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

Les Nessman reports the turkey drop off that goes awry. CREDIT: CBS

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Les Nessman reports the turkey drop off that goes awry. CREDIT: CBS

I posted this last year but in honor of this fine day, I'll do it again, my holiday gift to you:

I hope all of you are having a great Thanksgiving. In honor of Atlanta radio on this fine day, I am reminding folks of a certain age about the classic episode of 'WKRP in Cincinnati" featuring the dreaded turkey drop, inspired by antics at the classic local top 40 station 790/WQXI-AM known as "Quixie in Dixie" in the day. (Now it's 790/The Zone but uses the same call letters.)

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: