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"All it's gonna take is your complete co-operation, absolute secrecy, and twenty live turkeys. "

-- Mr Carlson

"Turkeys Away" is undoubtedly one of the funniest and most popular episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati and possibly one of the funniest sit com episodes of all time. "Turkeys Away" (Season 1, Episode 7) first aired on October 30, 1978. The premise is station owner Mr Carlson is holding a Thanksgiving-related promotion. Part of the promotion is to throw live turkeys out of a helicopter during some family event near a shopping mall. While seemingly a cruel promotion, cruelty was not the intent. Carlson states "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!" Naturally, things go awry when it becomes obvious to horrified onlookers and reporter Les Nessman that turkeys, long ago, had any flight characteristics bred out of them in favor of plumper more savory breasts and drum sticks. The whole turkey drop scene is actually played out on the episode in audio, described by Nessman in one of a dozen quotable quotes from this episode:

"It's a helicopter, and it's coming this way. It's flying something behind it, I can't quite make it out, it's a large banner and it says, uh - Happy... Thaaaaanksss... giving! ... From ... W ... K ... R... P!! No parachutes yet. Can't be skydivers... I can't tell just yet what they are, but - Oh my God, Johnny, they're turkeys!! Johnny, can you get this? Oh, they're plunging to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Not since the Hindenburg tragedy has there been anything like this!"

Les goes silent at this point. He later reveals that the turkeys that did survive the drop launched a small counter attack on any nearby human being. In Les' words "It was almost as if they were ...organized!" (A concept later parodied by South Park.)

In response to the dead air, DJ Johnny Fever pipes up on the mic in the on-air booth:

"Les? Are you there? Les isn't there. Thanks for that on-the-spot report, Les, and for those of you who just tuned in, the Pinedale Shopping Mall has just been bombed with live turkeys. Film at 11."

There is some debate about the inspiration for this episode. There was an urban legend popular in radio circles that this actually happened, more or less. As the legend goes a station in Atlanta dropped turkeys out of a plane. Advertising Age suggests a station in Dallas is the inspiration. Apparently the station threw live turkeys out of a pickup, hurling them at a supermarket.

Despite the radio show/turkey drop tie-in being mostly in the urban legend zone, cruelty to living turkeys around thanksgiving is ultimately not unknown (like live turkey shoots).

There was a long time tradition in Yellville, Arkansas where living wild turkeys were actually thrown off of building rooftops and then airplanes. Since 1945 Yellville has held an annual Turkey Trot festival in October. Initially a wild turkey was thrown off the roof of the courthouse. However until 1989, Yellvillians started throwing toms out of low flying planes. In 1989 the National Enquirer did an article on this savagery and the turkey hurling was forced to cease because of the bad publicity. Curiously the Yellville event was actually started to save wild turkeys and promote their reintroduction into the wilds of Arkansas (in that goal they were successful for wild turkeys are now quite plentiful in the Yellville area).

Now where the story deviates from the WKRP rendition is real wild turkeys actually can fly and don't simply just tumble helplessly to the cold hard ground. I believe Benjamin Franklin famously wanted the turkey to be America's national bird instead of the eagle because unlike the boney eagle, turkeys could not only fly with surprising bursts of speed but they were much tastier than eagle. A perfect combination! Where the cruelty comes back into the pictures is modern day wild turkeys aren't quite as good flyers as their ancestors from 200 years ago and the variety thrown out of planes in Yellville didn't always fair so well. Even with a much softer, controlled crash landing, the tossed toms did not always meet such a pleasant fate. See the ultimate goal of these turkey drops was to drop future FOOD into the midst of a waiting crowd. It was frequently the case that more than one person claimed to have caught the living turkey and, well, matters were quickly settled by pulling off whatever bit of living turkey you could get away with. Yeah, messy.

Yellville's official turkey drop ceremony was cancelled by the civic fathers but it continues to this day in an unofficial manner.

In Spain, a similar tradition is still practiced. However instead of throwing turkeys off of a courthouse roof or a plane, a living goat is ceremoniously tossed off a church belfry. However, being more godly people, the Spaniards do attempt to break the goat's 50' forced free fall with a sheet. Typically the goat survives until the crowd gets hungry.

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