♫ I said, “The womanʼs good, and she put the love in my heart.” ♫
Tuesday, November 14th, 2023 Alive 19,194 days
Many Americans of a certain age range remember Halloween Eve, 1978 when we all watched a WKRP staffer huck turkeys out of a helicopter over the Cincinnati skyline — a radio stunt that proved fatal for the flock of flightless fowl.
Except that it didnʼt happen.
In the decades since, Iʼve spoken with dozens of people who swear they saw video of the turkeys falling to the ground. Some remember seeing video of the flailing birds being thrown from the helicopter, feathers scattering in the wind. Some remember seeing them cratering parked cars “like sacks of wet cement” from the sky. But again, none of those things happened. Even if they had happened, it wouldnʼt have been possible to film them. Youʼd have to have a camera hovering in the air just below the helicopter, and another on the ground in exactly the right place to capture the Sakrete impacts.
What we all saw was the power of radio.
The episode of WKRP in Cincinnati that depicted the turkey toss only showed Les Nessman standing in front of a store, excitedly craning his neck toward the sky, one hand clenching a microphone, the other trying to keep his headphones on; and the WKRP air studio, with Dr. Johnny Fever, Bailey Quarters, Venus Flytrap, and Andy Travis listening in anticipation and eventual dismay as the episode unfolds.
In spite of what seemingly millions of otherwise rational people think they saw, at no time was a single turkey shown. Not in the original airing on CBS, nor on the countless annual reruns since. Spoken word sowed the seeds, and each of our imaginations did the rest. The result is a common social memory of an event that never actually happened.
Thatʼs the power of radio. Even on television, it was the power of radio.