September 21, 2008

Baby, If You've Ever Wondered

An iconic Cincinnati radio station celebrates its 30th anniversary today.

It's a radio station that never actually existed on the dial, as you might be able to tell from our quote from its opening theme song in the title of this entry.

Television's "WKRP in Cincinnati" provided a surprisingly accurate, and hilarious, look at the radio industry in its run on CBS in the late 1970's and early 1980's. It also gave Ohio's Queen City a national "home" on the tube, and spawned a brief syndicated-only sequel in the 1990's.

"WKRP" is run these days on at least two cable outlets, with superstation WGN America recently adding it to the Sunday "Retro Night" lineup.

Tonight, to mark its 30th anniversary, The Mighty 'KRP rides with a mini-marathon on WGN America, from 7 PM to 10 PM (Eastern).

The show also regularly airs Monday nights up in high-numbered digital cable land on something called the American Life Network.

And this being OMW, we note that 'KRP ended up on WGN America not long after Tribune COO Randy Michaels showed up. Randy, of course, is the former WLW programmer who owns a Northern Kentucky home within sight of many of the Cincinnati landmarks shown on the WKRP opening.

Oh, and speaking of that opening...

Cincinnati.com has brought back a 2007 "Then and Now" video that compares the shots featured in the show's 1978 opening, with what they'd have looked like in modern times. It's well worth a view.

We're wondering in our heads if some radio folks could do a similar comparison for radio as it existed (fictionally) in the late 70's and now.

Remember the 'KRP episode where a station tried to lure away Venus Flytrap, by making him the program director of an automated station... revealed when a massive wall of spinning reel to reel tape machines comes out from behind a curtain?

Today, that's incredibly common...well, except that the reel to reel machines are long gone, replaced by a program on a small personal computer that fits under a desk.

And even the gifted 'KRP writers and producers couldn't possibly imagine today's remote voicetracking, where that "automated station" could have live-sounding voices piped in via the Internet from across the country.

"WKRP" was about as accurate as the visual medium ever got about radio. Our only minor complaint - the jocks never wore headphones.

But everyone in radio knew a Herb Tarlek, a Les Nessman, and a "Big Guy" manager, at their own station or one across town. You probably wanted to work with an Andy Travis, a cool, friendly program director who seemed to know what he was doing...and sympathized with him and with Dr. Johnny Fever as they moved "town to town, up and down the dial" to get ahead -or even stay - in the business.

Though, we're not sure about that whole Jennifer Marlowe-as-receptionist thing actually happening at most stations...let alone both Jennifer and Bailey Quarters in the same building. The whole "Jennifer vs. Bailey" debate became the "Ginger vs. Mary Ann" debate of its time.

The show inspired a legion of radio people to get into the business. And even some of them haven't been driven from the business or laid off...yet.

Despite WLW being "The Nation's Station" and still booming 50,000 watts all over the Eastern U.S. each night (not to mention being on satellite radio nationwide)....despite sister WEBN being one of America's most known rock stations...and despite other powerful and influential stations in the market...

WKRP will always be the best-known radio station in Cincinnati...

8 comments:

YEKIMI said...

Ahhh, but there actually WAS a WKRP...only not in Cincy, I believe that it was in Georgia a few years ago. However, according to radio-locator.com, there is no longer any station that has the call letters WKRP assigned to them.

derek said...

I worked in radio in the early 70's, and I never liked the show.

dnalevelc said...

I've said it more than once, WKRP wasn't a sitcom. It was a documentary.

Scott said...

The "WKRP" calls were unassigned when the show went on the air, and they've bounced around a bit in subsequent years. They were in North Vernon, Indiana for a while. More recently, WKRP-LP was a low-power TV station in Washington DC (now Daystar's WDDN-LP 23), and the calls now belong to an LPTV in Carthage, Tennessee.

Ed Esposito said...

I had the immense pleasure of working at then news/talk WCKY 1530 back in the early 80s when it was owned by Federated Media, with studios in the Carew Tower. Jim Glass (later of WKNR) was the PD, Joan Bennett (now ABC Newsradio), Jack Salvatore (now KNX in LA), the legendary Don Herman and the whole vibe -- and extended family ranging from WCKY to WKRC to WLW to WEBN lived very much like the TV show. It was some of the best radio of my career.

And for the record: Camp Washington 5-way, hands down and Bailey, absolutely.

Mr. Faust said...

I caught just the tail end of the marathon last night :( - but it got me thinking about the show. I remembered their Christmas Carol show and realized how eerily prescient it was - the future showing Herb Tarlek as the only surviving employee at an automated station, much like the Venus episode you described. Sadly, those guys were way ahead of the curve...

newsnomore said...

When I worked at WHLO in the early 80's during the Susquehanna days, our group program director was based in Cincinnati. His name was Art Carlson. They named the character after him.

Ohio Media Watch said...

Yeah, newsnomore, I've read that about Arthur Carlson...which, with the Susquehanna ownership of WHLO at the time, makes yet another Ohio connection.

And yes, there were many stations who adopted the "WKRP" calls for one reason or another after the show aired. I was reading about a Salt Lake City oldies station which adopted the calls "KRPN" and added a "W" in front of the legal...

But no, the station we see on TV actually never existed on the radio, in Cincinnati or anywhere else...though apparently the syndicated follow in the 1990's claimed to be at 1530 AM.

And my stand on the debate? Bailey, definitely. No offense to Ms. Marlowe.

--The Management