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‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ Cast: Surprising Facts About this Hilarious Radio Show Sitcom

Find out who was married four times in real life and who became a Broadway star!

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The WKRP in Cincinnati cast captured the antics and adventures of a quirky staff of a fictional radio station. The beloved sitcom aired from 1978 to 1982 and was nominated for ten Emmy awards, three in the category of Outstanding Comedy Series.

The WKRP in Cincinnati cast was inspired by real-life experiences of the show’s creator, Hugh Wilson, who worked at a small radio station in Atlanta. The show’s famous closing line, “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” was from the Thanksgiving-themed episode where the radio station dropped turkeys from a helicopter.

The characters of WKRP frequently dealt with the absurdities of the radio industry, from bizarre contests to unusual promotions.

The cast got along well both on the show and in real life. Here, we take a look behind the scenes.

Surprising facts: In the series, bulletin boards and wall spaces are plastered with bumper stickers for radio stations across the country. They were sent in by real-life radio DJs who were avid fans of the show.

The show was also videotaped instead of filmed live because the rights to rock songs were cheaper for a taped show than for a live one.

The show was famous for playing music of up-and-coming bands. Many artists have said that their music being on the show helped their popularity, including BlondieThe Cars, and TOTO.

Gary Sandy as Andy Travis

Gary Sandy as Andy Travis (WKRP in Cincinnati Cast)
1978/1982Getty

Actor Gary Sandy portrayed Andy Travis, the program director tasked with turning around the struggling WKRP radio station.

After being in the WKRP in Cincinnati cast, Sandy enjoyed a successful career on stage.

In 1982, he replaced Kevin Kline as The Pirate King on Broadway’s The Pirates of Penzance. In 1986, he played Mortimer Brewster in the fiftieth anniversary production of Arsenic and Old Lace opposite Jean Stapleton. In 1992, he played Billy Flynn in the Los Angeles production of Chicago opposite Bebe Neuwirth. Lastly, in 2001, he starred opposite Ann-Margret in a stage production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

Surprising Fact: Gary Sandy originally auditioned for the role of Les Nessman but was cast as Andy Travis instead. His portrayal as the new program director brought a fresh dynamic to the show.

Gordon Jump as Arthur “Big Guy” Carlson

Gordon Jump as Arthur "Big Guy" Carlson (WKRP in Cincinnati Cast)
1982/1984Getty

Arthur Carlson, played by Gordon Jump, was the bumbling and often clueless general manager of WKRP.

After the show, Jump continued to act in various television shows and commercials. He had guest appearances in plenty of TV shows including Green Acres, The Brady Bunch, Mary Tyler Moore, and Starsky and Hutch. Later, he appeared in Growing Pains and Seinfeld.

He also became famous as the Maytag Repairman in the long-running advertising campaign.

Jump passed away in 2003 at the age of 71.

Surprising Fact: Gordon Jump’s character, Mr. Carlson, was famous for the hilarious episode where he dropped live turkeys out of a helicopter, leading to one of the show’s most iconic moments.

Loni Anderson as Jennifer Marlowe

Loni Anderson as Jennifer Marlowe (WKRP in Cincinnati Cast)
1982/2021Getty

The famous Loni Anderson portrayed the glamorous and witty Jennifer Marlowe, the station’s receptionist. Her role in WKRP in Cincinnati propelled her to stardom. She earned three Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations for her role.

Related: Loni Anderson Today: Find Out What the Blonde Bombshell of the ’70s and ’80s Has Been Up to Lately!

After being in the WKRP in Cincinnati cast, Anderson continued to act in television series and made numerous guest appearances. She also starred in the popular sitcom Partners in Crime from 1984 to 1985. You may also remember her on Melrose Place and Sabrina, The Teenage Witch.

Anderson was married four times, including to fellow actor Burt Reynolds.

Surprising Fact: Loni Anderson’s character was initially intended to be a one-episode guest role, but was so well-received that she became a mainstay of the show.

Anderson refused to play a dumb blonde on the show. Her character was not only smart, but was also a journalism major.

Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever

Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever (WKRP in Cincinnati Cast)
1978/2019Getty

The iconic character Dr. Johnny Fever, the laid-back and irreverent DJ, was played by Howard Hesseman. Hesseman was also a DJ in real life, before becoming an actor.

Interestingly enough, Hesseman was initially asked to audition for the part of Herb Tarlek. After perusing the script, he felt he was only right for Johnny Fever. He refused to read for Herb, and won the role of Johnny. We couldn’t imagine it any other way.

After the WKRP, Hesseman continued to act in various television series, including Head of the Class (1986-1991), where he portrayed a high school teacher. He also returned to his roots as a stand-up comedian.

Hesseman died in 2022 at age 81.

Surprising Fact: Howard Hesseman was inspired by real-life DJ personalities like “The Real” Don Steele and the infamous “Superjock” Larry Lujack.

Tim Reid as Venus Flytrap

Tim Reid as Venus Flytrap (WKRP in Cincinnati Cast)
1980/2001Getty

The smooth-talking DJ Venus Flytrap was played by Tim Reid. His portrayal endeared him to audiences, and he quickly became a fan favorite.

After being in the WKRP in Cincinnati cast, Reid had a successful career in television, including his role in Simon & Simon (1983–87), Frank’s Place (1987-1988),  Sister, Sister (1994–99) and That ’70s Show (2004–06).

He also became a prominent advocate for diversity in the entertainment industry.

Surprising Fact: Tim Reid’s character Venus Flytrap was known for his cool demeanor and distinctive voice, which he developed based on the jazz radio DJs of the era.

Jan Smithers as Bailey Quarters

Jan Smithers as Bailey Quarters (WKRP in Cincinnati Cast)
1981/2014 Getty

The actress Jan Smithers played the role of Bailey Quarters, a shy and intelligent employee who worked as a junior executive.

After WKRP, Smithers made several guest appearances in television series including The Love Boat, The Fall Guy and Murder, She Wrote.

Related: The Love Boat Cast: Where Are They Now

Surprising Fact: Smithers was a singer in the 1970s band Hot Cup of Friends.

Richard Sanders as Les Nessman

Richard Sanders as Les Nessman (WKRP in Cincinnati Cast)
1982 MoviestillsDB.com/CBS

Richard Sanders portrayed Les Nessman, the socially awkward and humorously obsessive news director.

After the show ended, Sanders continued to act in television series and made guest appearances in AliceNewhartMurder, She WroteDesigning Women, and Married… with Children.

He also appeared in the film, Men of Honor starring Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Surprising Fact: In addition to being an actor, Sanders was also a writer and wrote several episodes of WKRP.

Frank Bonner as Herb Tarlek

Frank Bonner as Herb Tarlek (WKRP in Cincinnati Cast)
1982MoviestillsDB.com/CBS

Frank Bonner played the role of Herb Tarlek, the hilariously inept advertising sales manager with a penchant for loud plaid suits.

Bonner not only starred in, but also directed several episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati. After the show he continued to direct episodes of more than a dozen shows including Who’s the Boss?, Saved by the Bell and Just the Ten of Us.

Bonner passed away in 2021 at the age of 79.

Surprising Fact: Frank Bonner’s wardrobe for his character, Herb Tarlek, was infamous for its garishness, and his character became a symbol of the fashion of the late 1970s.


For more 70s and 80’s TV, keep reading…

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