“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” brings back memories

By Malcolm Butler


I’m not sure we can ever have enough laughter in our lives.

Especially in this day and age.

It’s funny — not haha funny; just more funny .. you know — that when Thanksgiving rolls around each year, one of the things that makes me laugh is thinking of my maternal grandfather Roland Abegg watching one of his favorite shows.

WKRP in Cincinnati.

It was an old sitcom that premiered in 1978 and ran until 1982. Ninety episodes of pure stupid comedy.

It was your typical, harmless, sometimes hilarious, 30-minute show about the misadventures of a staff at a struggling radio station in — you guessed it — Cincinnati, Ohio. The creator Hugh Wilson once told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he selected the WKRP as the call sign to stand for C-R-A-P.

You can see he had a sense of humor.

The series received 10 Emmy Award nominations during its four-year TV lifespan, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series. It was pretty comical. Kind of stupid funny, but funny nonetheless.

I will always remember sitting in my grandparents living room watching the show with my grandfather. He sure thought it was funny; much more than I did at the time. But I was only 9 years old when it launched so a lot of the humor was lost on me at the time.

However, one episode was not.

The entire premise of the episode was about a Thanksgiving promotion that WKRP was doing for the station. A promotion that went south, quickly.

As live turkeys were literally dropped from the helicopter by station manager manager Arthur Carlson and his sidekick Herb Tarlek (you don’t see this in the actual show), WKRP reporter Les Nessman is on the scene at a shopping mall, giving a live play-by-play of the “turkey drop” over the air.

Poor Les had no clue of the actual promotion he would be covering that day, until the first turkey made landfall … with a thud.

“The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement,” screams a distraught Les.”The crowd is running for their lives … I can’t stand here and watch this any longer.”

It’s really one of the all-time great scenes in any sitcom.

Once Carlson, Tarlek and Les return to the station — their clothes tattered and hair a mess looking like they just went 10 rounds with an angry mob of turkeys — Carlson utters a line to the rest of the WKRP station staff that goes down in the lore of great sitcom writing.

“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

Between Les’ first-hand, on-the-scene account of the well-intended promotion turned bird fiasco and Carlson’s scene-ending one-liner back at the station, my grandfather was rolling in his chair. Tears were flowing. It was one of those laughs we all need sometimes.

I think at age nine I was laughing more at his reaction than the actual show.

Over the decades, the episode has become an almost cultural phenomenon, even for those who may not have seen it originally aired way back on October 30, 1978. In all honesty, a Thanksgiving doesn’t go by without me going to YouTube and watching the four minutes of turkey chaos.

It makes me laugh now the way my grandfather did back then. That I’m always thankful for.

But even more importantly, it makes me smile thinking about my grandfather’s pure joy watching Les panic-stricken voice yelling out … “Oh the humanity!”