Sarah and I wrapped up another viewing of WKRP in Cincinnati‘s entire run this past spring. The half hour sitcom is about a low rated AM radio station that switched formats from Gershwin to rock ‘n roll. A perfect setting for a music fan, as you root your the underdog station (and your music) to succeed.
Airing for four seasons from ’78 to ’82, it takes place during radio’s final era of mostly independent stations and DJs programming their own music. It never scored huge ratings during its original run and was almost cancelled after 8 episodes. Legend has it, acclaim for the show by some real life radio DJs who also remarked how accurate it depicted the behind the scenes workings of a radio station saved it.
As I was a little too young for the original broadcasts, so syndication is where it became one of my all-time favourite shows. It is sad for me to see it struggle to get on any of today’s streaming services due to its use of commercial music. It is a similar problem Beavis And Butt-head has with music videos, but unlike MTV’s cartoon, WKRP intergraded music into the scripts and jokes without hard edits to cut around.
Failed attempts to get around WKRP‘s unique problem include Fox’s DVD release of season 1 in 2007. There, they cut out much of the music and overdubbed lines with other actors. It was an awful hatchet job and the set sold poorly as a result.
In 2015, Shout Factory did a far superior job with their release of the entire series, which is what Sarah and I watched. They went to great lengths to acquire the rights for any commercial music license they feasible could with The Beatles (Thanks, Michael Jackson’s estate) and Pink Floyd being the only two major hold outs. Thankfully, they were able to manipulate the music in a way that a “sound alike” band plays behind the actor’s original recorded dialogue. It is not perfect, but about 95% acceptable.
In the meantime, you can look up the scenes as the originally aired on copyright’s version of the wild west, YouTube. In the classic episode “Turkey’s Away”, Pink Floyd’s Dogs is worked into a brilliant scene as the station manager, Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) attempts to figure out what the morning DJ, Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) is playing. It is good times!