“As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
If you recognize this wildly popular classic television line, you are probably already laughing. If you don’t recognize this quote, it is from the 1970s sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” about a fictional family-owned radio station run by station manager Arthur Carlson.
In the episode, the radio station is preparing for a unique Thanksgiving promotion orchestrated by Carlson himself. The WKRP Turkey Giveaway was held at Pinedale Shopping Mall.
However, rather than simply handing out frozen turkeys, Carlson charters a helicopter and begins tossing live turkeys to the unsuspecting shoppers below. Intrepid news anchor Les Nessman presents a live broadcast of the event and explains the scene as it unfolds.
As the live turkeys plummet to the ground, Nessman relays the horrific details to the radio listeners. He explains, “The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement.” Television viewers are left to imagine what the parking lot must have looked like based solely on the description offered by Nessman, making it one of the greatest moments of comedy in television history.
Then, at the end of the episode, Carlson returns to the station covered in feathers and utters the famous line about the inability of turkeys to fly.
While most people think of this episode when they think of “WKRP in Cincinnati” there is another episode from season one that, for me, rates as great dramatic television even though the show was a comedy. It is summer in Cincinnati and a storm is moving into the area.
After a tornado warning is issued, Nessman is on the air providing updates when Carlson receives a telephone call from a scared young girl who is alone at home. Carlson goes on air as he speaks to the girl and offers her, and any other children listening, instructions on how to take shelter from the tornado. Carlson relays he heard the girl shut her basement door just before the phone went dead, thus suggesting he saved her.
Last week, Iowans added a new word to their weather vocabulary: derecho. A straight-line wind storm with wind speeds of up to 100 miles per hour or more, the derecho rivaled some of the worst tornados to hit Iowa and was comparable to a category 3 hurricane.
Page County was lucky. I was just leaving Clarinda for a 25-minute drive west to our newspaper office in Shenandoah when a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Fremont County and western Page County. I figured I would be driving directly into a heavy rain. Though the sky looked increasingly menacing as I approached Shenandoah, the front passed with only a few rain drops.
However, residents in central and eastern Iowa were not as lucky. The derecho decimated crops, uprooted massive trees, destroyed buildings and left residents without electricity. As of Aug. 14, there were still 140,000 electrical customers without power as crews from other states converged on the Hawkeye State to offer assistance.
I have friends in the Des Moines area that suffered some damage and were without power for 16 hours. My cousin, who lives in the country 20 minutes from Cedar Rapids, sustained extensive property damage and did not have power or water restored until Wednesday afternoon.
This was how she described the scene on Facebook when she returned home from work Monday afternoon, “Our place was immaculately beautiful this morning and looks like a war zone now.”
Many of our longtime readers remember the 1964 tornado that ravaged Yorktown and the 1979 tornado that annihilated Braddyville. Our neighbors across the state are now contending with the same kind of damage, or worse, Southwest Iowa residents faced after those events.
However, in these times of trouble, one of the greatest qualities of Iowa manages to shine through. Despite any differences they may have, Iowans know neighbors help neighbors in times of need.
Hopefully, Iowa serves as an example the rest of the country can follow.
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