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Series / WKRP in Cincinnati

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Clockwise from top left: Les, Mr. Carlson, Venus, Andy, Bailey, Johnny, Jennifer, Herb.

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."
Arthur Carlson, "Turkeys Away" episode

A classic 1978–82 Work Com on CBS that was originally an underdog property of MTM Productions, only to have the syndicated reruns catapult it back to recognition. It was as adult as possible on network television at the time, and frequently shifted tone from wacky to satirical to surreal.

In addition, it was often recognized by Real Life radio station employees as being an accurate depiction of the industry, thanks to series creator and executive producer Hugh Wilson's experience with it. Several of the more outrageous onscreen moments are actually the most realistic. As such, this show has been the general public impression of the commercial radio business for generations.

The year is 1978. Hotshot program director Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) arrives for his first day of work at WKRP, a small Cincinnati radio station whose "soothing sounds for senior citizens" format (aka Beautiful Music, a Muzak-esque concept that was actually common at the time) has "catapulted" it to a permanent position at the very bottom of the local ratings. After encountering the requisite cast of oddballs working at the station, Andy immediately – as in mid-song – tosses out the old format and replaces it with Top 40 music, then hires an oddball of his own to add to the mix. note 

Among the ensemble were:

  • Arthur "Big Guy" Carlson (Gordon Jump) — The sweet and well-meaning but totally ineffectual station manager, son of WKRP's formidable owner. Usually happy to remain clueless — he generally knows how out of his depth he is, and he's quite content to hole up in his office, playing with fishing equipment, model airplanes, or paint-by-numbers kits. He occasionally gets the urge to be more hands-on, with predictably disastrous consequences. However, he can also be a surprisingly wise father figure to the staff.
  • Jennifer Elizabeth Marlowe (Loni Anderson) — Carlson's highly skilled receptionist, blonde but in no way dumb, with a wicked wit and an appetite for rich men. The highest-paid employee at the station.
  • Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) — The station's nerdy news director, completely divorced from modern American culture and, indeed, much of reality. Strangely obsessed with the region's hog farming industry, which allowed him to maintain his illusion of journalistic credibility by constantly giving him Buckeye Newshawk awards with the occasional Silver Sow. In his most memorable effort to live up to this self-image, he marked out an "office" with packing tape on the floor, and insisted visitors knock on the non-existent door before 'entering'. Named the best situation comedy character in American television history in a 1999 poll of television critics.
  • Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) — The vaguely repulsive but basically harmless Casanova Wannabe ad salesman. Hits on Jennifer at every opportunity, despite being married. Enjoys three-martini lunches. Shoes match the belt. Son plays with dolls. Has a surprisingly strong moral code hidden under all those layers of smarminess. Suits based on local broadcaster Bob Braun's wardrobe.
  • Johnny "Dr. Johnny Fever" Caravella (Howard Hesseman) — Once legendary, now a down-at-the-heels rock DJ (he got kicked off the air in LA for saying "booger") whose entire life is reinvigorated when Andy changes the station's format. Smart, cynical, but cannot function without coffee. It's also heavily implied that he enjoys light recreational drugs like marijuana, and, famously, alcohol actually improves his reflexes. (He firmly draws the line at any heavier drugs like cocaine, though.) Due to the effects of his (implied) drug use, Johnny is vulnerable to random irrational neuroses, as for instance his terror of the "phone cops" coming to get him for breaking a phone.
  • Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) — The shy, conscientious intern, an office wallflower who could be surprisingly strong and articulate when needed. She and Johnny shared a tentative attraction, though the comedy generally cut in before it could be explored. Later gets promoted to the news staff and gets Les terribly jealous by actually being good at it.
  • Gordon "Venus Flytrap" Sims (Tim Reid) — The velvet-voiced evening DJ hired by Andy. In reality, he's an ex-teacher who is a federal fugitive wanted for desertion from the US military, which makes him deathly afraid of being approached by the authorities. Has a tendency to stereotypically flashy outfits, but it's only to hide a rather nerdy, business-savvy true personality. He is shown broadcasting late at night, in the early evening and afternoon, as the plot requires.

The show was originally envisioned as Values Dissonance in action — the "suits" vs. the "dungarees" (jeans) — with one of each group playing off a member of the other. Mr. Carlson and Andy were the all-but-powerless management (Andy not being able to get anyone to play the playlist, for instance); Herb and Venus were the flashily-dressed Casanovas; Les and Johnny were the nutcases (Johnny with his "phone police", Les with his masking-tape walls), and Jennifer and Bailey were the women. The "suits" vs. "dungarees" idea was used in a few early episodes (notably the turkey episode and "The Contest Nobody Could Win", where it's brought up by the characters), but quickly faded away in favour of a straight ensemble show.

Not surprisingly, the show was also a major early user of established hit rock music to illustrate — and often inform — the action. Unfortunately, the resultant expiration of license agreements has precluded keeping the original songs on current airings, and delayed publishing the series on DVD. The first season was released on DVD, but got around the music licensing by cutting out nearly all the music, and removing scenes that were accompanied by music. However, in 2014 Shout! Factory announced that they were releasing a box set of the complete original series—with almost all of the original music intact.

A revival show aired in syndication from 1991 to 1993; it was aptly titled The New WKRP in Cincinnati. Arthur, Herb and Les were still around, and Arthur Jr. (previously featured in the original series as a kid horribly twisted by military school) was now Herb's subordinate, with several other new characters joining up. Johnny Fever showed up from time to time as well (Venus and Jennifer appeared for one and two episodes each). Although it was turning a profit, the series wasn't successful enough to warrant a third season.

This show provides examples of:

  • Action Insurance Gag: In one episode, Herb starts selling insurance on the side. He sells a big policy to Les, who shortly afterward gets in a big accident where his scooter runs into a house, severely injuring the two people inside. (quote paraphrased)
    Mr. Carlson: Are you OK?
    Les: I'll survive.
    Andy: Are the people you hit OK?
    Les: They're in the hospital.
    Herb: Did you mail the insurance premium check?
    Les: First thing this morning.
    Herb: WHYYY?!
  • Addiction-Powered: The more Johnny drinks, the better his reflexes are, as proven in an on-air PSA against drunk driving.
  • An Aesop: In "Venus and the Man," Venus uses an example of street gang politics to explain the structure of the atom to a tough street gangster and show him why going to school is worthwhile.
  • The Alcoholic: Herb, though Mr. Carlson also has a tendency to get smashed a lot, and Johnny has done so much drinking that he's built up a resistance to it.
  • Amazing Freaking Grace: Bailey sings this to audition for the commercial in "A Commercial Break".
  • And Starring: In seasons one and two, Gordon Jump (billed second behind Gary Sandy) gets "And Gordon Jump" in the opening credits, while in the co-starring end titles credits, Howard Hesseman gets "And Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever." Beginning with the third season, when everyone was billed in the opening credits, Hesseman kept the special billing he received, word-for-word in the first two seasons, while Jump lost the "and" and simply retained his second billing behind Sandy.
  • Animal Motif: Naturally, rival station WPIG are associated with pigs a lot, having a pig as their mascot, and being referred to as "swine" for making greedy demands at times.
  • Artistic License: The show took several liberties with the way radio worked at the time.
    • The WKRP DJs almost never wear headphones, unlike in real life, because that gives them more freedom to move around and talk to other characters.
    • Since the show only follows two of the DJs, the airstaff would appear to be too small. In fact, the station has several on-air personalities that are mentioned but rarely seen, including the late night DJ Moss Steiger, afternoon DJ Dean the Dream and mid-morning DJ Rex Erhart. In the season 4 episode "The Union," all of the on-air staff is in the room at once. Johnny and Venus also frequently fill in for the other DJ's, explaining why they are around the station outside of their normal times. A lot of conversations about the other staff were cut in the syndicated episodes.
      • That said, the off-air staff is definitely too small. There would generally be two receptionists, and possibly another set for weekends, Carlson and Andy both would have at least one "go-fer", Bailey's job would be done by two people at least, and Herb would have a team of junior sales staff working under him. And that's at just a tiny station.
  • Attention Whore: In the late Season 1 episode "Young Master Carlson," when Mr. Carlson's heretofore unseen son, Arthur Jr., causes trouble at the station, his father takes him aside and essentially accuses him of being this ... perhaps knowing this was the reason administrators at the military school he was sent to asked Mama Carlson — who enrolled Arthur Jr. there in the first place — to remove him permanently.
  • Badass Preacher: The Reverend Little Ed Pembrook, WKRP's Sunday morning evangelist, is a 300-pound former pro wrestler who intimidates everyone at the station.
  • Baseball Episode: The softball game against WPIG.
  • Bathroom Brawl: An epicly hilarious one in "Fish Story". Nowhere else will you see a man dressed as a carp wrestle a man dressed as a pig on the floor of a college bathroom over a pay toilet.
  • The Beard: Jennifer tries to get rid of an old boyfriend by pretending to be married to Johnny.
  • Berserk Button: Les has several, as the title character in "Les' Groupie" finds out the hard way. You DO NOT make fun of the imaginary walls of his office; he also doesn't like his Buckeye Newshawk and Silver Sow Award (given for agricultural reporting) being messed with, as per Johnny, who advises Les' groupie that if she values her life she won't touch them.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Mr. Anderson (Sam Anderson), the immigration officer in "The Americanization of Ivan". He's not very busy, but the government has left him without the resources to handle anything happening at all beyond the occasional visa application.
    Bailey: Why do you have a picture of Richard Nixon on the wall?
    Mr. Anderson: They never sent me a Carter.
  • Betty and Veronica: Bailey and Jennifer are often regarded this way by the show's fans, although they weren't involved in any actual relationship triangles on the show.
  • Beware of Vicious Dog: Les has one at home, accounting for his frequent bandaged injuries.
  • Big Ego, Hidden Depths: "Put Up Or Shut Up": Bailey convinces Jennifer to accept a date with Herb in the hope that he'll get scared and back down.
  • Black and Nerdy: Venus. Despite his cool showbiz persona, he's repeatedly shown to know more about business and investments than anyone else at the station. He was also a science teacher in New Orleans prior to coming to WKRP.
  • Black Comedy Burst: "Hotel Oceanview".
  • Black Like Me: Subverted when Les tries to disguise himself as an African-American, with predictable results.
  • Brawn Hilda: It's implied that Little Ed's wife is this; when the question is asked why the oversized preacher is called Little Ed, the response is, "'Cause his wife is Big Ed."
  • Breakout Character: Deliberately averted. According to a Wall Street Journal article at the time the show premiered, Johnny Fever was the most popular part of the pilot in testing, but CBS executives felt that it would unbalance the show if it concentrated too much on one supporting character.
  • Broken Aesop: In "Real Families," where Herb and his family are profiled for a reality TV show purporting to pay tribute to mainstream, traditional American families but instead exploiting them for profit and ratings, there is a point where the family starts letting down their guard and all is not as "one big happy family" as made out to be. Herb finally realizes this and decides he doesn't want to continue and orders the interviewers to leave. However ... rather than threaten to file a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit if their story is ever aired much less if the hosts even so much as mention them their program, he accepts what is an apparently large cash bonus to appear on a future episode, which the Tarleks do. It makes it appear that money is more important to Herb than him being a father who, while certainly far from perfect, considers protecting his family and guarding their secrets and private lives like a hawk his first priority.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: All of the cast qualifies a little:
    • But Les most of all. Not always a good thing, as his eccentricities often get him in trouble.
    • Arthur Carlson, whose bumbling, indecisive management style prevents the station from being profitable, is principled, kind, decent, and occasionally wise boss. The main reason he was hired in the first place was because Mama Carlson's strict upbringing of Arthur didn't work out, so she gave him a chance at running a radio station.
  • Candy Striper: In Season 3, Episode 4, "The Baby", Arthur Carlson is in no fit state to drive himself to the hospital when he hears that his wife Carmen has gone into labor. Andy Travis gives him a ride, and sticks around to provide moral support while Mr. Carlson tries to work up the courage to enter the delivery room. Andy ends up having a humorous conversation with a pretty Candy Striper at the hospital:
    Andy Travis: You a nurse? Candy Striper: Oh no, I'm just a volunteer. I wanted to be a nurse, but not anymore. They don't pay nurses anything, and most of the doctors are real rude to the nurses around here because they have a Christ complex... the doctors, I mean. So that's why I've decided to go out to Hollywood and do a Playboy spread. Because I really like making other people happy.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Les. He claims that it's his instinct as a newsman to disseminate information as soon as he hears it.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Herb Tarlek is a borderline case. Compared to his more sleazy clients, he's normal. Amusingly justified in an episode in which Jennifer gives him a makeover, ditching his loud blazers for sharp power suits, and having him adopt a more straightforward, professional approach. Whereupon he totally alienates his lowbrow clientele and abruptly has to change back.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Toward the end of the third season, there is a string of consecutive episodes that are considerably more downbeat than anything that had come before, particularly "Ask Jennifer", "Secrets of Dayton Heights" and "Till Debt Do Us Part".
  • Characterization Marches On:
    • In the pilot, Jennifer doesn't like Mr. Carlson, referring to him as "the jerk who runs this place" (though she says it as part of a list of slang terms for "big boss", such as "head honcho", etc., and probably doesn't mean that she actually thinks Carlson is a jerk). From the second episode on, she's practically a second mother to him. She also initially seems to loathe doing any actual work, whereas in later shows she's pretty much the one keeping the place running.
    • Also in the pilot, it's implied that Carlson fires people almost at whim, whereas for the rest of the series, Carlson's inability to fire anyone has become a running joke of sorts.
    • Venus in the pilot was something of a Jive Turkey, but this was actually explained away through a Retcon as being an act to fool Mama Carlson into giving him the job.
    • Herb was initially a womanizer who flirted with Jennifer constantly despite being married, as well as a man who has "three martini" lunches on a frequent basis. Both of these attributes were eventually changed—when Jennifer finally agrees to go on a date with Herb (in the hopes he won't go through with it), he finds he absolutely can NOT sleep with her, after which he cuts down on the flirting and focuses more on his family. Herb's martini habit goes from being merely a character trait to alcoholism when he realizes that he is drinking excessively and affecting his life and work, and puts an end to it.
  • Childhood Memory Demolition Team: "I Am Woman" has Bailey trying to save WKRP's old building when it's about to be torn down, even though it will enable them to move to a better building, because she sees older buildings as symbolic of a pre-machine era when people mattered more.
    • The ending of this plot was, even then, so much of a Foregone Conclusion that the episode doesn't even bother to show the building being saved; Bailey and Mr. Carlson just agree that they'll work to save it, and we assume they do because Status Quo Is God... that, and they remain in the same building for the rest of the series.
  • Christmas Episode: "Jennifer's Home for Christmas" (Season 2), "Bah, Humbug" (Season 3)
  • Clip Show: "Mama's Review," where Andy and Mr. Carlson recount some of the crazy things that have happened at the station since it switched to rock n' roll.
    • Unusually, this clip show was done early in the series, in the middle of the first season. The reason for this was that the show had returned from hiatus in a better time slot (following M*A*S*H) and the clip show was a way to introduce a new audience to some of the best scenes from the early episodes, including the turkey drop.
    • An hour long Clip Show special, The WKRP 50th Anniversary Special, aired the week before the revival series started. It featured a reporter interviewing Mr. Carlson about the station on its 50th (in-universe) anniversary.
  • Compressed Vice: Herb's drinking problem in "Out To Lunch". Though the writers deliberately foreshadowed this in an episode two weeks before, where Jennifer tells Herb that his "three-martini lunches" are causing him to forget things he said. And the drinking problem was referred to a couple of times afterward.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • An unusual number for a sitcom of the era. For instance, in the pilot episode, Andy promises Les a news helicopter, and in the third season premiere, this becomes a plot point.
    Les: Travis, the day you came to this station, you promised to get me a helicopter.
    Andy: I know, Les, but that was a long time ago and I was lying.
    • When Venus is framed for armed robbery, the revelation of all the comically criminal things Venus has done in previous episodes — including helping the gang break into a photographer's studio and pulling a gun on Andy — don't help his case.
    • One episode involves Herb's realization that he's at least headed for alcoholism, which as noted had been subtly indicated a few episodes prior. Later episodes involving alcohol where Herb might have a drink show that he doesn't, including one where Herb, pouring for everyone but himself, lampshades it.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mama Carlson.
  • Creator Cameo: Hugh Wilson plays the cop who shows up to arrest Johnny at the end of "Hold-Up".
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: A radio consultant is hired by Mama Carlson to report on the station. Everyone acts out of character for him so his report will be useless. At one point he says that Herb, a sales "staff" of one, is horribly overworked and needs an entire staff under him.
  • Dark Secret:
    • In "Real Families," once Herb and his family start letting their guards down as the show's hosts are trying to dig up dirt on them, it's clear that all is not always happy in the Tarlek family. In the end, Tarlek kicks them out ... only for them to accept a(n apparently large) cash bonus for appearing live on the show and putting on their "one big happy family" faces.
    • In "Secrets of Dayton Heights," Les learns that when he was a month old, his mother divorced his biological father, a military barber accused of spying for Russia due to his Communist sympathies; the man for whom Les is named, Lester Nessman Sr., was in fact his mother's second husband and his stepfather, a secret the pair kept from him to spare Les the potential stigma of being an accused Communist's son in McCarthy-era America.
  • A Day in the Limelight: In addition to serving as a Baseball Episode, the softball game against WPIG serves as a Character Development opportunity for Les Nessman, who is used for a lot more than Plucky Comic Relief. He even gets to save the day for once!
  • Dead Air:
    • Unsurprisingly as it's about a radio station, it had at least a few examples.
    • "That preceding moment of silence was presented as a service to the hearing-impaired listeners of our show.."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Johnny, joined to varying degrees by Andy, Venus, and occasionally Jennifer. Not to mention Mama Carlson's butler Hirsch.
  • Dead Pet Sketch: "Frog Story," where Herb brings in his daughter's pet frog Greenpeace, who's dying as a result of Herb accidentally spray-painting him. Much dark Hilarity Ensues. ("Looks more like Pinkpeace to me!")
  • Deal with the Devil: During the third season, the radio staff are secretly organizing to vote whether to form a union. Andy works behind the scenes to prevent the vote from succeeding, only because he makes a secret deal with Mrs. Carlson to accede to improvements - better pay and upgraded equipment - to help their slow ascent to being a top-market radio station.
  • Defector from Commie Land: When Les and Bailey are reporting on an otherwise ignored conference by several Soviet livestock specialists visiting America, one Russian slips Bailey a note asking her to help him defect.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Les ends one broadcast this way.
    "This has been Les Nesman, saying, this has been Les Nesman!"
  • Did Not Think This Through: Carlson's "brilliant" promotional idea of giving everyone in Cincinnati a turkey for Thanksgiving... by dropping them from a helicopter. Because, yep, he really did think they could fly. Provoking possibly the most famous subsequent case of Surprisingly Realistic Outcome in media history.
    • To his credit, wild turkeys can fly... but not domestic ones.
  • Dirty Communists: One of Les's fixations.
  • Disco Sucks: The show debuted around the time public opinion was turning against disco, and it shows. Johnny once gave away tickets to a rock concert for someone who could complete a sentence. The sentence: "Disco is hell".
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Jennifer helps win the game against WPIG by standing right next to Mr. Carlson on the mound and messing with the hitters' concentration.
  • The Ditz: Jennifer is one of the most famous TV subversions. Although, she does a brilliant job of playing the ditz when everyone is called upon to play their opposite selves in "The Consultant".
    "We have all kinds of chairs! There's one over there, and one over there, and one, that's a clock."
    • Played much straighter with Les, who once led off a newscast by saying the station was off the air.
  • Documentary Episode: One episode is done entirely as an episode of a sleazy documentary show called "Real Families".
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Averted in an early episode, "Les On a Ledge," when Les is banned from the locker rooms at Riverfront Stadium[[note]]the then-home of the Cincinatti Reds and Bengals after a player thought Les was gay after misinterpreting another reporter's remark. Les is so distraught that he considers jumping from a window in a tall building.
    • Moss Stieger (an occasionally referred to unseen character) is successful in taking his life (for unknown reasons), sometime between the last episode of the original series and the premiere of the "New" version. During the original series, it's noted he tried at least twice to take his life.
  • Drugs Are Bad:
    • In "Hold Up," multiple characters tell the hyperactive, apparently high owner of an electronics store "Speed kills."
    • The new DJ in "Johnny Comes Back" is taking payola to support his cocaine habit. Played with in the same episode- to avoid complications when Mr. Carlson is aware of a packet of white stuff. Johnny tells Carlson the packet is 'foot powder'. The Big Guy promptly tries it out... cue hilariously panicked stomping when he finds out the truth.
      "I've got a monkey on my foot!"
    • The bad guy in "The Consultant" is also a coke user.
    • "Pills" also centres around this as Johnny and Les alert the station to the fact that Herb's latest advertising client is using the station to sell a legalized form of amphetamines disguised as "diet pills."
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • There wasn't as much of this as on some network shows, but in early episodes, Jennifer is shown objecting to anything that feels like real work, such as answering three calls in one day, taking dictation and getting coffee. Later episodes showed her capable of handling just about anything; one could write off her disinterest in dictation and coffee-fetching as considering it's beneath her. Jennifer also expresses near-contempt for Mr. Carlson ("the jerk who runs this place") in the pilot, something she would never do in the subsequent series.
      • Fridge Brilliance: The show is presented more or less from Andy's perspective, and he doesn't know Jennifer very well at first.
    • Johnny would doze off mid-thought and acted like getting up early was a chore. Later, while he always acted kind of tired, he had no trouble with the hours he kept and never had a "dozing off" moment or confused wake-up. Again, it can be explained away, as it might take a little while in the early going for Johnny to adjust his energy levels (and perhaps his consumption of pharmaceuticals) to that of a high-energy morning DJ.
    • In the very earliest episodes, Venus was more of a jive turkey and dressed like a pimp ("I've got suits I can't even get parts for!"). While his dress style remained somewhat flamboyant, he definitely toned it down, and in personality revealed that he was actually a bit of a nerd. Actually dealt with in a late-running episode, where it was revealed that Venus' initially over-the-top flamboyant personality was a ruse cooked up by Venus and Andy. Turns out he was always a slightly nerdy type, but Andy wanted to ensure that new hire Venus would make an unforgettable impression on WKRP management, really driving home the format change he had in mind. So they created the ultra-smooth, flashy persona of 'Venus Rising' — except Andy forgot the name, and introduced him to management as "Venus Flytrap".
    • Several episodes throughout the first and occasionally second season imply that Andy and Venus go way back and are close friends. He's the one Andy confides in about what he should have done to cause a rapid turnaround for the station (fire Herb, Les and Carlson himself). However, as the series goes on, Venus ends up becoming much closer with Johnny, to the point where they're pretty much Those Two Guys.
  • Election Day Episode: In "Carlson for President", Carlson runs for city council, and then, after accidentally letting slip an embarrassing secret about another candidate, sabotages himself so he doesn't win because of it.
  • Embarrassing Slide: In one episode, some of the staff make a pitch to land an important new advertising account. As part of this, Andy fires up the slide show: "...I have no idea where that pornographic slide came from."
  • Expansion Pack Past: Several characters, but especially Jennifer, whose rise from a poor girl from Rock Throw, West Virginia to wealthy society patron — all while working as a radio receptionist — is almost entirely told through throwaway jokes.
    Venus: Jennifer, what would you say if Ronald Reagan called and asked you to be secretary of the Treasury?
    Jennifer: I said no.
  • Failure Is the Only Option:
    • The goal of making the station successful; partially averted, in that the station staff does turn the business around, but it proves a frustratingly slow process. Later, it is revealed that the owner, Carlson's mother, gets a tax break on the station's negative cash flow, and doesn't want it to be successful.
    • Subverted in what proved to be the series finale, "Up and Down the Dial", where Johnny confronts Mrs. Carlson about her betraying her son's success with WKRP over that tax break when she decides to switch to an all-news format. She relents and allows The Big Guy to keep the station as is.
    • Suggested plots for the proposed fifth season would have focused on how much harder it was to run a successful radio station instead of a failing one.
    • The revival series had Carlson, Herb, and Les still at the station while everyone else successfully moved on with their lives into better careers. Johnny only comes back for frequent visits because he's achieved a zen balance between success and failure.
    • In "The Consultant," Andy realizes the only way to keep people from getting fired is not to hide the rampant dysfunction and incompetence going on at the station...he just has the competent people play dysfunctional and vice-versa, rendering the consultant's report useless and forcing Mama Carlson to leave everyone alone.
    • Season 2's "Baby, If You've Ever Wondered" has Andy lamenting that he hasn't actually turned the station around, but in the end realizing that in order to really do it, he would have had to fire Les, Herb, and Carlson, and he wouldn't want to work there without them. (Not to mention that firing Carlson is not possible considering he is officially Andy's boss, and the owner's son.)
  • Fake Fabric Fashion Faux Pas: Herb's suits are often these along with their gaudy patterns.
  • Fake-Hair Drama: "A Date with Jennifer" has Les experience this over an awards ceremony.
  • Fanservice: An equal opportunity version in "Filthy Pictures," where Jennifer appears in a bathing suit for the first and only time in the show, right alongside an embarrassed Andy in a skimpy bathing suit of his own. Played with in that the entire episode then becomes about the illicit snaps the photographer caught of Jennifer in the change room.
    • Lampshaded by Bailey: "How come the women are always doing the cheesecake? It's about time we got to see a little beefcake."
  • Fictional Counterpart: WKRP wasn't meant to represent any particular real-life radio station, but it's well-documented that WQXI in Atlanta was the main inspiration for it. Among actual stations in Cincinnati, one FM station had been using the call letters WKRQ for a few years when the show debuted, and the revelation in The New WKRP in Cincinnati that its frequency was 1530 on the AM dial suggests the station was supposed to be a fictionalized version of WCKY. A few real life radio and TV stations around the country also adopted the WKRP call letters over the years.
  • Freudian Excuse: In "Herb's Dad", we learn that Herb Tarlek, Sr. is the same sleazy, womanizing, bad-dressing con man that his son is. Herb, who worships his father, acts the way he does to live up to his dad's "impossible standard of excellence".
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Herb. He has few, if any, redeeming qualities, can't stop pursuing Jennifer despite being married and her repeatedly showing zero interest, bullies Les, the only one at the station who considers him a true friend, and is one of the biggest reasons the station is suffering. The gang lampshades how much they don't like him on several occasions. And yet somehow, unlike Bucky Dornster, Moss Steiger, Dean the Dream or Rex Erhardt, he is included in literally every out-of-the-office activity, the station has pulled together to help him on several occasions and were even willing to lie to the camera (however unconvincingly) to make him look good on TV.
  • Funny Foreigner: Ivan Popasonoviski, the Russian defector in "The Americanization of Ivan," whose knowledge of American popular culture mostly comes from Elton John's then-recent tour of the Soviet Union ("Hold me closer, tiny dancer!")
  • Gaslighting: When Mama Carlson hires a consultant to investigate the station, the staff members act like their polar opposites (such as Arthur pretending to be an overworked and attentive manager and Jennifer acting like a Dumb Blonde) so that he sounds like a complete idiot when presenting his final report.
  • Geeky Analogy: Inverted in "Venus and the Man", where Venus teaches a streetwise teenager about the structure of the atom using gang references.
  • George Jetson Job Security: With Andy Travis, as Mama Carlson tried to use her political influence to have him removed as program director several times. These included everything from his initial decision to change the station's format (in mid-shift, no less) from a middle-of-the-road station playing primarily non-descript music to top 40, to petty arguments to major decisions such as Andy standing his ground when he refuses to hire a programming consultant to determine the station's playlist.
  • Gilligan Cut: Invoked after one of his many girlfriends nearly frames Venus for burglary:
    Venus: Never gonna listen again to a good lookin' woman.
    Jennifer: Venus? Would you do me a favor?
    Venus: Coming up!
  • Gold Digger:
    • Both played straight and subverted with Jennifer. She dates rich old men and accepts expensive gifts from them, but she seems to have real affection for them, and when one of her old boyfriends dies, it's revealed that she asked him not to leave her any money.
    Jennifer: If he did, it would make him seem like an old man with the hots for a younger woman. Which, of course, he was. But in a charming way.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: In the second episode, a group of senior citizens who liked the station's original format barge in to protest, shouting "Heck no, we won't go!"
  • Granola Girl: Buffy, Johnny's ex-girlfriend from California, is a compendium of every Southern Cal hippie-chick stereotype. "I just think it's sad that we even need locks in the first place."
  • Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: Johnny Fever
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Moss Steiger, WKRP's late-night disc jockey.
  • Hidden Depths: Nearly every character, including the obnoxious Herb, has more to them than first impressions would imply. Even Mrs. Carlson, who will instantly ship your entire existence to another hemisphere if you refuse to play her favorite song, has a compassionate side to her.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Jennifer can avert the wandering eye of pretty much any male, intentionally or otherwise.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Andy has a bit border collie, Pecos Bill.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Many of WKRP's advertising clients qualify as this, but especially Del's Stereo and Sound, the down-and-out stereo shop in "Hold-Up".
    "'No refunds' — that's our motto."
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Jennifer.
    Carlson: Jennifer, what's going on?
    Jennifer: I don't know.
    Carlson: Oh, don't you lie to me!
  • I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: Arthur Carlson runs a rock-and-roll radio station, but prefers older music and is reluctant to listen to his DJs. However, when maintaining the station's public image eventually demands that he attend a Who concert they're giving away tickets for, Carlson enjoys the band's music.
  • I Lied: In the pilot, Andy promises to get Les a helicopter for live traffic reports. Many episodes later, Les complains that there is still no helicopter, and Andy unashamedly tells Les he was lying.
  • Immune to Drugs: Johnny's years of abusing his body have made his reflexes get better, not worse, with every drink he takes, to the mounting rage of the cop administering the test.
    Cop: You have obviously built up a superhuman tolerance to alcohol!
    Johnny: Yes, it's true, it was once sort of a hobby.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Pretty much every one of Herb's suits. Actually gets Carlson off the hook when he skips out on an event of his mother's; after Herb explains that he'd got Carlson a ridiculous tuxedo, Mama C. suddenly doesn't mind anymore.
  • Incompetence, Inc.: Before Andy showed up, WKRP was one of the bottom ranked radio stations in the city and was bleeding money. When Andy finally turns the station around, it's revealed that Mama Carlson was using it as a tax write-off, and was not pleased that it was now making money.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Doug Winner accidentally outed himself to taking payola in this manner. Johnny had discovered that Doug, Johnny's replacement in the morning DJ slot after Johnny's brief move to Los Angeles, was taking payola in the form of cocaine from a record promoter. At the same time, Andy discovered that Doug was taking payola (though not the form the payola took) and confronted him over it. When Doug admitted to the payola, he then tried to blame the cocaine on Johnny, believing Johnny had told Andy and Mr. Carlson to sabotage Doug's position and regain his timeslot. Johnny hadn't told anyone word one about it, and the Oh, Crap! look on his face when he realizes Andy hadn't a clue about Doug's drug habit is priceless.
  • Ineffectual Death Threats: Mr. Carlson repeatedly makes these against Herb.
    "I want this man killed. Slowly and painfully. Okay? That's just the way I want it."
  • Intoxication Ensues: Johnny goes out on a date with Bailey after his ex-girlfriend has slipped amphetamines into his coffee, and he's moving and talking a mile a minute. "I don't know what that was, but I bet I'm gonna be able to talk about it all night."
    • This is also the explanation for Mr. Carlson's dream in "Bah, Humbug":
    Mr. Carlson: I can't wake up. Scrooge could wake up.
    Mr. Carlson's grandfather: Scrooge didn't eat one of Johnny Fever's brownies.
    • Happens to Venus in "Fish Story", where the disc jockeys take a Real Life on-the-air drinking test to show the effects of drunk driving — but not to Johnny, whose years of substance abuse have made him immune to alcohol.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: After selling air time to a sports supplement store, Herb has a crisis of conscience when a high school student keels over from using them, as the "supplements" may have been something much more illicit, and he eventually makes an on-air apology.
    • Drifts into Jerk with a Heart of Jerk when his consummate salesman attitude kicks in and slips into a sales pitch for WKRP at the end of the apology.
    • Mama Carlson shows signs of this at times. While she's a harsh, tough businesswoman, she does truly love her son, but acts cold and harsh towards him because she doesn't want him to become a weak-willed failure like his father was.
  • The Jeeves: Jennifer, and Hirsch, Mrs. Carlson's butler.
  • Jive Turkey: Played straight with Venus in early episodes, then subverted, as it turns out his slang and clothes are mostly just part of his show business persona.
    "I beg your pardon—I mean, say what?"
  • Just Eat Gilligan: Justified. When Andy is upset the ratings are going up only slightly, he realizes he'd have to fire half the staff, including the station owner's son. Not exactly the most feasible option, especially while they're all utterly and obliviously jubilant at actually having gone up in the ratings for the first time.
  • Just for the Heli of It: Discussed a few times because newsman Les Nessman wants a traffic 'copter for the station in order to keep up with the better funded competition. In the first episode, new program director Andy promises him one just to shut him up. Cue Continuity Nod above.
  • Just Testing You: In "Put Up or Shut Up," Johnny Fever has a drug flashback. He asks Andy, "Do you see anybody over in that corner?" After Andy says no, Johnny says, "Neither do I. Just testing you."
  • Kitschy Local Commercial: All of WKRP's commercials are like this, neatly explaining why Herb still has a job.
    • The most frequently heard spots are the jingle for Red Wigglers ("the Cadillac of Worms") and the advertisement for Shady Hills Rest Home ("Many people ask this age-old question: what happens when I can no longer feed myself?").
    • "A Commercial Break" has the characters producing one of these commercials themselves, a song for a funeral home; it's in such bad taste that Mr. Carlson gives up a big account rather than allow it on the station.
      "Hey, you're young and swingin'
      No time to think about tomorrow
      But there ain't no way to deny it
      Someday you're gonna buy it."
  • The Last DJ: Johnny, who refuses to use the hit-heavy playlists Andy gives him, preferring his own instincts. It ends up paying off as by the end of the series Johnny is the #1 morning DJ in the city.
    • The station itself applies. Corporate owned stations with automated programming were quickly becoming the norm even in those days, but Andy sticks to his guns in allowing the DJ's play their own music following a playlist (that Johnny largely ignores as mentioned above). A few episodes even focus on the shift, with one station wanting to hire Venus away to oversee their automated programming and Mr. Carlson having a nightmare about the station's future in which the only employee left is Herb, who's around to answer sales calls and monitor the computer broadcasting the programming.
  • Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: The station's cleaning woman, Cora, appears for the first and only time in "Venus and the Man" so Venus can talk her son out of dropping out of school. Fairly well justified in that the show takes place during the hours most of the employees are at the station, meaning the cleaning staff wouldn't usually show up in any case.
  • Loony Fan: Les gets one of these in "Les' Groupie", aka Darlene, whom after a one-night stand promptly moves into his apartment and takes over his life.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Though other employees and disc jockeys are referred to, most of the time the only people at the station are the eight main characters. Lampshaded in "The Consultant" where the title character is stunned that WKRP's entire sales department consists of only one person.
  • Malaproper: Les specializes in mispronouncing words, especially anything ethnic. For example:
    • Most famously, he pronounces the name of golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez as "Chye Chye Rod-ri-gweez".
    • And 'those little Mexican dogs' as "Chee-hooah-hooahs".
  • Mama's Boy: Arthur Carlson, whose mother gave him the chance to operate a radio station after raising him too strictly didn't work.
  • May–December Romance: Jennifer's dates are almost all elderly men with money; the one time she dates a man her own age, it turns out badly.
    "You know, I think I do like older men better. They're so mature and kind, and they tire easily."
  • Meaningful Name: The funeral home director who hires WKRP to do a jingle for him is named Mr. Ferryman.
  • Military School: The Carlson's bratty son, Arthur Jr., was sent to one by Mama Carlson, over her son's objections. Needless to say, he doesn't adapt well and is soon expelled (for academic failure, theft and near-constant conflicts with his teachers, other students and staff).
  • Mistaken for Gay:
    • Happens to Les, who almost commits suicide over it.
    • When a fashion photographer secretly took photos of Jennifer undressing and planned to publish them without her consent, her failed efforts to seduce him into giving up the photos led to her believing he was gay. Herb reluctantly attempted to seduce him; his first words when he returned to the station were, "He's not gay!"
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The first two-thirds of "Ask Jennifer" is a light comedy about Jennifer hosting a talk show, before it suddenly turns into a serious story about a woman getting beaten up due to Jennifer's advice... only to turn back into a light comedy again when Johnny takes over Jennifer's show.
    • "In Concert" is a very deliberate version of this trope: the first act, before the real-life tragedy that inspired the episode, is entirely light comedy, and the second act is entirely serious.
    • The two-part episode "An Explosive Affair" deals with a bomb threat to the station climaxes with the bomb going off at the station transmitter, where Johnny and Venus had been working from because everyone originally thought it was planted at the main office. By the time they realise otherwise, nobody can get through to the transmitter (because Johnny broke the phone earlier in a fit of frustration) and when the station abruptly goes off the air due to the explosion, the entire main office staff is left standing around somberly, thinking they've just lost two friends. Suddenly Johnny comes running through yelling "You didn't see me!"note  and diving over and behind the couch, followed much more slowly by a still-completely-stunned Venus.
    Venus: The bomb... was at... the transmitter...
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Venus had one of these for much of the series, with several seemingly incompatible facts given about his past before he came to WKRP: He was said to be a successful New Orleans disc jockey, a Vietnam deserter on the run, and a former schoolteacher. He also mentions that he played minor league baseball in Texas for a few years.
    • "The Creation of Venus," one of the last episodes, was a writer's attempt to reconcile these different parts of Venus's backstory (except the minor league baseball stuff, which was ignored.) It did a pretty good job — turns out Venus and Andy had greatly exaggerated the extent of Venus's DJ success in New Orleans, as a deliberate ploy to impress the WKRP brass. But in trying to iron out the inconsistencies, the writer created a small new Continuity Snarl by making it seem like Andy knew Venus's real name all along.
  • Multiple Endings: Season One episode "The Contest Nobody Could Win" had two endings made, changing the last few scenes. The primary difference was whether or not Johnny shows up at the climax and stops the con artist. If he does, he returns the money and asks for his $12.50 back. (This version was on the Fox DVD release, and it is on iTunes.) If he doesn't, the last scene reveals that he was docked $5,000 to pay Don Pesola and that the grand prize in the station's next contest is just a tube of lipstick. (This version is on the Shout! Factory DVD release.)
  • My Beloved Smother: Mama Carlson keeps her Arthur under her thumb even though he's a middle-aged, married father.
  • My Own Private "I Do": Mr. Carlson and Carmen eloped to get away from Mama Carlson, who had taken over the planning for the wedding and was throwing a huge party they didn't want. When they try to have a second wedding, History Repeats itself, Mama once again takes over everything, and they wind up eloping again.
  • Naked People Are Funny: The Season 1 opening sequence begins with an unseen driver flipping through the stations on his car radio, at one point briefly stopping for a news report:
    "...but the senator, while insisting he was not intoxicated, could not explain his nudity."
  • Nepotism:
    • The only reason Mr. Carlson has his job is that his mother owns the station.
    "You know, I had a dream once, Les, of one day becoming General Manager of WKRP. And I worked hard at that. Then one day mother gave me the job... boy, don't tell me dreams don't come true!"
  • Network Decay: Andy abruptly changes the station's format in the first episode. Leading to a Call-Back in the last episode when Mrs. Carlson wants WKRP to change to an all-news format, which turns out to be a very different kind of network decay; Mrs. Carlson created WKRP as a tax write-off, meaning the real decay set in when WKRP became profitable.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Dr. Bob Halyers, the preacher who wants to censor radio stations in "Clean Up Radio Everywhere", is Jerry Falwell in all but name.
  • Noodle Incident: Johnny was apparently arrested at one time by "145 Mexican cops" (he claimed it was a "minor misunderstanding"), and another time said he once saw Harvard through a window of a police car.
  • No Party Given: In the episode where Mr. Carlson runs for City Council, his party affiliation is never mentioned. Later in the series he is revealed to be a Republican, though. Justified in that Cincinnati municipal elections are officially non-partisan and the candidate's party is not listed on the ballot.
  • Nostalgia Filter:
    • Mr. Carlson doesn't like rock n' roll, agreeing to the format change only because he wants to make the station a success; he often laments that music was better in the days of Guy Lombardo and Benny Goodman.
    • In "Hoodlum Rock," Andy experiences this after an encounter with a punk rock group, complaining that in his day, bands would just come out and play without attacking the audience. It's a moment when he and Mr. Carlson realize they're not that different.
    • The whole show is suffused with nostalgia for an earlier era of radio, before corporate ownership and automated playlists. It's implied that one of the reasons the competent employees stay at WKRP is that they wouldn't have that kind of freedom at a more modern station.
  • No-Tell Motel: In "A Simple Little Wedding," Mr. Carlson and his wife discover that the hotel they went to on their honeymoon has become this, complete with coin-operated vibrating bed, condom machine, and heavy-breathing porn on the TV.
    Mrs. Carlson: [calling from the bathroom] Arthur, what's that noise?
    Mr. Carlson: Uh... television, sweetheart. Laverne And Shirley.
  • Oblivious to Love: In the season 2 opener "For Love or Money," Johnny is oblivious to Bailey's crush on him. Reversed in the final season episode "Rumors," where Bailey is now the one oblivious to Johnny's feelings for her.
  • Oh, the Humanity!: As turkeys begin falling from the sky in the "Turkeys Away" episode, Les Nessman's mounting horror during his on-the-spot coverage begins to echo the Hindenberg disaster more and more closely, eventually including the famous line "Oh, the humanity!".
  • Old Friend, New Gender: Herb and his transgender high school classmate.
  • Only Sane Employee: Andy, oh so much.
    "Hi, this is Andy Travis of WKRP in Cincinnati. We'll be right back in a few moments. Please don't leave me alone with this bunch.''
  • Our Slogan Is Terrible: Most of the businesses that advertise on WKRP.
    "Hutchins' Community Hospital, where malpractice is rapidly becoming a thing of the past!"
  • Outside/Inside Slur: A troubled teen Venus is trying to mentor tells him that he always thought Johnny was black, but that Venus himself sounds white.
  • Overly Long Airplane Banner Gag: Les falls afoul of one (no pun intended) in the famous turkey drop episode.
    "It says, 'Happy......... Thanks......... giving......... from W......... K......... R........................ P!"
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: The Buckeye Newshawk Award is "given to the best news story dealing with or related to taproot vegetable production in the tri-state area and certain parts of northern West Virginia".
  • Panicky Expectant Father: A very realistic version of this trope when Mr. Carlson's wife gives birth (in an actual hospital, unlike most sitcoms). Being from a generation where the husband was expected not to be in the delivery room with the wife, Mr. Carlson is nervous not only about his wife's health but the idea of being with her at all.
  • Perspective Flip: "The Creation of Venus" gives us some of the events of the pilot from Venus's point of view.
  • Pimp Duds: Venus was normally very stylish through the series, but his debut appearance had him in a red suit with a red and gold hat, a white scarf, and with a fur coat draped over the ensemble. Justified in that he was trying to impress Mr. Carson that he was a big radio personality.
  • Plucky Office Girl: Bailey practically defines this one.
  • Pointless Civic Project: Discussed in one episode, when the local homeless shelter's kitchen catches fire and it will cost $40,000 to rebuild. Jennifer gets a bunch of wealthy Cincinnaitians together to donate the money, but they decide: "why just rebuild the kitchen when we can build them a whole new shelter?" One man will donate a plot of land he has sitting around and a couple of others donate $150K for building it. Then the users of the shelter show up, and point out they don't need nor want a new building, especially not one in a distant suburb no one can get to via public transportation. What they need is to have the shelter's kitchen rebuilt.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Mr. Carlson shows some shades of this.
  • Prank Date: Mr. Carlson learns that this was the reason his wife Carmen first agreed to go out with him in high school.
  • The Precarious Ledge: When Les is Mistaken for Gay he decides to jump off the ledge of the building. Herb climbs out the window to talk him down, but meanwhile the station gets an apology call from the person who made the accusation. So Les now wants to live, but is too petrified to move. The rest of the gang manage to bring him in, while Herb falls off and gets injured even though he falls into a Fireman's Safety Net (offscreen).
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Les considers himself an expert on "negro culture" and frequently embarrasses himself by trying to discuss the subject with Venus.
  • Pretty in Mink: Jennifer has quite a few furs given to her by rich men she befriends. No, she doesn't sleep with them. They just like her so much, they insist she take those gifts. Other furs are worn by Mama Carlson, some guest stars, and even Venus wears one when he first shows up at the station.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Herb to Mr. Carlson, especially early on.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Loni Anderson, Richard Sanders, Frank Bonner, Jan Smithers, Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman (all in Season 3).
  • Publicity Stunt:
    • Arthur Carlson drops turkeys from a helicopter to promote his radio station.
    • In the second episode, MR. Carlson is looking for a cheap publicity stunt to help get the word out over WKRP's change in format from adult contemporary to rock & roll. When a group of senior citizens show up to protest the change, Andy notifies the local news media, telling Carlson that the protest going on is publicity - and it's free.
  • Punny Name: Mr. Ferryman of Ferryman Funeral Homes.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: Because of the expiration of all the license agreements regarding music, a significant number of songs had to be cut from the original DVD release. The poor fan reception affected its sales (keep in mind that this is a show about a radio station), causing Fox to halt its DVD releases past the first season. The syndicated version also replaces a fair amount of its music. In 2014, Shout! Factory released the show on DVD in a complete series set. They cleared most of the music and used special new technology to replace background songs they couldn't clear (the show's raw soundtrack tapes are long gone).
  • Retool: During the first season, CBS put the show on hiatus and brought it back claiming it had been retooled, though not much had actually changed and no characters were added or dropped.
    • One thing that did change after the hiatus: the creators added a new set, the bullpen, where all the supporting characters could hang out and work together.
    • Originally WKRP was supposed to be a starring vehicle for Gary Sandy, but it was obvious early on that the supporting characters, originally intended to be recurring, drop-in roles, resonated more with the audiences, so they shifted the show into an ensemble comedy.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Some of the crazier plots that occur on the show — especially "Turkeys Away" — tended to be based on real-life calamities in the radio industry. Creator Hugh Wilson worked in radio and based the show on his experiences.
  • Really Gets Around: Andy. Besides an entire episode revolving around his reunion with an old girlfriend, a lot of his throwaway jokes indicate that he spends a lot of weekends with a lot of beautiful women.
    • This backfires on him in "Nothing to Fear But..." when he tries to have sex with a waitress in Carlson's office, and a paranoid, gun-wielding Venus mistakes him for a burglar.
    • In one episode, Andy seems to be taken aback by Les wanting to use a dating service.
    Andy: I get my girlfriends the old fashioned way, I pick 'em up in bars.
    • Speaking of Venus, he also fits this trope, using his nighttime show as an excuse to bring girlfriends to the station — sometimes several at once.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: A few examples:
    • The tragic deaths at the December 1979 The Who concert; see Very Special Episode below.
    • On a less grim note, Richard Sanders, who played Les, had a minor injury and had to wear a bandage during the taping of the pilot episode, and it became a Running Gag.
    • On a meta-level: the television show about a radio station that's struggling with the ratings to stay on the air... is itself struggling with its ratings and trying to convince the network each year to keep the show going.
    • Les' fascination with hog farming and various pig jokes aren't just for laughs. In the 19th century, Cincinnati was such a major player in the hog industry that it was nicknamed "Porkopolis". To this day, flying pigs are seen as a local icon of sorts.
    • One episode dealt with Moral Guardians protesting John Lennon's "Imagine" and its lyrics "Imagine there's no heaven".
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Andy is about to drunkenly say one to Mrs. Carlson, which could have gotten him fired. Fortunately, he was so plastered, he fainted before he could even start.
    Andy: "I have just two things to say to you!"
    Arthur: "Andy..."
    Andy: "Number two—" (falls unconscious)
  • Recycled Script (in universe): After dropping Ferryman Funeral Homes as an advertiser, Herb repurposes the jingle Venus wrote to fit a new client, Morrison Tires.
  • Red Scare: Both played straight — in "The Americanization of Ivan", a memorable episode in which Bailey helps a visiting Russian defector — and parodied through Les, who was such a rabid anti-Communist that he rewrote the station's emergency procedures manual so that it would only be useful in the case of a Soviet invasion. When a tornado struck, he was forced to improvise from the manual while on the air, resulting in a long diatribe against "Godless tornadoes".
  • Reverse Psychology: The best way to get Les to spread a rumor at the station is to tell him it's a secret.
    Herb: Don't tell this to anyone. And Les, don't tell them soon.
  • Revival: The New WKRP in Cincinnati — same station, same Big Guy, Herb and Les, different supporting crazies. Ran in syndication from 1991-93.
    • Johnny Fever also appears 9 times between the 2 seasons. Howard Hesseman even directed some episodes.
  • Rich Bitch: Mrs. Carlson.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Jennifer considers giving up her rich boyfriends for a young, handsome and poor repairman named Steel. Unfortunately, Steel turns out to be more of a Gold Digger than she is.
    Jennifer: He wants my money, that's all! He doesn't want me!
    Mr. Carlson: [to Steel] Oh, you're a very sick young man.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • "In Concert," from midway through the show's second season, based on a deadly stampede at a rock concert headlined by The Who, and Mr. Carlson and his staff resolving to push for changes to reduce the chances of such a tragedy from happening again.
    • The "Dear Liar" episode where Bailey fakes a news story is based on a then-recent scandal involving a Washington Post reporter who made up a fake child to be the focus of her story. Bailey even mentions the real-life Post reporter as an example of a similar situation.
  • Rogue Juror: In "A Mile in My Shoes," Herb serves as foreman of a jury and switches his vote to "not guilty" at the last minute after convincing all the other jurors to vote "guilty".
  • The Rival: WPIG, another, larger local station, in broadcasting and pretty much anything else.
  • Running Gag:
    • Les especially was a walking compendium of these; as noted above, one of them was his always sporting a bandage somewhere on his anatomy.
    • Jennifer also has several of these, including a doorbell that plays "Fly Me to the Moon" and her ability to sense Johnny coming in without turning around.
  • Rushed Inverted Reading: Done by Andy when Les spills the beans to Johnny and Venus about Andy 'dating' Mrs. Carlson.
  • Scary Minority Suspect: Invoked by Herb as a reason why Venus didn't rob the station.
    Herb: Venus couldn't do it, because he'd be the first person we'd suspect!
    Venus: Very sensitive of you, Herb.
  • Scatting: The ending tune.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: In "Hoodlum Rock," a booking agent gets thrown out of a moving car by the eponymous musicians. When Andy tells Carlson that they can't cancel the concert just because of the band's rowdiness, the agent has this to say before departing.
    Steve: If you don't, you're nuts.
  • Servile Snarker: Mama Carlson's butler Hirsch.
  • Sexy Secretary: Jennifer would be this, except that she insists she's not a secretary.
    "I am a receptionist. Receptionists receive."
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Venus, as per an episode in which it's revealed his Vietnam War experiences left him so shattered that he deserted shortly before the war ended. It turned out he'd deserted right after being shipped back to the States, two weeks before he was to be discharged. The officer who discovered this decided to just have it smoothed over as a 'paperwork error' and get him his Honorable Discharge.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Dozens to bands and singers, plus the bulletin boards full of bumper stickers sent to the show by real radio stations across the country.
    • Andy's T-shirt logos rotate among the local colleges.
    • If you lived in Cincinnati during the show's original run, you couldn't help but notice that Les' absurdly pompous intro to his news show sounded an awful lot like the one to real-world Cincinnati TV newsman Al Shottlekotte's evening broadcast. Les also used an almost word-for-word imitation of Al Shottlekotte's Signing-Off Catchphrase: "So until tomorrow, may it all be good news to you."
    • At the end of "Real Families" the hosts say that on the next episode they'll be filming "a Cuban band leader and a (seemingly) ordinary, red-headed housewife".
    • The first episode with Little Arthur featured a trumpet sound from Patton. These have since been edited out, but if you listen closely you can hear a faint echo of them in the background.
  • Show Within a Show: Johnny, Venus and Les are all routinely shown doing broadcasts.
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase: Les usually ends his news broadcasts with "This is Les Nessman, saying 'may the good news be yours'".
  • Signs of Disrepair: Variation — instead of broken neon letters, the 'B' is broken on the news teletype, causing Les Nessman to announce in a panicked voice that a "giant lizzard" is approaching Cincinnati.
  • Sinister Minister:
    • "Little" Ed Pembrook is a former wrestler and concurrent con artist "minister" whose primary goal seems to be hawking "religious artifact" merchandise such as a set of "John the Baptist steak knives", which he "gives away" for a "donation", all while claiming to be non-profit. When threatened with the voiding of his contract due to upsetting a group of real ministers, he threatens physical violence and gets his listeners to deluge the station with letters threatening boycott if he's removed. He only backs down after a threat of an IRS audit, but then immediately switches from selling products to selling (his wildly inaccurate version of) indulgences.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: WKRP has an ongoing rivalry with WPIG ("Those swine!") the most popular radio station in town.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Les is convinced that his meaningless local awards make him a newsman to equal Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, and he's genuinely surprised when people he interviews haven't heard of him.
    • Lampshaded in one episode by Jennifer's boyfriend "Steel".
    Les Nessman: Steel, is it?
    Steel Hawthorne: Yeah, Steel Hawthorne.
    Les: That's a nice name.
    Steel: Thanks. I like to think that a person's name says a lot about the type of person he is. What was your name again?
    Les: ...Les... (pronounced just like "less")
    • Les' absurdly pompous introductory tape to his news show
    • Herb Tarlek also acts like this, especially around Jennifer. Thoroughly — and hilariously — subverted when the Tarleks appeared on the spoof TV show "Real Families".
  • Soapbox Sadie: Bailey is a crusader for various liberal causes including the Equal Rights Amendment, nuclear bans, and saving the whales. She's usually portrayed positively for this, though. Albeit it gets mocked gently in "Jennifer Moves", when Bailey drags in a man with a petition and asks everyone to sign it, without bothering to find out what the petition is for.
  • Spiteful Will: One episode opens with Jennifer dating Colonel Buchanan, an older man who suddenly dies in the middle of dinner. When she attends his Video Will reading, he gratuitously insults his relatives and leaves them nothing.
  • Split Personality: This happened to Johnny in the two-part "Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide", when he's hired to host a local TV show and finds his usual style doesn't mesh with the disco theme of the dance program. Refusing to go on as himself and embarrass his name, he dresses up and calls himself "Rip Tide" so he won't be associated with his DJ persona. When the dance show becomes popular and his Rip Tide self becomes the focus, Rip becomes a second personality which really begins to scare Johnny- especially since Rip is expressing interest in underage girls. Johnny eventually "kills" Rip by going on stage during one episode and insulting the show's audience, getting himself fired as host.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Two of the third season writer-producers considered Herb their favorite character, leading to a season where one-third of the episodes were about Herb.
  • Springtime for Hitler: When the station becomes successful, Mama Carlson isn't happy, because she intended WKRP to lose money for tax purposes.
    Johnny: 'KRP is not supposed to make money. We're set up to lose. But we didn't. And that's why you're changing the format — so you can lose money for four more years!
    • When Herb sells air-time to a sports supplements store, Johnny and Venus are pegged to do the spots, but when they read the script, they believe the "supplements" are stimulants. Disgusted, they try to sabotage the ads by deliberately doing a bad job, only to backfire when the ads prove incredibly popular.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Landersville, the blissful suburb Jennifer moves to at the beginning of season 3. Her next-door neighbors' marriage is breaking up, there's a sex pervert in the neighborhood, and all building and planning is controlled by corrupt politicians. No wonder she moves back to her city apartment the following season (the house was re-zoned into commercial space, so she didn't have a choice).
  • Stoners Are Funny: Dr. Johnny Fever of course. Funny Disc Jockey Stoner.
  • Surprise Party: When Les goes through a Mid-life crisis and makes plans to move to New York City and get a new reporter/anchor job at CBS TV Jennifer plans a surprise birthday/going-away party. But then he tells her he hates surprise parties. When the gang all show up (Jennifer not having gotten the chance to tell them not to come) she admits it was a surprise party, and Les is fine with it, even a little excited.
  • Surreal Theme Tune: The end theme was a hard rock song composed and performed by Jim Ellis, and was meant to satirize rock music songs featuring heavy instrumentation and near-incomprehensible lyrics. It didn't matter much, of course: at the time, networks (including CBS) did "coming up"-type voiceovers over the closing credits, meaning all viewers would usually hear were the first half-second and last five to 10 seconds of the theme. Which, in this case, was the closing riffs or, if the voiceover ended just earlier, the last line of the singing.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Any time a character turns on the radio in-universe, it's going to be playing a song whose title or content is related to what's happening in the episode.
    • Actually drives the entire plot in "A Date With Jennifer," where hearing the song "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner fills Les with a determination to be more assertive and stand up for himself.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: More of a Suspiciously Specific Affirmation, when the Real Families crew interviews the staff: "Herb Tarlek is a hard worker, a loyal husband and an all-around fine person."
  • Swallowed a Fly: Les rides a motor scooter to work, and occasionally has the problem of bugs in his teeth.
  • Swapped Roles: "A Mile in My Shoes". Andy takes over as sales manager and discovers that all his radio experience is useless for selling a station as bad as WKRP. Venus becomes acting program director and ends up telling Johnny exactly what records to play. Meanwhile, Herb, who is serving as foreman of a jury, takes on something like Andy's Only Sane Man role.
    Herb: Andy, have you ever been in charge of a whole group of people who didn't listen to you or care what you said?
    Andy: Uh, yeah, Herb, yeah, I have.
  • Take That!:
    • The DJs frequently insult bands the actors or writers didn't like, especially disco groups (the show was produced at the height of a massive anti-disco backlash across the country).
    • "Real Families" includes a Take That! to the show Little House on the Prairie on NBC, which was killing WKRP in the ratings.
      Lucille Tarlek: Little House on the Prairie, oh, that's a fine, wholesome show. It's about blind children out West, and every week there's a fire or someone gets an incurable disease.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: In his Video Will, Jennifer's dead boyfriend is able to anticipate some of the things his sponging relatives say.
    Colonel Buchanan (the deceased): To my brother Cedric, I leave... nothing. Because he's always been an all or nothing type of fellow and since he can't have it all, he gets nothing. I've paid his bills for the last forty years and that free ride on the Buchanan gravy train is OVER. Did you save anything, Cedric?"
    Cedrick: [glumly] No.
    Colonel Buchanan: (mockingly) "Nooooo." No, I didn't think so.
  • Team Dad: Arthur Carlson often finds himself in this role with the crew. While a bit bumbling and inattentive at times, he is there for his employees when they need him the most.
  • Team Mom: Jennifer takes this role quite a bit, especially in "Most Improved Station," where she gives the big speech that convinces the other characters to stop fighting and realize that they're a family.
  • Terrible Pick-Up Lines: Johnny, Andy and Les follow Jennifer to a restaurant as she breaks up with a temporary boyfriend. They come over to cheer her up: Johnny and Andy give lame pickup lines. Jennifer asks Les for his; he smoothly sits down, picks up a drink, and says "Hello. I'm very wealthy."
  • Thanksgiving Episode: "Turkeys Away"
  • Thematic Theme Tune: Partially subverted by the mock broadcast that runs beneath it, quoted above.
  • This Is My Side: Les and his imaginary office walls.
  • Those Two Guys: Johnny and Venus, by virtue of being both best buddies and the only two DJs shown on a regular basis.
    • Season one had Herb and Les, the "Suits" to contrast the "Dungarees" represented by Andy, Johnny and Venus. This element was later toned down as both Herb and Les were given character development.
  • Token Minority: Venus Flytrap, but at least actor Tim Reid and the producers worked hard to give him unique elements as a real individual.
    • It was even lampshaded when Venus was offered a job at another station, but turned it down because he was offered the job for his color over his talents, whereas at WKRP, no one seems to care about his race, except for the occasional idiotic remarks from Les and Herb.
      • Lampshaded and inverted when a black magazine with militant leanings sends its sole white employee to interview Venus.
  • Took A Level In Jerk Ass: Les started out as merely a meek, sweetly clueless little guy. By the second season, he had developed into the pompously delusional Cronkite-wannabe of legend.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Mr. Carlson's son "Little Arthur," transformed by military school into a tiny fascist.
    Andy: You interested in radio?
    Little Arthur: Kind of.
    Johnny: Probably because the first thing you do in a dictatorship is seize control of the radio stations.
    Little Arthur: And then you shoot all the DJs.
  • Turn Out Like His Father: Mr. Carlson has already turned out like Mama Carlson's late husband Hank, a weak-willed man who died of a broken heart after she took over the station. Her guilt over this seems to drive her unwillingness to fire her son from a job he's obviously unqualified for.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: While the show Real Families was in name a parody of NBC's Real People, the content and dirt digging hosts seem out of a current Reality Show.
  • Ultimate Job Security: Everyone, no matter how badly they screw up. Lampshaded a number of times. In one episode Herb even admits that he should be fired but smugly predicts that no one will have the heart to do it.
    • Lampshaded in an episode in which Herb invents a phony offer from a TV station in order to squeeze a raise out of Andy, only to find Andy happy to let him go instead.
    • When Herb badly bungles an ad campaign, Carlson confides in Jennifer, in a calm, gentle, Tranquil Fury tone, that he's had enough of Herb's screw ups and this time he is thinking that it's time to let him go. This rattles Jennifer enough to go to Herb and push him to fix it immediately.
    • Justified in that Mrs. Carlson was trying to lose money with the station and kept bad employees.
  • The Unintelligible: The ending theme song (done on purpose, apparently).
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: Happens to Herb twice (sort of):
    • In one episode, Herb starts flirting with a woman who claims she knew him in high school. While making out with her, he learns he did know her in high school... before she had the operation. She was a teammate of his on the high school football team, in fact the center to Herb's quarterback. To say Herb had a case of the Squick is putting it mildly.
    • In an earlier episode, the trope is invoked and subverted by Johnny. To get Herb to stop hitting on Jennifer, he tells Herb "Our receptionist, the beautiful Jennifer Marlowe, is a result of the most cunningly successful sex change operation in the United States!" The ploy works... sort of.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The "Turkeys Away" episode was based on an actual radio station promotion gone wrong, believe it or not. In the real event, the turkeys were thrown from the top of a semi-truck rather than a helicopter, however.
  • Very Special Episode: Although never as heavy-handed as some other examples from the era, the series had a few-
    • "In Concert", when the station promoted the infamous December 1979 The Who concert at Riverfront Coliseum where 11 attendees were killed in an accidental uncontrolled rush for the door for "festival seating," (no assigned seats) and the staff spends the next day beating themselves up about it.
      • The purpose of that show, besides to memorialize what happened and to call for action for similar action in other cities, was to provide an Aesop to viewers about letting their kids attend concerts with festival seating.
    • "A Family Affair" is one of the earliest episodes of television to deal with microaggressions (and was written by Tim Reid himself). Venus takes Andy's visiting sister out sight seeing after Johnny- whom Andy had originally assigned the task- fails to show up. Andy becomes unexpectedly furious, and is forced to confront that while he enjoys Venus' friendship he's also uncomfortable with the idea of his sister dating a black man; Venus further points out how this is part of a pattern on Andy's part, as Andy is comfortable openly criticizing Venus for his mistakes but not Johnny.
  • Video Inside, Film Outside: In the episode when the Real People Expy Real Families arrived at the station to film interviews with Herb's coworkers, the interviews were filmed instead of taped, and special fourth walls were built for the broadcast booth and other sets.
    • A more straight example is the episode in which Les gives up on Andy getting him a helicopter and taking it upon himself to hire a two-seater plane to do the job.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Herb and Les, whose relationship is summed up by Les's line "I hate him, but he's my best friend".
    • One episode has Les trying to strangle Herb, and in another episode, Les tries to stab Herb with a letter-opener in retaliation for spitting on him. None of this seems to affect their relationship.
    • Occasionally Johnny and Venus as well, usually when Johnny's in the grip of one of his odd obsessions.
  • We Used to Be Friends: In the episode "The Consultant", the titular character, Norris Breeze, is an old friend of Andy's, and is hired by Mama Carlson to do a report on the station. While Andy is initially relieved as Breeze is an old friend, he becomes disillusioned when Breeze shows his true intentions; to force Andy into buying his Programming Service or he will give a negative report that will cost the entire station their jobs.
  • Wham Line: All together, now: "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."
    • And before that, when Les and the rest of us finally learn what Carlson's "turkey giveaway" is... just as dozens of them are being dropped from a plane: "OH MY GOD, THEY'RE TURKEYS!"
    • Imagine being a listener to the former "Beautiful Music" format, and suddenly hearing the DJ howl "Boogerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" , followed up with a guitar riff from Ted Nugent.
    • One episode has a minor terrorist group, Black Monday, make a bomb threat, and it's mentioned that their previous bomb threat was real and knocked a TV station off the air. So the station sends Johnny and Venus to broadcast from the transmitter site in the countryside while the building is evacuated and searched by the bomb squad. Then Les does a news update about Black Monday and mentions that their previous bombing didn't blow up the station, but the transmitter building. Cue to everyone frantically trying to call Johnny and Venus out at the transmitter before it's too late.
    • The episode "In Concert" has Andy trying to convince Mr. Carlson to attend a concert the station is promoting. He finally agrees and puts on his fedora along with his three piece suit prompting Andy to say "I'm going to a Who concert with a nark". Que the audience reaction of a big laugh followed by concerned murmurings due to recent events.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: "The Creation of Venus," where Andy and Venus recall what led up to Venus's entrance in the pilot episode.
  • Who Would Want to Watch Us?: In the revival, guest star Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever from the first series had sold a pilot based on his time working at the station, but Executive Meddling made him pull out of the project. For example: instead of This Is My Side, the Les Nessman character had real walls but a taped-out desk and sat on the floor. Because "it's funnier". After all, "desk" has a "k" in it.
  • Why We Can't Have Nice Things: The dark and tragic "In Concert" episode, based on a The Who incident involving people stampeding outside the stadium doors, resulting in the deaths of 11 people, which prompted Cincinnati to ban festival seating. After Cincinnati lifted the ban on a one-time occasion for a Bruce Springsteen concert in 2002, they eventually repealed the ban in 2004.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Sometimes hinted at with Johnny and Bailey, who date on again and off again from the second season onward but never seem to consummate the relationship.
  • Working with the Ex: In the revival, morning drive time DJs Burns & Allen are exes who still work together professionally.
  • Worthy Opponent: The later seasons had Mama Carlson and Andy Travis as this. Mama began more closely micromanaging the station and Andy would thwart her attempts.
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: The Season 3 Christmas episode, "Bah Humbug", features this with Carlson as both Scrooge and Marley, and Jennifer, Venus, and Johnny as the ghosts.
    Mr. Carlson: Wait, this isn't going to be another one of those Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol things, is it?
    Mr. Carlson's Grandfather: Yep.
    Mr. Carlson: Hoo boy.
  • Younger Than They Look:
    • Les seems like he's somewhere around 50, but Richard Sanders was actually just 38 when the show debuted. It was established in a flashback that in 1954 Les was a rookie reporter at WKRP.
    • Much is made of Johnny's age ("It's been a long time since I worked a rock station, you sure you don't want somebody twenty years younger?"). Howard Hesseman was also only 38 when the show debuted. However in a later episode he calls himself a "40 year old who lives like a college student".
    • Herb looked somewhere in his forties. Frank Bonner was 36 during the first season.
    • Arthur Carlson could have passed for sixty at any point in the show's history. Gordon Jump was 46 in the first season. Just to put this in perspective, that's how old Robert Downey, Jr. was when he filmed the first Avengers movie. In all fairness, Carlson was depicted as mature, but still young enough to have a preteen son and become a father again during the show's run.
    • Combining this with Absurdly Youthful Mother, Carol Bruce (Lillian "Mama" Carlson) was only 13 years older than Gordon Jump, who played her son. They looked practically the same age. Sylvia Sidney, who played Mama Carlson in the pilot, had a more realistic 22 years on Jump.
  • Zany Scheme: Johnny likes to come up with these, including two different ones in "Filthy Pictures".
    • Subverted in "To Err is Human" when Johnny rehearses Bailey in a Zany Scheme to steal some embarrassing ads featuring Venus, a plan that turns out not to be necessary when Andy solves the problem by calling the advertising client and explaining what happened.
    Johnny: Here's how we do it. We go into the supermarket. Bailey, you create a ruckus in the produce section. Venus, you grab the poster, slip it under your jacket, we're out the door!
    Bailey: What kind of ruckus?
    Johnny: I don't know, uh, something with mangoes.