The radio broadcasting industry has lost an icon – a guy who spent his entire career working for one radio station. While many great radio leaders have made their mark on the medium, none has impacted the image and reputation of radio sales more than this man:
Played by the brilliant character actor Frank Bonner, Herb led the sales effort at the fictitious WKRP in Cincinnati. Like all great role models, Tarlek had an unmistakable signature look. Week after week, he abused plaid, herringbone, madras, and other fabrics to create a garish image that was both blinding but eye-catching at the same time.
It's hard to think of another TV sitcom character who gave his role at the station a more embarrassing reputation this side of how Ted Baxter brilliantly sullied news anchors on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Will Ferrell would go on to honor Baxter with his own pathetic anchorman, Ron Burgundy. But no one ever tried to out-Tarlek the WKRP sales sleaze – it was that good.
As many of you know, my brother Paul comes out of radio sales. And he is convinced the Tarlek character effectively dissuaded an entire generation of radio wannabes from going into sales.
Hardly a day goes by without someone on the Jacobs Media team who doesn't invoke Herb's name, always in association with underhanded, heinous sales practices. We refer to this behavior as “Tarlekian.”
Bonner consistently made WKRP a truly funny sitcom. While Johnny Fever, Venus Flytrap, Bailey Quarters, Andy Travis, and Mr. Carlson (“The Big Guy”) were cartoon versions of radio staffers, Herb Tarlek exuded a certain truth. In his own exaggerated, unprofessional way, he was the real deal. Those of us fortunate enough to have worked in radio when the show first aired saw many of the worst sales rep traits in the Tarlek character. Everyone knew a Herb.
Twitter blew up yesterday at the news of Frank Bonner's passing, and I'll leave you with a potpourri of some of the best tweets.
Can't count the number of times someone's walked into our station sales office and said “So, is there a Herb Tarlek around here?” The answer has always been “Yes”. A perfect character. RIP Frank Bonner. pic.twitter.com/ICGSVGuOxC
— John Derringer (@JohnDerringer) June 17, 2021
Ever since I moved to Cincinnati to do radio, I've heard two questions/jokes from people…
1- Do you work for WKRP?
2- Do you know Herb Tarlek?
2- No, but there have been some guys who were close.
RIP Frank Bonner😢 pic.twitter.com/5q3HW2LH5H
— Big Dave (@BigDaveB105) June 17, 2021
— Marke Driesschen (@ctv_marke) June 17, 2021
Herb Tarlek at his finest, explaining how to write the perfect copy to Bailey. pic.twitter.com/fcuGqLGobB
— Danny Deraney (@DannyDeraney) June 17, 2021
And my favorite:
— Nik Carter (@TheNotoriousNIK) June 17, 2021
R.I.P. Frank Bonner, but bask in the memory that as long as there are radio stations, sales reps will emulate Herb Tarlek.