Don't touch that dial: A new 'radio' role for Gary Sandy of WKRP

Actor Gary Sandy plays hardboiled gumshoe Mike Hammer in Clearwater.

Mike Hammer – Encore For Murder

January 18-February 3

Ruth Eckerd Hall Murray Theatre, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater

Tickets and info here

click to enlarge The WKRP cast, clockwise from left: Richard Sanders, Gary Sandy, Frank Bonner, Loni Anderson, Gordon Jump, Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman and Jan Smithers. - SHOUT! FACTORY
The WKRP cast, clockwise from left: Richard Sanders, Gary Sandy, Frank Bonner, Loni Anderson, Gordon Jump, Tim Reid, Howard Hesseman and Jan Smithers.

Baby, if you’ve ever wondered

Wondered whatever became of me …

Andy Travis, the only normal guy in a roomful of loonies on the classic sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, is still packing and unpacking — town to town, up and down the dial.

Travis was played by Gary Sandy, an Ohio actor with extensive television and stage credits. Now, more than 35 years after WKRP’s four-season network run ended, his routine hasn’t changed much.

Sandy has landed in Clearwater, where he’s starring in Mike Hammer — Encore For Murder at Ruth Eckerd Hall’s intimate Murray Theatre, Jan. 18-Feb. 3.

He plays writer Mickey Spillane’s tough-talking private detective. It’s presented like an old-time radio play, with an onstage “foley artist” creating live sound effects, and the supporting cast performing in front of microphones, scripts in hand.

Not Sandy, though. His Mike Hammer is all over the place – including the audience – narrating the story via Spillane’s patented machine-gun dialogue, gunfighting with bad guys, knocking back the hard stuff and romancing a dame or two.

Sandy, 72, was first introduced to “radio plays” a dozen years ago, while he was in a production in at a multi-stage theater complex in Kentucky.

“During the time I was doing the mainstage show, there was this group of actors doing these radio things,” he remembers. “I was over there all the time watching those guys, ‘cause it was just great.”

The team including Philip Proctor and David Ossman, founding members of the audio verite comedy ensemble the Firesign Theatre.

“I became friends with Proctor,” Sandy says. “And at the end, he said ‘So I’ll see you next year!’ I said ‘You won’t see me; no one’s called and asked if I wanted to do another play.’

“Proctor then said ‘There’s a guy in our troupe that’s just dropped out — do you want to be a part of the radio shows?’ I said absolutely! So I go down there for three more seasons.”

The foley artist from those years, Tony Brewer, is the master of sounds for Mike Hammer — Encore For Murder.

Gary Sandy moved to Los Angeles in 1976, after seven years of soap opera work in New York. His first major role was as a ditzy male secretary in Norman Lear’s controversial gender-bending (and short-lived) comedy series All That Glitters.

WKRP in Cincinnati, created and produced by Hugh Wilson (a native Floridian who died this week), debuted on CBS in 1978.

“When I read the script,” Sandy says, “I said ‘That’s really gonna work.’ I knew it was gonna work. Because it was about something! It was about a radio station, which I loved. It was about music, and about acting. And it was funny. The whole thing.”

The premise: Radio “fix-it” guy Andy Travis is hired to get a Cincinnati FM station out of the ratings gutter. He changes things up by switching to a rock ‘n’ roll format, which causes befuddlement and consternation for the staff — exaggerated stereotypes all.

WKRP featured some of the best writing on television, from the hilariously funny (live Thanksgiving turkeys dropped from a helicopter in a promotion-gone-bad) to the sad-but-true (one episode dealt with a real-life tragedy, when 11 Cincinnati concert-goers were trampled to death in a mad scramble for “festival seating” close to the stage).

The ensemble cast also included Gordon Jump, Loni Anderson, Tim Reid and Howard Hesseman.

“By and large, each one was a caricature unto itself,” says Sandy. “You had really good actors playing each and every character. I don’t think anybody really had any kind of through line except the Travis character. He comes from somewhere else, he’s supposed to be some sort of radio whiz kid who’ll turn stations around and move on.

“And then in this instance, because of the ineptitude of the people at the station, he wasn’t able to move on as he normally did. And he began to fall in love with the people at the station. So that’s why he was sticking around —and slowly but surely, he became kind of as nuts as they were.”

WKRP was canceled after Season 4, which ended with a cliffhanger — the station was about to be sold for an all-talk format! Oh no!

No one will ever know what might’ve happened next.

“We assumed there was going to be at least another season,” explains Sandy, who was doing The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway, during his hiatus, when the axe fell. “So I don’t think anybody had any indication that was going to be the last show.”

He’s done TV guest spots, Broadway tours (including two years opposite Ann-Margret in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) and stage plays in every state.

But Gary Sandy will always be young, idealistic Andy Travis of WKRP.

“It’s definitely a golden-age sitcom - very, very sincerely funny,” he says. “There’s no canned laughter on the show — what you hear is what really happened in front of that audience.”

Maybe you and me were never meant to be

Just maybe think of me once in a while.

I’m at WKRP in Cincinnati.

click to enlarge Onstage at the Murray Theatre, Gary Sandy and cast rehearse a scene from Mike Hammer - Encore For Murder. - JEFF KELLEY
Onstage at the Murray Theatre, Gary Sandy and cast rehearse a scene from Mike Hammer - Encore For Murder.












About The Author

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was born in St. Pete and spent the first 22 years of his life here. After a long time as an arts and entertainment journalist at newspapers around Florida (plus one in Savannah, Ga.) he returned to his hometown in 2014.You’ll find his liner notes in more than 100 CDs by a wide range of artists including...
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