Gerald “Jerry” Blum, the inspiration for the character of radio station general manager Art “Big Guy” Carlson on the long-running TV sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati,” died Saturday at 86.
The Atlanta radio veteran was affectionately transformed into the fictional Carlson by veteran comic actor Gordon Jump on “WKRP,” which ran for four seasons on CBS from 1978 to 1982.
Blum passed away of congestive heart failure, according to his son, Gary.
Blum was the former president/GM of Atlanta Top 40 mainstay WQXI, heading that station from 1960 to 1989 and what is currently WSTR (Star 94.1) from ’67 to ’89, running legendary promotions like the “Ramblin’ Raft Race” in the ‘70s and “Light Up Atlanta Festival” in the early ‘80s.
“WKRP in Cincinnati” creator Hugh Wilson knew Blum from his own years in Atlanta working in ad sales at WQXI, and recreated some of Blum’s wackier promos for the show, especially “Turkeys Away,” which focused on “Big Guy” Carlson’s idea to drop turkeys from a helicopter. The turkeys came crashing down to earth, as Richard Sanders’ newsman Les Nessman gave an increasingly panicked play-by-play, noting the birds “were hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement,” adding the infamous line about the Hindenburg disaster, “Oh, the humanity!” The turkey drop emulated Blum’s promotion in the late ‘50s at KBOX in Dallas, where he shoved them off a flatbed pick-up truck in a shopping center, with “the public going nuts fighting over them.”
Besides Jump’s take on Blum/Carlson, “WKRP” also featured Howard Hesseman as veteran DJ Johnny Fever, Lori Anderson as the station’s deceptively smart blonde receptionist and Tim Reid as funky late-night jock Venus Flytrap. The show became an unexpected hit after going into syndication.