Having accepted a job in Los Angeles where he used to work and where his career was at its apogee (Where he said "Booger" on the air and got canned), Fever left Travis in a sudden bind to replace him. It isn't merely a huge setback for WKRP. Travis genuinely misses Johnny as does night-time deejay Venus Flytrap(Tim Reid), intern Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) and receptionist Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson).
Into this somber and forlorn environ, out of work DJs venture looking for work. Fever's eventual successor is one Doug Winner (Phillip Charles Mackenzie) - a young up and comer who found out about the job opening via record company eel Murray Gressler (Jeff Altman). Winner - agreeable and diplomatic, makes an excellent first impression. Even Les and Herb like him. Venus and Bailey remain unconvinced even as Winner performs admirably on air.
Yet Dr.Fever returns, fired again (This time for saying "Jive-Ass" on the air) and asks if they'll take him back at WKRP. Travis is more than happy to hire him back but it somehow doesn't seem right to just plug him right back into his old time-slot given how well Winner has been doing with it.
So Travis offers Fever the graveyard shift i.e. midnight til 6 AM as a temporary assignment until he can find him something better. Fever accepts. The awkward moment when a returning Fever's first shift changeover cedes the helm on air to Winner, who now occupies his old time-slot, is handled well by both men at first. Each is gracious up until a tell-tale baggie of white powder falls out of Winner's stack of new LPs.
Station manager Arthur "Big Guy" Carlson (Gordon Jump) unexpectedly shows up in the DJ booth just in time to see the packet and, with astounding naivete, asks what it is. Johnny decides not to rat Winner out even after Winner dares him to. The Big Guy leaves with the packet convinced by both that it is foot powder.
Johnny refuses to inform on Winner whom he finds contemptuous but enjoys watching Winner squirm as well as see him lament the loss of the not inexpensive bag of blow which Dr.Fever prescribed for the Big Guy to put on his feet.
Meanwhile Travis clues in that Winner has been receiving cocaine from Gressler in a pay for play exchange. Called onto the carpet in Carlson's office Winner tries to pin it on Johnny but neither Travis or Carlson buy in.
Why Fever doesn't inform on Winner right away is never explained. My guess would be that while Johnny wanted his old time-slot back he didn't want it back that way. My guess would be that just didn't feel right to a character who never fully shows deference to management in the entire run of the series. It may even have occurred to Johnny that he would not be believed. He has after all just been fired from the same Los Angeles station a second time for heavy-handed reasons.
Why Travis hires Winner in the first place even though skeevy Murray pushes for it is less difficult to puzzle out. A station like WKRP has few quality people walk through its doors looking to work there. Winner, has talent, appears professional because at some point in his career he likely was. He doesn't really put on an act (Though he probably wasn't high) in the interview.
Travis saw the young man Winner used to be, who is likely still there beneath the cokehead version which makes Winner do things he wouldn't do otherwise. A bad influence like Murray can lead nice people into some dark corners.
Travis is the most capable employee at WKRP but that doesn't mean he is perfect. It does mean that after he makes a mistake he is quick enough to catch it before it does lasting damage (A payola scandal could get a radio station decertified by the Federal Communications Commission). In keeping with his professionalism Travis doesn't dwell on the fact that he made a bad call. He goes to Carlson and explains why the young employee must be fired.
Phillip Charles Mackenzie was a comedic actor who COULD play straight man but was generally better known for flamboyantly off-beat characters. His characterization here hits all the right notes in showing the gritty desperation of an addict whilst suggesting what he might have been like before he started using.
There were other serious issues raised during the series. But this episode was among the best in that it struck a comfortable balance between the issue and the humour. As for why payola would happen at the 16th ranked station in an 18 station market, that is something only Murray Gressler might be able to explain if he actually existed. Per Winner's demands he is compensated with $600 worth of cocaine for playing Onslaught records - a hefty bounty for airplay on a station not many people listen to.
Fast-talking and skeevy seeming comedian Jeff Altman appeared in the film Record City (1978) which was about a record store. He was also in American Hot wax (1978) which was about DJ Alan Freed whose career was destroyed by the payola scandal of the early 1960s. He also appeared on episodes of Bandstand and Rock Concert. Thus Altman's appearance serves as legacy casting.