Monday, February 03, 2014

the inaccuracies of WKRP IN CINCINNATI


Here’s a Friday Question worthy of an entire post. It’s from Bob Summers, although a number of you have asked the same thing.

Can you talk about the inaccuracies on WKRP?

As I point these out, please understand that these inaccuracies did nothing to harm the show creatively. I loved WKRP and didn’t give a shit about the inaccuracies. So as a long time disc jockey myself during the period when WKRP was on I’m pointing these out, but this is not a criticism.

First off, a major Cincinnati radio station would have a much larger air staff. There would be seven or eight disc jockeys, not two. (On the other hand, CHEERS would have more than two bartenders and two waitresses.)

Real jocks always cued up their next record before the song on the air finished. So it was ready to go. The jock never cued up the record while talking.

Also, the speaker in the studio would cut off anytime the microphone was on. Otherwise it would feedback and cause that bone-jarring loud screech.   Jocks always wore headphones when they were on the air, and took them off when they were off the air.

Jocks always had to follow strict formats. The station sound was most important. How you said the call letters, when you said the call letters, what phrases you said, even the way you gave the time was carefully spelled out. Top 40 stations in the ‘70s always gave the time digitally. “It’s 6:45” not “It’s a quarter to seven.” This was created by Bill Drake in the '60s as part of his streamlined Boss Radio sound. 

By the ‘70s stations were adopting a technique created by brilliant programmer Buzz Bennett. The first words out of the jock’s mouth after every record was the call letters. You didn’t say, “Those were the Beatles on KCBQ.” You said, “KCBQ with the Beatles.” Small touch immediately tying the music in with your station but practically every station did it.

The deejays on WKRP had way more freedom than in real life. If WKRP wanted to be accurate, the jocks would follow a very tight format clock, they would read one-liners at certain times, play specific jingles at certain times, use certain catch phrases. And if they didn’t the hotline would ring in the booth and the program director would ream their ass.

WKRP was more laid-back than stations were at the time.  High energy was the style of the day and as someone who did that for several years, I can tell you it was EXHAUSTING.   At one station, WDRQ in Detroit, I was instructed to literally scream for my whole four hour shift.  I was popping throat lozenges like Tic Tacs and sounded like a complete idiot.  No one will ever hear my airchecks from WDRQ.   WKRP was smart to ignore accuracy in this case.  

A top Cincinnati radio station would have more than one newsman and more than one salesman. And program directors at that level had a lot more knowledge in actual programming, music research, promotion, and competing with other stations.  P.D. Andy Travis was just a nice guy but a complete simpleton.   

There was a lot more drinking and way more drugs in real radio.  There was also more paranoia.  And in truth, most jocks in Cincinnati were constantly sending out tapes hoping to get to bigger markets like Chicago and Los Angeles.   Except for a few, Cincinnati was just considered a stepping-stone.  Better than Dayton, not as good as Boston. 

All that said, a doctor in Korea could just as easily pick apart MASH.  No one ever paid for a drink at CHEERS.  And most lawyers find lawyer shows downright laughable.

The point is, whatever its inaccuracies, WKRP IN CINCINNATI was a highly entertaining show. That’s all that really matters.

80 comments:

Richard Y said...

Loved Happy Hare and Don Howard on KCBQ

Phillip B said...

Would also love to know what you thought about the movie FM - which always seems to have been a lost opportunity. It had interesting plot lines, and at least two characters from the film looked like they were lifted for WKRP.

The story was that it was destroyed to include more Linda Ronstadt concert footage..

Brian Doan said...

This is awesome, Ken. As you say, the creative liberties taken are more than made up for by the character/comedic payoffs. Still, it might be worth mentioning that some of the inaccuracies are justified within the narrative-- after all, the whole point of the show is that WKRP is NOT a "top" station, but a failed/at-best-struggling one. And one episode from the second or first season has Andy rattle off many of the programming points you note: needing more and better sales staff, a tighter format, etc. It's not that he doesn't know what to do, but that he chooses not to do it, because he's fallen in love with the folks that work there, and doesn't want to harm them. It's actually a lovely character note. I really miss Hugh Wilson's stuff, and wish he'd have to opportunity to do more.

Jon said...

"...the speaker in the studio would cut off anytime the microphone was on."

Not necessarily. The engineers at WSM designed a circuit that caused the studio monitor to be 180 degrees out of phase, a miniscule amount of time, preventing reinforcement and feedback. I was amazed the first time I witnessed it in the studio.

raccoonradio said...

I agree about the cuing up on air part. And yes it's a failed station so that's why it's a bare bones staff and things aren't so tight. Sign on the wall says "5,000 watts" I think, yet the area covered seems pretty big (an AM station I think).

I don't think the (fictional) frequency of WKRP is ever given in the series (on air etc). A must. (Jingle: "Sixty-eight, 'RKO!" [Boston]

Scooter Schechtman said...

I always thought it was weird that, even with the understanding you couldn't have an accurate-sized crew on the program, the staff was so skeletal. Bucky the engineer existed for only one episode, and Moss Tiger never showed.
By the way, that old villain Music Rights is alive and well and keeping rebroadcasting down. The FXX channel is showing "Freaks And Geeks" with original music replaced by generic.

Quinn said...

Other on-air personalities were referenced occasionally on the series but remained off-camera. Apparently, unlike Johnny and Venus, they had better things to do than hang out at the station when they weren't working.

Bob Leonard said...

Great article, Ken but, I would take exception to one or two things - you wrote, "Real jocks always cued up their next record before the song on the air finished. So it was ready to go. The jock never cued up the record while talking." The midday guy on WYSP in Philly (the, market #4) would often be in the lobby chatting when he would hear his song running out. I watched him, any number of times, standing, bent over, cueing up the next record while he was talking into the mic. Also, My wife worked for a station in Dallas (market #5) that had a staff of about 8. I spent almost 50 years on the air with many of them in major markets or on the network level (25 years)with affiliates in small markets where much of what you wrote about was, in fact, the norm.There were discrepancies with WKRP but a lot of it was not as far fetched as it seemed.

Steve Allan said...

Yes, WKRP was inaccurate (you forgot to mention no headphones) but as a former radio pro I loved the spirit of the show. I signed WGRR on the air in Cincy in 1990 and all my friends back east asked if I was working at WKRP. Joke got old. Turned out those call letters were parked on a small AM in Indiana. And, we ALL worked at some point with a Johnny Fever...and Herb Tarleck. Steve Allan

The Tom Gulley Show Podcast! said...

Wow. I know Mr. Levine was at the top, but I'd like to point out some inaccuracies.

Although certainly if mics were on in the studio, the monitor cuts out or feedback. All the technical observations of Mr. Levine (who I've actually worked with in a radio campaign long ago--doubt he remembers) is dead on.

But he keeps pointing out that if WKRP were a top Cincinnati station this or that...

WKRP WAS NOT A TOP STATION. THAT'S THE POINT.

I worked at a station in nearby Indianapolis that ALSO was not a "top station" and guess what? The jocks formatted their own shows. There was only one news guy. THAT'S WHY IT WASN'T A TOP STATION.

Lots of stations had small staffs back then, even in big markets. They just weren't the top ones--and although WKRP experienced success as Andy's stewardship took hold, it was a main precept of the show that the station was hapless.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

...gotta get you drunk enough to drag out those 'DRQ cassettes.

:)

Brian Matthews said...

Great blog Ken.....
It's funny everybody saying they had a skeleton staff.....For those of us who have been around in the day....We had two news anchors and a reporter...8-10 on staff and life was good...We did make any money and we were a family...we had to be to survive....WKRP is more relevant now because at my particular station, Im PD, morning guy, production director, and i do a lot of remotes...We have a news service and we run the balance of programming on the bird.... woo hoo!

Shawn K. said...

I will give you a whole dollar just to hear one break from a WDRQ aircheck.

Oh well. The Reelradio website does have one of you from KFI. It'll have to do even though it's probably not as loud.

Eric J said...

I never forgave DJs from talking over records when I was a teenager trying to record them with my reel-to-reel.

I traveled to Cincinnati frequently in the WKRP years. The upscale downtown hotel I stayed at had WKRP bumper stickers available at the check-in counter.

Max said...

This post made me realize how much WKRP had in common with another of my favorite 70s sitcoms: BARNEY MILLER. Both rife with inaccuracies that would make insiders cringe, but big similarity: the action in both of them was almost entirely confined to a small self-contained set featuring a small ensemble.

S.S. said...

OH YEAH--forgot this one:
"We let the jocks program their own music."--Andy Travis

Breadbaker said...

Your comment on lawyer shows is of course right on. I totally enjoy The Good Wife (and thank you for recommending it; I've been watching it from the beginning on Amazon Prime) but nothing in any of the scenes in court bear any resemblance to real courtroom situations. Of course, those would bore an audience to death. And the timing of the cases, which seem to go from intake to verdict in a day or two, is laughable. But none of that matters, the same as it doesn't matter that Johnny Fever didn't wear headphones. Good drama overcomes inaccuracies; it thrives on them.

Anonymous said...

Although some of the inacurracies that you mentioned were explained on the show: Any said several times he let the jocks pick their own music even though his consultant friend told him "nobody does that anymore". Obviously, the studio monitors didn't "Mute" when the jocks cracked the mic because they wanted the viewers to hear what was going "over the air". One inacurracy that I noticed was in their continuity. In the episode with the bomb, they tell police they are on a certain floor. In the "Fire" episode a few seasons later, the studios are located on a different floor.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I think you can say all of these shows are inaccurate.
As long as they are entertaining.

Take a peek at NCIS. Does anyone really think a team of detectives are discussing clues and evidence about terrorism in an open room forum? Or that no one else in the room (including some nefarious individuals) are listening-in or paying attention?

Artie in Sin City said...

BUT...all the sales folk on staff were really like Herb Tarleck...I know...I was one of them...The secret ingredient to WKRP was the same thing that made a good radio station great...the people...I meet some of the craziest souls on the planet and some of the most dear individuals you will find anywhere behind the doors of radio stations back then...I so miss those creative and fun days...

Mike Barer said...

WKRP had that Ginger-Maryann formula with Jennifer and Bailey.

Bob Leszczak said...

Although these were great programs, all "shows within shows" took great liberties - FRASIER, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, GOOD MORNING WORLD, WKRP, etc. A majority of viewers had never experienced radio or TV firsthand, and, thus, never noticed the discrepancies.

SharoneRosen said...

I dunno, Ken. I was working on the air in Northern California when WKRP was on the air. I considered it to be a documentary! Yeah, there would be more staff and the speakers thing, of course. But the craziness was everyday life! We did get to pick our own music, within parameters set by our format. But, I always managed to never play a song I didn't like. We were allowed to talk, be ourselves and be laid back, if that was our styles.
NEVER cued up a record while the mic was open??? I beg to differ! Everyone, at least once, would open their mic only to realize they'd been distracted and the next song wasn't ready! It wasn't the norm, but it did happen... a lot!
I LOVED IT! And I miss that kind of on air freedom... ah... back when radio was radio.

Matt said...

As a lawyer I loved law and order. Though much of the dialog was laughable because they had to explain things that lawyers would know to the audience There recall of specific citations I think is also impossible. I wish any trial I was ever in was as interesting as theirs, but it is good drama.

Ron Clark said...

@Max:

I'll have to disagree with you a bit regarding Barney Miller being rife with inaccuracies. I'm a retired criminal investigator from a large police department, and Barney Miller is the only cop show I've ever seen that doesn't make me cringe. It's about as accurate a portrayal as you'll ever see on TV on what it was like to actually be a regular day to day detective. Danny Arnold did take some dramatic license, naturally, but overall every one of those guys on that show is someone I've worked with in my career, and the way they spend their shifts could have been taken from a page in my daily log.

Kosmo13 said...

Johnny Fever did comment in one episode about how difficult it was getting to find a station that would let dj's program their own shows. I worked at several stations from 77 through 87 where that was still possible. After that, it ended. I always got the impression Andy figured the ratings couldn't be any worse than their pre-rock beautiful music format had been, so he allowed it.

For me, WKRP was eerily accurate. I worked at one station whose Manager was an amiable dunce who even looked like Gordon Jump. As with Mr. Carlson, his sole qualification for running the station was that his wealthy mother owned it.

At another station, I worked with a hot blonde receptionist who was so curvaceous she made Jennifer Marlowe look like a stick figure.

Todd Everett said...

While in school, about '66, I briefly worked at a commercial station (KTRC, still there; different format) in Santa Fe.

Part of my Saturday afternoon shift involved monitoring the Metropolitan Opera broadcast. I don't recall ever seeing another person in the station while I was on air.

We got to program our own shows, provided that we play records from the station library -- not bringing in our own.

The owner had strong ideas about promo copies of records; he didn't accept them (at least that's my understanding). Instead, he bought them all.

The result had me playing the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan while fielding phone requests from young girls who wanted to hear "Mr. Lonely."* And yes, I did wear cans.

I didn't last very long, but that's where I picked up my addiction to Paul Harvey.

* a slight exaggeration; I was more professional than that!

Chris Johnston said...

But what was spot accurate on was the characters. I worked with each and every one of them at one time or another.

Victor Velasco said...

Thanks. Used to love those scenes on WKRP where Carlson would either be hassled by his Mom or just plain not get what was happening at the station and Travis would talk him down :...Mr, Carlsonnnnn? It's rock and rolllllll? ; yeah, Andy, boy what a rocker!!!

Jeffro said...

I thought the whole point of the series was to show that radio was filled with people who were only trying to make-believe that they were actually professionals.

They did indeed make it apparent that there were other DJs at the station in various episodes, by reference or with guest appearances. The one that stands out in my mind is where Johnny gets his apartment fumigated and Bailey lets him stay at her place. For some reason, he's also made to take some vacation time off, and Andy has a DJ from another shift (that isn't Venus) fill-in for him. And instead of being able to enjoy his time off, all Johnny can do is obsess that Andy is trying the other Jock out to see if he can replace Johnny in the morning drive shift. I don't know the actor's name who played the DJ, but you'd know his face when you see it. I think it was the same guy who played the Principle/Superintendent that Mama Gump traded favors for in order to get Forrest into a normal school.

The one thing that drives me nuts about the show is the layout of the sets don't make any sense in terms of spacial reality. They would often show establishing shots of the building and it's the run-of-the-mill rectangular office tower in the city, yet from the interior layout, you'd think that it was a sprawling, zig-zagging thin building with windows off almost every wall except for the studio and in the reception area. There are definitely windowed hallways where they should be interior only hallways. I actually gave up trying to make sense of it, but it still makes an impression every time I catch a repeat. Cheers is the opposite; you have an intuitive sense of how every interior space can exist in a real setting. And with M*A*S*H, you don't care because except for the main building with the surgical theater/post-op/Radar's and the CO's office, you instantly accept that all of the tents are scattered all over.

Mister Charlie said...

The only inaccuracy I ever saw was the headphones. All the rest of it assumes they were a big station, or a medium sized statiion, having worked in many mom and pop stations I did not find the causualness of the 70s as shown too laid back. Though they should have been an FM then rather than an AM which was still very Top 40 oriented. Still the most real depcition of radio I have seen on TV.
And I knew everyone of those characters in my radio days, especially the bumbling Mr Carlson as owner/manager.

Gary Theroux said...

Thanks to Ken and David’s input, "Frasier" is probably the best sitcom ever, but as someone working in radio at the same time as Ken (in fact, for a while at the same place) I am always amused by the broadcast inaccuracies during Fraiser's radio show. Over and over Roz gives a ten second warning -- followed by far more than ten seconds of off-air dialogue before Frasier's on-air show resumes. The commercial breaks are also impossibly long and the tone of the production far more lax than a real-life radio call-in program would have. Hosting or producing a live radio show engages 100% of your attention as you simultaneously focus on what is going on now and what is coming up. No one in radio doing a live program wanders away from their console and/or engages in lengthy off-air dialogue, oblivious to what's going out over the air. In fact, one of the first things you learn in radio is to always assume that anything said anywhere near a mike is going out live – even if it isn’t. That keeps radio hosts from using language the FCC might frown on or saying things that could alienate the audience. (The latter amateurish kind of slip was used a plot device at least once on "Fraiser.") Ken's familiarity with how radio actually works was quite evident in the "Frasier" scripts he and David wrote, even if, for the sake of comedy, dramatic license was often taken.

Jon said...

Obviously noone believes it is possible to leave the studio monitor on with an open mic in the room and electronically eliminate feedback.

Nevermind.

Jeffrey Mark said...

During my stint at K101 in San Francisco everyone on the air would make reference to our GM as "Mr. Vicious." This went on a long time and the GM really liked it. He was a tough task master unlike the big boob Mr. Carlson on WKRP.

Anonymous said...

Sharon Rose: You didn't belong behind a mic if you didn't have a song ready. Never saw it major market, medium market, anywhere.
Biggest problem with KRP, studio control room looked like a joke, a cheapo non-working studio that looked like some kids idea of what a control room looked like. Less Nessman was never on target, news anchors I knew in 70's and 80's were hard fisted, hard drinking, big voiced cats who had bigger than life personalities and chased women, whether they were girls on the request line or at crime scenes. Video was so inferior to film, it looks dated now. Gary Sandy had the PD vibe down, remember they weren't all dicks all obsessed with research quite yet. The 2 jock thing was bad, weak detail. Jennifer was accurate, although let's be honest. I've known the Jennifer types, they were doing more than looking hot, they often were servicing the GM and select clients, one of the reasons they often drove a Benz or Jag. Herb was on target, if anything a little too easy going. Venus was a 10pm-2 jock circa 1979, Johnny Fever was the classic burn out jock, but not a star personality. His attitude rings true as the journeyman jock from the era. As far as call letters first,etc. nobody cares. Funny, that kind of radio never came back. It's even less important now with PPM.

installLSC said...

One question I always had: what the heck was the format of the station? It was supposed to be AOR but (1) all those stations were on FM and (2) a lot of the songs aired were top 40 or oldies, plus Venus was airing only R&B. Anyone have an explanation?

McAlvie said...

It was entertaining, and that's more important than accurate. I never missed that show. Hey, I can still remember the jingle they came up with for the funeral home!

But it's certainly true that lawyer shows are nothing like what you see on tv. They get a client and go to court the next day, all the attorney offices are snazzy all glass rooms, and the staff must have a clothing allowance because the secretaries dress as nice as the partners. But as you said, reality is boring.

Todd Everett said...

The L.A. Tribune in "Lou Grant" had two reporters, one photographer, and three editors.

Win1908 said...

Great to hear some 'KRP chatter. I've always considered WKRP to be one of the most underrated series of all time - with Hugh Wilson's brilliant but short-lived "Frank's Place" in the same category. It holds up very well alongside "Mary Tyler Moore" and "Cheers." I've actually always preferred 'KRP because its characters were more offbeat and I would argue the comedy was even more character-driven than on those titans, if that's possible.

I would, however, take exception to one thing in your post - the characterization of Andy Travis as a "simpleton." Andy was the Newhart on the show, the sane guy surrounded by crazies (not that I'd ever compare Gary Sandy's abilities to those of the great Bob Newhart). But he was never a simpleton. In fact, many of the more memorable episodes of the later seasons involved Andy's power struggles with Mama Carlson, including the very funny episode, "The Consultant" in which Andy gets each character to display their opposite traits (Herb and Arthur are tireless workers, Jennifer is dumb and Bailey is a stoner, etc) to invalidate the consultant's report. Another episode has Andy deftly playing both sides and ultimately keeping the union out of the station for which he gets a new transmitter from Mama Carlson, all on the sly. Can't believe I'm spending this much time defending a fictional character. Ken, go back and watch some episodes when you get the chance. Unfortunately, they'll be chopped up and missing much of the original music. So glad I have bootleg copies of the 80s syndicated shows with original music (and great Channel 9 Chicago bumpers asking viewers to stay tuned for "Barney Miller", "Cheers" or "The Love Boat."

Geary said...

Soooo ... records were NEVER cued up while talking 'eh? Probably should be careful talking in absolutes, my friend. Many consoles had a cue position for the headphones, and sometimes they were used to cue up a record whilst talking. Not often, but certainly not never.

Geary said...

install: you probably don't know the "insider" definition of AOR ... all over the road ...

Yah Shure said...

Staff size wasn't always an accurate reflection of a station's true might. My first radio job was at a small market Central Minnesota full-service graveyard channel AM. When Ken mentions his Syracuse minor league flagship's Wi-fi-sized nighttime coverage area, he was talking about ours. The country-formatted 100kW FM across the hall was treated as the AM's bastard stepchild, being totally automated outside of morning drive. And yet we operated out of a brand-new, spacious, state-of-the-art facility with plenty of room to spare for the staff of over 40, nearly all of them full-timers. I traded that gig for KOMA, Storz' 50,000-watt blowtorch in Oklahoma City. In terms of staff size and facilities (aside from that monstrous signal) it was a giant step backwards. But everything else was way better. Where else could you fashion your own "Star Wars" light sabres by waving around 40-watt fluorescent tubes out back by the towers after dark?

Bulky headphones would've just gotten in the way on WKRP. I worked at a station with a headphones-free setup, but could never get comfortable with it. Not only did it feel unnervingly weird, it was much too easy to end up having your voice drowned out by the music (or vice versa) without ever being aware of it. Cans provided a much better means of being in control of your own show. And besides, nothing beat headphones for that BIG sound of your own voice as heard directly off the AM air monitor. Yes, you, too, could sound like the Voice of WGOD.

The single, tall tower seen in WKRP's opening credits was visually impressive... for the TV tower that it was in real life. In that neck of the woods, the crowded AM dial would've necessitated any station not already blessed with the WLW call letters to employ a multi-tower directional array if it hoped to maintain that full 5000-watt power level after sundown (and didn't that "5000 watts" on the wall later change to "50000 watts"?)

The height of that opening credits tower would've also provided a clue as to WKRP's never-mentioned dial position: generally speaking, the taller the AM tower, the lower the frequency. 'KRP would've been way down at the bottom of the dial, not unlike Cincy's own 550/WKRC.

As others have said, it was the terrific characters who made WKRP so special. Given the wide world of whackos populating the real airwaves back then, nothing on the show was beyond believability. What I'd give to hear some of 'em over those same airwaves today.

Kosmo13 said...

In my estimation, WKRP’s format was what, at that time, was referred to as “free-form” or “underground radio.” This format was most commonly found on college and other non-commercial radio stations, though sometimes a small commercial station would be formatted that way. (For example: I recall hearing one such commercial station in SE Florida in the early 1980’s)

Free-form characteristics displayed by WKRP include not focusing on one era or sub-category of music. The goal was to play good, quality, hip, cool music regardless of genre. We heard Dr Johnny Fever play classic Sun rockabilly from the 50’s or 60's Motown standards, while many of the promotional posters displayed on the walls were of contemporary punk / new wave / alternative music artists like Elvis Costello or the Dictators. WKRP was probably the only station in town edgy enough to have an in-studio interview with ‘Scum of the Earth.’

In that kind of atmosphere, it was OK to play a mainstream, commercial artist like the Who if they were deemed to have achieved commercial success without compromising their artistic integrity, but such stations avoided commercially viable but artistically bankrupt artists. (Remember Johnny Fever’s quote: “Barry Manilow… Barry Gibb… Barry White… I don’t play ****.”)

Stations like that would have blocks of time devoted to specialty shows featuring specific types of music such as Classical or Jazz. In WKRP’s case, it was Venus’ R&B Show.

When a commercial station experimented with this sort of format, it usually didn’t last long, before they reverted to more commercial music.

Hamid said...

Listening to your aircheck earlier, I loved the little jokes you made at the end of movie adverts, like with the Damien: Omen II ad in which the voiceover says "No one under 17 admitted without an adult", and you added "or a registered nurse".

joncr said...

There was once upon a time in Cincinnati a real small familiy-owned classical station -- WEBN -- that moved to rock when, as I recall, the family elders called it quits.

Many strange things and sounds came out of WEBN in those days. It's big time now, but I've always wondered how much of WEBN was in WKRP.

(Then there was WTOP, the jazz station on a boat docked on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.)

Gary said...

Remember the old Adventures of Superman? How did the Daily Planet ever put out a newspaper? They only had three reporters, and two of them were always trapped in a cave.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jerry Seinfeld

Courtney said...

The heart-stopping anomaly I don't remember being referenced on 'KRP was common to stations playing both singles an LP cuts, and that anomaly would be starting your record on the wrong turntable speed live on the air. There was no way to wriggle out of it and no snappy patter to cover it. The good news, though: after one did it once, he almost never did it again. Almost.

As for the overall veracity of the series, it was probably low for a market the size of Cincy, but if the show had been called WKRP IN Tuscaloosa, I can assure you it could have been a documentary.

Liggie said...

In my 1980s college years, a classmate in a Communications class had done behind-the-scenes work in a radio station. The instructor asked him if WKRP was an accurate portrayal of a radio station. He answered "yes." That intrigued her; she did have radio experience, but that was at an all-news station, where everyone wore ties, worked on stories, and functioned like it was an office. Different frame of reference.

cadavra said...

Yah Shure: It was 50,000 watts in the pilot, then reduced to the more realistic 5,000 watts when they went to series.

I always assumed they didn't wear headphones because it might impede the actors' ability to hear the others' lines and thus cause them to miss a cue.

Freddie Blue Fox said...

I worked in radio in the 1970's at a free form rock station in the 11th largest market in the US, Long Island, NY. Free form was a new development that migrated from college radio into commercial stations. We were not strictly formatted musically in any way as the DJ's picked their own music. We were never scripted in any way and we didn't say the call letters after every song as first thing. We were, except for a few technical items that you mentioned almost exactly like WKRP. And if I remember the show, there were more than 2 DJ's on the air. But the characters were almost identical to people at our station, both on-air and in the sales department and in management. WKRP was not a top 40 radio station. They were playing "album oriented rock," which was a different animal than what you are describing.

Yah Shure said...

@cadavra: Thanks for the correction. The pilot's 50kW output must've interfered with WKRC.

Anonymous said...

As a former 70s Top40 DJ in a medium/small market at the time (it was close to #100 but has dropped since into the 130s), we often said the song title, artist or something else coming out of a record (really, we didnt want to backsell a record anyway!)...and the time?? Digital?? in the 70s?? Hey nothing was digital then :) FMs rounded their frequency (say 97.9 would be 98FM!) and often we would say quarter after the hour or similar....Listen to the BIG89 Rewinds of WLS on YouTube....and you'll hear that too...why?? Because we did that in all markets..the smaller ones were listening to and imitating the big ones...I had my AM dial set for WLS, WLAC and XROCK 80 in the 70s..also stopped at KAAY...living in SE TX, all those signals would BLOW into town at night....When I mentioned John "Records" Landecker to friends of mine, talk about blank stares!! So what?? He was the best night jock ever (and still could be if Cumulus would let him be himself on WLS FM)...WKRP was a TV show, nothing more, nothing less....it didn't cover everything right...you want to cover everything?? Go to www.krap.com and check the cartoons (Brian is even doing new ones on his FB page now!!)

Anonymous said...

BTW the opening credits tower on the show was NOT an AM station, it was WLWT-TV station in Cinci, an NBC affiliate! (that tower has been replaced many years ago)..Few AMs had tall self supporters..but the one shown in the opening credits was not an AM tower..Also the freq was given ONE time...1530 on your AM dial...

Anonymous said...

OPPS!! made a typo above...instead of www.krap.com, it's http://www.krud.com ...KRUD Radio..

The REAL story of radio..

Jeffrey Mark said...

Loved when Johnny Fever screamed out "Boooooger" over the air. Perfect.

Ralph Bertolucci said...

first of all with all respect to Ron Clark, I found Barney Miller to be more fiction I have never been in law enforcement but I have had many friends who have been cops. I found the police scene in Goodfellas much more realistic, typical cop sarcasm. With regards to Dr Johnny Fever, Hessman did jock a few shifts at free form KMPX in San Francisco. He also made the rounds of bay area radio stations where he took the personalities of several on air people, most notably Russ "the moose" Syracuse to morph Dr Johnny Fever.

Pat Reeder said...

I came up in radio at the same time "WKRP" was on and loved it, too. I worked small, medium and large market, then moved into syndicated programming at TM, so have familiarity with radio on all levels.

"WKRP" always struck me as pretty accurate, assuming it was a free-form FM album track format. I took it to be because they obviously did block programming, what with Johnny Fever playing rock and Venus Flytrap playing R&B/light jazz at night. And they let the DJs choose the playlist (unheard of today, except in community radio). The characters were comic exaggerations, but I could name people I've worked with who could easily have been the inspirations for all of them. Ron Stevens & Joy Grdnic, a married couple who are also a top comedy morning radio team and who later became friends of mine, worked on the scripts and told me some stories about it. So the show had some radio experts on staff to keep it real, dude.

Like many people above, the only inaccuracy that always got to me was the jocks talking over the music in the studio, when the monitors should've shut off and they should've been wearing headphones. I know why it was done - it would've seemed odd on TV to show the jock jive-talking over dead air - but it's jarring to anyone who worked in radio.

Oh, and one other inaccuracy: when Mr. Carlson rejected the jingle for the funeral home ("No way to deny it! Someday, you're gonna buy it!") on grounds that it was tasteless. I've never known a GM who chose good taste over ad money.

BTW, Ken, I wonder if you've had the DJ's nightmare. I've found that it's common to just about everyone who's ever worked in radio. You're doing your first shift at a new station, and every switch you flip is the wrong one. You reach for commercials and songs that aren't there, you say the wrong call letters, you hit button after button and nothing happens, etc., until you finally wake up in a cold sweat. I still have that dream occasionally, even though I haven't done a board air shift in over 20 years.

Ken Levine said...

I still have those dreams, Pat.

Anonymous said...

You keep saying "Top station in Cincinnati," WKRP was the worst station in Cincy. Other than that, great insight.

David P said...

The late Harry Chapin the show on\concept was ripped off from his song, W*O*L*D.

Any thoughts on that? or comments about the song?

Pat Reeder said...

PS - My wife Laura, who grew up with a dad in the jingle business and used to write jingles herself, says that the funeral home jingle episode was spot on. She once had to write a commercial for a funeral home and can vouch for its accuracy. I don't think she included the lyric "Someday, you're gonna buy it," though.

Kosmo13 said...

I still have those radio dreams often. Just a few nights ago, I dreamed I was back-announcing a record and telling a story about it. My alarm clock (in the real world) went off, but instead of my waking up right away, the dream continued with me worrying about the beeping sound going out over the air.

Matt said...

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

Greatest line in TV history.

Liggie said...

David P, I would disagree with the idea that "W*O*L*D" inspired "WKRP". Chapin's song is about the loneliness that happens when you put work over loved ones, while the show is essentially a workplace comedy like "Taxi", "Cheers", etc.

Bob Summers said...

Ken,

Thanks for doing the post.

VP81955 said...

At one time, Cincinnati was a full-fledged titan of a radio market, right up there with New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Much of that was due to WLW, the AM behemoth owned by the Crosley company (yep, the same firm that produced radios and myriad other appliances, owned the Reds for a while, and for whom Crosley Field was named). WLW was a powerhouse during the '30s, part of the Mutual network IIRC, and for a while its signal was not a mere 50,000 watts (the highest allowed for an AM in the U.S.), but 500,000 watts; I'm pretty certain it could be heard throughout most of North America. WLW is still around at 700 AM, and has been the voice of the Reds for more than 40 years. (Cincy has another 50,000-watter, at 1530 AM, which carries ESPN radio programming.) Perhaps this radio heritage led Hugh Wilson to set the series in Cincinnati...or maybe he just likes Skyline chili.

Will Hansen said...

Ken,
30 years after leaving radio and disc jockeying I still have radio nightmares where the record is ending and I can't find the next one.I know today's jocks don't have this problem, but talking to friends from the vinyl days these nightmares never go away. Do you have these dreams?

cadavra said...

Yah Shure: I lived in Cincinnati in the 70s, and so we all felt special pride when WKRP went on the air.

True weird story: I went to that infamous Who concert, though we had reserved seats. We arrived just moments before 8:00, and sat through the entire show unaware of the chaos and death that had occurred moments earlier. Now here's the really weird part: I had set my new-fangled Betamax to record that evening's CBS line-up, including, yes, WKRP. Playing it back a couple of nights later, I had absolute chills as they began interrupting programming with news bulletins, finally abandoning the network altogether to stay with the story. I've never been so creeped out by anything on TV.

Stubby said...

I worked in AM radio in a medium market for a bit. We had one salesman, one newscaster, five DJs (plus one part-timer). The morning man did a two man show....all by himself. I had mid-days, a block populated by hog and farm reports. On numerous occasions, virtually everyone who worked there would cue up records while talking...especially the morning guy (it's tough to be two people, yo). Sometimes he made a bit out of it and you'd actually hear him do the back and forth record cue on air (hmm, maybe he invented or inspired "scratch"). We did have a tight format and "clock", but the DJs took plenty of liberties--to the point that most were, to some extent, programming their own music much of the time (forget the weekends; they were as all over the map as KRP). But you're right. WKRP was unrealistic. We didn't have a receptionist. Answering the phone was the job of the PD and, when he wasn't around, whoever was on the air. Worth noting that that station made lots of money--probably the best profit margin of any of the stations I worked at.

Amateur schorso said...

I suppose some mention should be made of the revelation in the final episode (SPOILER WARNING), that the station was never meant to be profitable. Mrs. Carlson kept it going because she found the tax write-off useful (and she let her son run it because she thought him certain to fail). One could argue that this justifies the unorthodox way the station was run--she let them get away with it, because a more professional approach did not fit her plan.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Remember the "Real Families" episode?

"Nothing you see on TV is real...not even the news!"

- Herbert R. Tarlek

"We watch Little House on the Prairie. That's a fine, wholesome show. Every week someone goes blind, or a barn burns down. We enjoy it."

- Lucille Tarlek

(Quoted from memory, revisions apply.)

Kathleen said...

@VP81955 I'm really late to this party, but my dad was the morning man on WLW in the late 60's, all of the 70's and early 80's. My whole family loved the show. My dad's boss, General Manger Charlie Murdock, was a friend of Hugh Wilson's. I also heard that one of the writers also worked on a radio station in Cincinnati (can't remember which writer). WKRP is one of my all time favorite shows and it has held up through the years. Text book example of Ken's mantra - character, character, character.

VP81955 said...

Kathleen, in November 2000 I had a tryout to be a copy editor at the now-defunct Cincinnati Post. I only spent a few hours in town, but enjoyed what I saw. (And of course I had some Skyline chili, and also brought home a few cans of Empress from a Cincinnati-themed store downtown.) Sorry I didn't get the position, but seven years later I would have been out of a job once Scripps shut it down.

Kathleen said...

VP81955 I'm glad you enjoyed your visit! The city has changed tremendously since then. You should come back for a visit and check it out. Good to hear you like Cincy chili. Many people hate it. And, yes, I was sad when the Post folded.

Misha Lauenstein said...

WKRP's frequency was somewhere over 1600.

Arthur: "Some radio dials don't even go up that high."

Thomas Hill said...

I worked in radio from 87 -97 5 years top 40/CHR and 5 years AOR. Ken's analysis is correct, but I recall an interview with Howard Hessmann whereby he said they took creative license with the headphones thing and so did not where them. But Johnny does where a set during the turkey drop remote so he talk to Les while doing his show. I do think people believe that the large ensemble cast of KRP does represent a station staff. But that's just not true, but a half hour show could not feature that many characters. To a poster's other point, there were lots of Herb Tarlek's at all the stations at which I worked. I did have tight playlists to follow, liners to read, etc. but there was always some freedom to play requests and be creative. Also only one engineer and only one or two news people in a music driven format. I miss the business as it is a lot of fun. But when I remember KRP and catch the odd episode it's the writing and the characters and the casting. All such talented people. Frank Bonner especially - watch these shows now and see his acting chops. He's not a comic with a sitcom or a Larry the Cable Guy character personna. He should have won the Emmy as many times as Don Knotts did as Barney Fife.

Anonymous said...

I was affiliated ever so briefly with a small market 5000 watt AM that was trying to revive Top 40 in the mid 90s. The on air staff consisted of the owner's sons in AM and PM drive and a friend of the owner who traded his midday shift for ads to promote his business. The PM guy used the name Happy Jack Daniels although he was only 16. If I had been running the place, I'd have told him his name was Jay Daniels until he was old enough to buy Jack.

ptek zecherle said...

Wow the only thing I see is the gates hi water turntables. No cart machines no reel to reels
No at that time an ebs system.

finkfunk said...

It wasn't a top station. And it had more than one DJ. Johnny and Venus were just the only ones in the main cast. Sam Anderson played Rex Erhardt in one episode. There was also Moss Steiger and Dean the Dream, who were mentioned but never seen.