Atlanta’s WQXI inspiration for famous ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ turkey drop episode

WKRP turkey drop

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Thursday, November 26, 2015

Like any Thanksgiving Day tradition, I am perfectly happy to recycle this item again as an annual tasty entree because it still gives folks a chuckle. The infamous “Turkey Drop” episode aired October 30, 1978 in the first season of CBS’s ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,” a sitcom about a rock station packed with ridiculous characters.

What makes this series special to Atlanta is the fact it was inspired by the classic local top 40 station 790/WQXI-AM – known as “Quixie in Dixie” in the day. (It eventually became a sports talk station the Zone and now simulcasts Star 94.)

For a Thanksgiving Day giveaway promotion, the station’s hapless general manager Arthur “Big Guy” Carlson thought it would be a great idea to give away turkeys by throwing them out of a helicopter. The turkeys come crashing down as reporter Les Nessman is seen providing play by play.  (We fortunately do not see the turkeys themselves.) Noting they are hitting the ground “likes bags of cement,” Nessman cites the old Hindenberg line, “Oh, the humanity!”

Later, covered in turkey feathers, a dazed Carlson returns to the station and utters the line that goes down in infamy: “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

The show was created by former Atlanta ad executive Hugh Wilson, who based some of the characters and antics from QXI, a powerhouse Atlanta top 40 station back when AM radio ruled.

This disaster was inspired by a much less horrific turkey giveaway WQXI general manager Jerry Blum (the inspiration for Carlson)  had conjured up in the late 1950s in Dallas when he dropped turkeys off a pickup truck.

His son Gary Blum said his dad never did anything like that again. “The public went nuts fighting over the turkeys and it was a mess,” Blum said. “That was about the whole story. Hugh Wilson, the writer of the series, was a friend of the station when he was in the ad business in Atlanta. He used that story, along with other funny stories, and embellished them to come up with the may storylines in ‘WKRP.’ To my knowledge, the turkey drop was never repeated.”

Fans still recite that “as God as my witness” line to Wilson to this day. “I didn’t realize people would remember it a quarter century later!” he told me in 2011.

Watch those final minutes here off YouTube:

Previous “WKRP” stories I’ve written:

9/18/13: 35 years of “WKRP” celebrated

8/22/11 Interview with Loni Anderson prior to DragonCon

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