See the cast of WKRP in Cincinnati in their earliest television roles

Baby, if you've ever wondered ... what happened before you met these actors!

Image: The Everett Collection/David L. Wolper Productions/Sony Pictures Television

It says a lot that the cast of WKRP in Cincinnati stood out in the Seventies, when some of the best ensemble casts were being put together.

Hugh Wilson's hit workplace sitcom took chances, casting Howard Hesseman as Johnny Fever only after the actor had to convince them and taking a chance on relatively fresh new talent like Jan Smithers, Tim Reid and Frank Bonner. Every risk paid off, as the show that was initially built to be one big sight gag evolved into a hilarious character study of all its uniquely funny personalities.

Of course, it helped having the seasoned Gordon Jump at the helm, with the beauty Loni Anderson manning his desk. Once Gary Sandy jumped on board, the singular 1970s series had its lead, and viewers were singing along with the theme song in no time.

But, my babies, have you ever wondered where all this talent actually came from? We've traced the roots of WKRP in Cincinnati's outstanding cast to take you back to the first time you saw these actors on television. Take a spin with us and go back in time below!

Gordon Jump – Arthur "The Big Guy" Carlson


Gordon Jump's first TV role came in 1965 on the Western show Daniel Boone. He played Clements, a thief who was part of "The Devil's Four," a crew of criminals whom Boone's responsible for transporting. Later in the episode, when asked what drove him to crime, Jump portrays his character as a sensible banker who became a thief to win the heart of a woman he was bewitched by. "I have no regrets," Clements said, showing a bit of the naivete we'd come to love Arthur Carlson for on WKRP in Cincinnati.

Image: 20th Television

Howard Hesseman – Johnny Fever


Howard Hesseman first turned up onscreen in Mayberry! On The Andy Griffith Show, Hesseman found his first two TV appearances in 1968, both credited under a different name (Don Sturdy). We saw him first as a counter boy handing Goober a hot dog in "Goober Goes to an Auto Show." The eyeroll he gives Goober's fast-talking friend certainly found its way into Dr. Johnny Fever's expressive character.

Loni Anderson – Jennifer Marlowe


On WKRP in Cincinnati, Loni Anderson plays the lovely receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, who it's noted again and again earns more money than anybody else at the station. Her beauty is a source of humor, but mainly in contrast to her sharp wit, but in her first TV role ever, it was all about the looks. In the S.W.A.T. episode "The Steel-Plated Security Blanket," Anderson plays Miss Texas. (Fun fact: In the same episode, Farrah Fawcett plays Miss New Mexico.)

Image: Sony Pictures Television

Richard Sanders – Les Nessman


We're definitely accustomed to getting the news from Les Nessman, the nerdy news announcer who Richard Sanders plays on WKRP in Cincinnati, but his first TV role ever saw Sanders delivering a much more shocking update than Nessman ever did. In the TV movie They've Killed President Lincoln!, it's Sanders' character who announces to a crowd, "President Lincoln died today."

Image: David L. Wolper Productions

Gary Sandy – Andy Travis


When Andy Travis arrives to shift the format on WKRP in Cincinnati, he's there to fix what's broken. In one of Sandy's earliest roles, though, he appeared on Movin' On as a trucker who doesn't trust Sonny Pruitt not to jump him when he pulls over. He raises a socket wrench menacingly at Pruitt who says, "I'll hijack your fat head if you don't come down and untie me!" Just like that, Sandy's character befriends Pruitt, and together they chase after his stolen truck. It's kinda like Sandy always shows up at just the right time, in any role! 

Image:  Peter Rodgers Organization

Jan Smithers - Bailey Quarters


Jan Smithers played the shyest one in the office on WKRP in Cincinnati, but eventually she became the love interest of Johnny Fever. In her career, it all began with romance when the actor appeared on Janet Leigh's dramatic anthology series Love Story in 1973. In it, she played a college student in love with Kurt Russell, trying to figure out how to navigate shifting moral standards on campus. (Maybe eventually The Doctor told her the cure for that?)

Image: The Everett Collection

Tim Reid - Venus Flytrap


Tim Reid became a sitcom star after WKRP in Cincinnati, appearing first on That's My Mama as a reverend trying to help Clifton keep the faith after a streak of bad luck. A couple years later, we saw him talking Rhoda down as a kitchen helper during the Rhoda episode "Guess Who I Saw Today." Seems like Reid's a smooth talker in any scene!

Image: Sony Pictures Television

Frank Bonner – Herb Tarlek


On WKRP in Cincinnati, it's hard to ignore Herb Tarlek in his loud suits and with his even louder opinions. But in one of Frank Bonner's earliest roles, we find his character oddly quiet. On Mannix, Bonner appeared in an early uncredited role as a man who is hypnotized onstage. Mannix and Peggy watch as Bonner's character plays a fake game of tennis, then awakened by the hypnotist, staggers away sputtering but wordless. (You have to imagine Jennifer would've preferred this version of Herb.)

See also: Can you name these characters from WKRP in Cincinnati?


Spoiler: Fever and Flytrap were not their given names. TAKE QUIZ.

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oobusdoobus 35 months ago
just like mary ann and ginger, every guy knows that Bailey was the hottest chick on WKRP
phritzg 35 months ago
The photo of Howard Hesseman in his counter boy outfit reminds me a lot of Brad Garrett. Also, I loved Hesseman in his role as Mr. Plager on The Bob Newhart Show.
StrayCat 36 months ago
Ah, Jan Smithers, the quintessential California girl. Check out her picture on the cover of a Newsweek issue from the 1966. I always thought she looked just as good as Loni but they seemingly purposely dressed her down to make her look a bit frumpy. In that they failed because she looked good in anything they had her wear.
Wufferduck 63 months ago
With a great cast. Great writing, I still don’t understand why WKRP has relative short original run.
Pacificsun Wufferduck 63 months ago
It ran for 4 seasons, actually a pretty long time in Sitcom tradition. But according the the history, CBS moved the Show around it's schedule a lot during the 2nd season. Usually they did that to steal viewers from other popular shows. Read more about WKRP here:
stephaniestavropoulos 63 months ago
Does anybody else see it aside from me? Does anybody see the resemblance between Richard Sanders & Ron Howard? It kinda gives me the willies how much I think they do. It's like looking through their photo albums! That could have been a photo of a member of Richard's or Ron's family back in the day. Or, I could just be hallucinating!
Strange there doesn't seem to be any origin to the photo used. The pictured used in cast & crew of "They've Killed Lincoln" is that of Richard Sanders, and he was only 7 years younger. I do agree it looks like a vintage photo of Ron Howard. I wish MeTV would credit source their photos.
cperrynaples Pacificsun 63 months ago
Stephanie, he looks more like Mike Farrrell IMHO!
Nice to "see" you're back! I missed you yesterday. If you don't mind my being nosey, where were you? Or if you did respond, sorry I missed you.
Pacificsun cperrynaples 63 months ago
Yeah but Mike Farrell looks like everybody!! LOL!
The Image is from David L. Wolper Productions. So yes, they did give credit source to the photo.
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