CYNTHIANA — Gary Sandy will be back on the radio this weekend, in a way, just as he was years ago, in a way.
From 1978 to 1982, Sandy's star was established playing program director Andy Travis on the hit CBS sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, where he was essentially the straight man for a crazy cast of characters including nebbish newsman Les Nessman, womanizing ad salesman Herb Tarlek, bombshell receptionist Jennifer Marlowe and bumbling general manager Arthur Carlson.
The title town at least fictionally brought Sandy back to his roots: He grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and Kentucky was a regular destination to see family.
Sandy's mother now lives near Cynthiana, and this weekend, he is lending his name and talent to support the reviving Rohs Opera House by playing Scrooge in Tony Palermo's A Christmas Carol Radio Drama with the Rohs Theatre Company.
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"People have been talking to me for years: When I'd come in, would I do something for the town?" Sandy said Tuesday, while running errands in Cynthiana. "I'd say, 'It's not convenient right now, but I promise you one of these days, the time will be right and we'll get something going.'"
Finally, this year, things came together, with a production to benefit renovation of the Rohs Opera House, a theater that opened in 1871 as a second-floor theater named Aeolian Hall and reopened in 1941 as the Rohs Opera House.
Efforts are underway to renovate the theater for live productions and film showings, an endeavor that recently got a big hand from another celebrity connection. Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, who grew up in Cynthiana, donated a digital projector to the theater, allowing for a transition to modern film presentation many smaller independent theaters are struggling to make because of the costs of the projectors. They go for about $50,000.
Sandy says he was particularly attracted to the Christmas Carol production because it was in a radio drama format, a genre he has worked in for several years. The actors come to microphones to play their parts, and a team of Foley artists creates sound effects, including Jacob Marley's chains, street sounds and drinks being poured.
"It's quite interesting," Sandy says. "I've been working with some of the best people in the business for that kind of thing."
Sandy enjoyed radio drama recordings in the 1970s by the Firesign Theatre, and he ended up working with the group. Growing up in Ohio, Sandy says, he was "always enamoured of radio."
"I never felt like it got its just dues because you'd get in your car and flip a dial and this stuff would just come out of the speakers and you never paid too much attention to it," Sandy says. "But I thought it was great, because I loved acting, and I loved music, and suddenly I found myself on a show that had all three in the same thing.
"Through my antiquated website (Garysandy.com) I get guys writing me all the time saying, 'I'm in the business because of your show,'" Sandy says, noting that people would identify specific characters and say they had that person at their station. "It was very heartening to know that through that show, people came up and wanted to populate radio."
During his years with KRP, Sandy says, he enjoyed being something of a "rock star" in his home area, throwing out first pitches at Cincinnati Reds games and being the grand marshal of parades in the Queen City.
But, told that Andy seemed like more of a Bob Cratchitt than an Ebenezer Scrooge, Sandy is quick remind us that his career goes well beyond WKRP, including stage work as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway, in the blockbuster early-1980s production that initially starred Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt.
In fact, before WKRP, he had built a reputation playing heavies on the daytime dramas Another World and As the World Turns.
"Hugh Wilson, the creator of KRP, his wife knew me from the soaps," Sandy says. "And when Hugh announced, 'We've found our guy,' she said, 'Gary Sandy?! You can't hire him. He's out of his mind.'"
But the show — which was just recently re-released in its entirety in a new DVD set — ended up establishing Sandy's star, and that has allowed Sandy to help bring attention to a struggling theater in a town he's very close to.
"This is something we could never hope to do on our own," director and Rohs Opera House co-owner Roger Slade says.
Assistant director Becky Smith says, "It's everything. He is doing this totally for free and bringing in some of his friends to help. I don't think I've realized how wonderful it is."
On stage at a Tuesday night rehearsal, Sandy quickly leaves the All-American program director behind and takes Scrooge's journey from miser to major philanthropist. And Sandy can identify with the latter portion of that role.
"It's a good-size little theater that just needs some work," Sandy says. "That's what this is all about: keeping these theaters going."