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It’s a sad Monday in the Aire-Serv Studio this morning as we remember the passing of actor Howard Hesseman this weekend. In case the name isn’t familiar, perhaps his iconic character Dr. Johnny Fever is. Fever was the morning DJ at “WKRP in Cincinnati,” the CBS TV comedy that was near and dear to my heart back in the day. I think any radio morning personality my age was influenced in some way by Hesseman’s Johnny Fever. Fever was the stereotypical grizzled radio veteran who probably bounced around from gig to gig, coffee mug in hand, and landed at ‘KRP among the other misfits like Venus Flytrap and Les Nessman.
For years I always compared the morning DJs I worked with to Johnny Fever, and there were some who fit the mold perfectly. And as funny as WKRP was to non-radio people, it was even more funny to those of us who aspired to be on the radio someday.
I wanted to share a few of my favorite episodes of WKRP that centered around Johnny Fever:
“Hold Up” from 1978: Anyone who has ever worked on the air at a radio station has done a live broadcast where no customers showed up. This happened to Johnny at Del’s Stereo Shop. Adding to the disaster was one “Bob Boogie” showing up to rob the place during the remote. Turns out, Bob Boogie, an out of work DJ desperate for a job, holds up the place as a publicity stunt to get hired. Fortunately, that never happened to me in my 40-plus year career!
“The Contest Nobody Could Win” from 1979: Giving away money or a prize you don’t actually have is a recurring nightmare for a DJ, one that has us waking up in night sweats. This happened to Fever, as a caller nailed an “impossible” music montage and won $5000. The problem was that the prize was supposed to have been only $50. Johnny keeps his job but has to agree to a payment plan to reimburse the station.
“An Explosive Affair” from 1981: Another thing that’s never happened to me is a bomb threat to a radio station. When such a threat is called in to WKRP, the DJs have to retreat to the transmitter site to broadcast. During the ordeal, a paranoid Johnny is convinced he’s being spied on by “phone cops.”
Somewhere this morning, Dr Johnny Fever is opening up the microphone and saying “Booger.”