I’m quite touched that Gary Sandy himself read this post and shared it on his Facebook page. His comment that he was “quite moved” by it is very much appreciated. Thank you, Gary. Means a lot, and it’s a testament to your fine acting!
Do you aspire to be a leader at work? Do you wonder what it takes to be considered a leader by others, or how to go about showcasing your leadership skills?
Here’s a suggestion that doesn’t involve reading yet another self-help book whose “lessons” will most likely be forgotten the moment you finish it, assuming you even reach the end of the book: It’s most effective to witness leadership in action. It’s a far better way to learn it, whether you’re just learning the ropes or simply sharpening your craft.
And all you need to do is sit back, relax and watch the unforgettable, classic TV series “WKRP In Cincinnati.”
The show featured a wonderful ensemble cast, but in this specific instance, I’m referring to WKRP’s program director Andy Travis (played by Gary Sandy).
Baby, If You’ve Ever Wondered…About Leadership Training
If you were to take a leadership class, odds are you would be lectured to by an “expert” and tasked with developmental exercises like:
- Figuring out how you perceive yourself vs. how others perceive you
- Identifying your strengths and weaknesses
- Determining how you handle stress and challenges
- Making note of your interpersonal skills, your decision-making skills, and so on
You’ll also likely discuss what kind of work environment you provide to your employees, how you treat others, how well you listen to and inspire your co-workers, etc.
Fun stuff, right?
Now, all of these things sound great on paper. They may also be feathers in the caps of people who’ve completed “leadership training,” and who showcase a framed certificate on a wall to commemorate the accomplishment…as if it somehow proves they are a leader.
Well, that’s all well and good, but a certificate on a wall does not a great leader make.
They are skills that continually grow and are nurtured throughout one’s career and experiences. For some, it’s just a matter of finding the right opportunity to exhibit leadership qualities that haven’t been put to good use (yet) for a variety of reasons.
Reading about leadership or taking a course or two can only teach a person so much.
Set Your Dial To WKRP In Cincinnati
A far better (and much more fun) learning experience can result from watching “WKRP In Cincinnati.”
The fact that the show aired from 1978-1982 (set at a radio station, no less, which played — gasp — records!) makes no difference. Though some aspects are dated, the themes and lessons — just like a great classic TV show — are timeless.
If You’ve Ever Wondered…About Your Workplace
When I periodically caught “WKRP in Cincinnati” on television during its original run, I always assumed the Andy Travis character (played so well by underrated actor Gary Sandy) was the radio station’s boss. Revisiting the show decades later as an adult, I finally realized he wasn’t. But that’s not to say he wasn’t the one running things.
Just like “WKRP In Cincinnati” (and the wonderful WKRP cast), I’m sure your workplace has its share of “eccentric” characters:
- Have a clueless, do-nothing boss who technically runs the place? One who might be placed in that “leadership” role due to nepotism? Well, that’s what you get with WKRP’s Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump). To be fair, Mr. Carlson does have his shining take-charge moments in the series, though they’re far and few.
- Do you deal with your own group of peculiar co-workers? Maybe a smarmy sales rep like Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner), creative types like disc jockeys Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid), or a high-maintenance coworker who always has something about their job to complain about like Les Nessman (Richard Sanders)?
- How about a quiet and shy co-worker (maybe it’s you?) who’s talented but never given the chance to shine and show their potential — someone like Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), or an executive assistant who knows all the ins and outs of the office better than any other employee — including her boss — like Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson)?
Putting a cast of characters (no pun intended) like that into a work environment could be quite a challenge, but not that unusual.
How they function together as a unit is a whole other story.
WKRP In Cincinnati: Introducing Andy Travis
What does it take to be a leader and make a meaningful difference? For starters, watch the first (pilot) episode of “WKRP In Cincinnati.”
The workplace is a depressing bore (kind of like the radio station they’re working at); everyone is simply going through the motions.
Once Andy Travis arrives as the station’s new program director and is brought into the mix, his impact is immediate.
It’s no surprise there’s resistance from the group’s typical troublemakers (Herb and best friend/follower Les) who are against any type of change. And Mr. Carlson (i.e., the “boss”) has no interest in Andy shaking things up either, especially when he has Herb and Les complaining in his ear.
But it’s through Andy’s actions that he’s able to convince the WKRP team to jump on board and support his vision of turning the underperforming radio station around.
Tired of Packing & Unpacking…Your Desk?
WKRP is an old, easy listening radio station that’s going nowhere fast when Andy joins it. Staying the course would be a losing battle, so he relies on his strengths (and instincts) to change the station’s format, turning it into something he knows could (and would) work so much better: Making WKRP a rock ‘n’ roll music station.
Andy also sees the potential — mostly untapped — in his coworkers, quickly realizing their strengths (and weaknesses) and how to best utilize them.
As a result:
- He encourages boring radio host John Caravella to embrace his true creative self, thus unleashing radio personality “Dr. Johnny Fever” in the process.
- He accepts Herb and Les for who they are, knowing he can’t change them, and deals with their “unique” work methods (or lack thereof).
- He realizes what an asset Bailey could be if only her talents were utilized; he asks for her input and ideas, includes her in meetings, all the while making her realize that her contributions matter and are welcomed. (Up until Andy’s arrival, Mr. Carlson didn’t even know who Bailey was!)
- He supplements and strengthens the team’s talents by bringing in a friend to join the radio station as nighttime DJ “Venus Flytrap.”
A whole new positive energy is created, which not only helps change everyone’s mindset about their work environment but also the importance of the job they do.
Again, Andy doesn’t even run the station. No, that would be “Mr. Carlson” (as he’s referred to by Andy and everyone else). But this is yet another example of Andy’s successful approach at leadership: he knows how to deal with Mr. Carlson’s idiosyncrasies and is (usually) able to get him to momentarily focus on what’s needed or most important so things can get done.
WKRP In Cincinnati’s Leader Of The Pack
For the most part, I’ve only discussed the pilot episode from “WKRP In Cincinnati.”
It’s a great start and perfectly sets the tone for what ends up being a classic, iconic TV series, one that tackles numerous topical subjects (then and now) during a four-season run.
By the way, in case you or someone you know is interested, a “WKRP in Cincinnati” t-shirt featuring the show’s classic logo is available. (Click on the shirt below to view it on Amazon.)
Throughout most of the series, you’ll witness numerous examples that will showcase the qualities of a great leader. You’ll quickly find Andy Travis to be even-keeled, measured, and approachable — words you can read in a book (or on the internet) when it comes to leadership, but attributes that aren’t simply turned on and off.
Andy encourages creativity, tries different things, and shakes things up, not wanting to do things the way they’ve always been done. He’s passionate, dedicated, and challenges himself in his ongoing quest to grow the station’s ratings (you’ll need to watch the entire series to get the full grasp — and a revelation — on that). He’s relentless and fights for what he believes in. And he’s doing all this while working with some very quirky personalities, which as wide-ranging as they are, still work together well as a unit.
That’s what a leader can do.
And when things go wrong (as they most certainly do), or an idea doesn’t go as planned, he owns up to it and takes responsibility.
That’s what a leader does.
WKRP In Cincinnati: Classic TV Worth Revisiting
Obviously, “WKRP In Cincinnati” is just a TV show, but it’s one that leaves a lasting impression for so many reasons, led by the show’s excellent writing and the WKRP cast’s fine acting. (It’s also worth mentioning that the show is based on creator Hugh Wilson’s real-life experiences working at a radio station.)
I’ve merely focused on one very small aspect of the show to get a point across. I haven’t even scratched the surface or touched on the many memorable backstories surrounding the show’s great characters. If you’re not aware of them, you’re in for a treat, because “WKRP In Cincinnati” is a great piece of television history.
Shout Factory was able to get through the majority of the show’s music licensing issues (after all, it takes place at a radio station that plays music throughout the series) to put out the complete series DVD box set.
The DVD set also features bonus content which includes footage from the 2014 (partial) WKRP cast reunion event and a new interview with Gary Sandy discussing the show and the Andy Travis character.
It’s a great — and the only — DVD collection for “WKRP in Cincinnati” fans! (If you’re looking for many more classic TV shows available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital, you’ll want to check out this article!)
And if you would like a great — and hilarious — example of what can go wrong when a clueless, ineffective leader tries to take charge, make sure to watch the “WKRP in Cincinnati” episode “Turkeys Away.”
If you’re already aware of the unforgettable “Turkey” episode (or a hardcore WKRP fan), check out this shirt!
Why Not You?
If you haven’t already, I hope you get the chance to display your leadership skills at some point and put them into action.
Leaders can be (and are) often imitated in the workplace; authenticity matters and leaves a more effective, lasting impression on others.
There will also be times you might second-guess yourself as a leader, maybe as you try to recall a book you read and what it had to say about how to handle a particular workplace situation or conflict.
But I have a better idea. To partially borrow from the show’s opening theme: Baby, just think of [Andy Travis] once in a while… [He’s] at “WKRP In Cincinnati.”