Radio industry fans of “WKRP in Cincinnati” have some new info to chew over about the real-life antics that may have inspired the classic sitcom. In one of the most famous episodes of the series, which ran from 1978-1982, a failed Thanksgiving promotion involved station personnel dropping live turkeys from a helicopter only to realize that the birds could not fly. Les Nessman, the quirky newsman played by Richard Sanders, described the scene saying, “The turkeys are hitting the ground likes sacks of wet cement.”
The sitcom was created by former Atlanta advertising executive Hugh Wilson, who based some of the characters and plot lines of the show on his time at WQXI, a powerhouse AM Top 40 outlet that ruled Atlanta in the 1960s.
Wilson says the “Turkeys Away” episode was inspired by a story that former WQXI General Manager Jerry Blum told him. Blum’s son Gary confirms that his father once threw frozen turkeys out of the back of a pickup truck while at KBOX Dallas in the early 60s. “The public went nuts fighting over the turkeys and it was a mess,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the younger Blum as saying.
Another claim to a real-life turkey giveaway that could have also served as an inspiration for the WKRP episode is the unearthing of audio from a 1976 NAB convention in Illinois, where radio exec Stephen Bellinger told a story about dropping turkeys from a plane. The WKRP episode aired in 1978.
In the audio clip from the convention, Bellinger said he was working for a radio station in Wisconsin that attached $100 bills to the legs of a live turkey and dropped it from an airplane over thousands of listeners. The turkey didn’t flap a single wing and crashed through the roof of a store; he explains.
Gary Blum acknowledges the similarities between the Wisconsin promotion and his father’s Dallas turkey giveaway, but believes Wilson got the original idea from the elder Blum, as the two were close friends.
Meanwhile, the AJC cites a 2016 posting on CBR.com that says the city of Yellville, AR was dropping live turkeys from airplanes for decades as an annual event held before the Thanksgiving holiday. The city discontinued sponsoring the event in 2018 after complaints.