39 years ago: Famous ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ turkey drop inspired by Atlanta’s WQXI-AM

WKRP turkey drop

This was posted by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog  on Thanksgiving, November 23, 2017

Like any Thanksgiving Day tradition, I am going to post this item again as an annual tasty entree because it really was a classic moment in sitcom silliness. The infamous “Turkey Drop” episode aired October 30, 1978 during 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 its heyday. (It was for a time popular sports talk station the Zone and now airs a Korean language station. Times change!)

For a Thanksgiving Day giveaway promotion, the station’s hapless general manager Arthur “Big Guy” Carlson thinks 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 do not see the turkeys themselves.) Noting they are hitting the ground “likes bags of cement,” Nessman cites the old Hindenburg line, “Oh, the humanity!”

Later, covered in turkey feathers, a dazed Carlson returns to the station and utters the line that has stuck like stuffing in the lining of your stomach: “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) conjured up in the late 1950s in Dallas when he dropped turkeys off a pickup truck.

His son Gary Blum told me years later that 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 many story lines on ‘WKRP.’ To my knowledge, the turkey drop was never repeated.”

Blum told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1996 that he actually uttered the words, “I didn’t know turkeys couldn’t fly, ” similar to Carlson’s words on the show.

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.

The show is now available to stream on Hulu.

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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