September 1978: The First Episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati" Debuts on CBS

WKRP in Cincy, baby
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(CBS)

Launched on September 18, 1978, WKRP in Cincinnati was immediately popular with its desired fan base--young people--despite being stuck on Monday nights opposite Welcome Back, Kotter and Little House on the Prairie. Only eight shows into the first season, and CBS put the show on hiatus while the network tried to figure out to revive flagging ratings. Moving the show to directly follow M*A*S*H would help the ratings rise to meet the critical acclaim and fan response.

Unfortunately, time slot tinkering would become the bane of the show, as it was shuffled around the CBS schedule repeatedly throughout its four-season run. Despite fans having to search to find WKRP, the show regularly delivered with memorable episodes, including the "Turkeys Away" episode of the first season.

After four seasons of thrilling fans across the country with their rock and roll radio antics for four seasons, the DJs of spun their last record on April 21, 1982. That was the night of the show's series finale, even though the stars and producers weren't at all sure of their future at the time. Although the open-ended conclusion suggests they knew cancellation was a possibility.

The show would indeed get axed after that final episode of the fourth season, only to return in 1991 as short-lived but popular The New WKRP in Cincinnati. Here are five fun facts about WKRP in Cincinnati:

1. The show's theme song was a minor hit on the charts
The popular WKRP theme song singer, Steve Carlisle, would release an extended version of the tune in 1981. The track would spend weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at #65 on Christmas Day, 1981.

2. Blondie sent a gold record to the show for supporting "Heart of Glass"
WKRP in Cincinnati's TV platform helped boost sales for current hit records of the day, with the Knack, the Pretenders, the Cars, and DEVO all getting airplay on the show. When Blondie saw a serious sales spike after "Heart of Glass" got a spin on WKRP, the band sent over a gold record to say thanks. It can be seen hanging on the station wall in various episodes.

3. WKRP got serious after the Who concert tragedy in Cincinnati.
When 11 fans were killed in the tragic December 3, 1979 Who concert disaster, show producers wrote the incident into the script. The "In Concert" episode aired on February 11, 1980. In this Paley Center interview, actor Tim Reid ("Venus Flytrap") talks about how the Who episode came to be.

4. Another actor almost played the role of Dr. Johnny Fever
Actor Richard Libertini was unable to take the role as the show's wild radio DJ. Howard Hessman scored the role after coming in to read for the part of salesman Herb Tarlek. When he saw the role of Johnny Fever, however, he realized the part was his destiny.

5. There was a reason newsman Les Nessman was bandaged in every episode of the show
Actor Richard Sanders who played Nessman cut his hand while filming the two-part pilot episode. In a moment of inspiration, Sanders thought it would be funny to make it a running gag, and have Nessman sporting a bandaged injury somewhere on his body for the rest of the series.

 

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