Can a "surf dude" find a place in a world as far removed from his own as the gritty urban landscape of rap and hip-hop music?
That's the latest twist in the life of one of the most colorful--and unlikely--figures in the recent history of Southern California radio.
Jim (Poorman) Trenton, whose amateurish edge came to symbolize the maverick spirit of KROQ-FM's "modern rock" format before he was banished by the station two years ago, has resurfaced as a deejay on KPWR-FM (105.9).
Trenton, 33, has never been afraid to take chances, so it probably should have come as no surprise when the creator and former host of KROQ's popular "Loveline" program turned down an offer last month to co-host a similar show on KIIS-FM, opting instead to spin rap and hip-hop records on top-rated KPWR.
His three-hour show airs weeknights at 7.
"I just thought to myself, this is what the Poorman would do: something completely illogical," says Trenton, who is wearing surf shorts, running shoes, a KPWR T-shirt and a KPWR cap as he sits for an interview in a downtown sandwich shop. "To me, it was so scary that I had to do it."
It was a risky move, too, for KPWR executives.
"He does not fit this radio station and doesn't necessarily fit this audience," says Rick Cummings, vice president of programming for KPWR's parent company, Emmis Broadcasting. "He certainly doesn't know the music, although he does like the music. I think only time will tell us whether our audience can adapt to him and whether he can adapt to our audience.
"It's entirely possible that we have picked a talent that is just too different from the lifestyle of this audience and just can't bridge the gap. At the same time, that's probably the hook: Can a surfer dude--a white surfer dude--make it on a hip-hop station? That's the big question that gets addressed here every night."
Trenton and KPWR are still waiting for the answer.
Says Trenton: "I've gotten a few faxes: 'Fire the white guy' or 'Poorman sucks.' But a lot of people who at first thought, 'This is weird'--they think I'm funny now."
One thing in Trenton's favor, Cummings says, is the likability of the deejay's Poorman persona, which one writer described as "Beaver Cleaver on testosterone."
"He seems to be as at home around hip-hop dudes as he has been around grunge bands," Cummings says. "He just doesn't seem to see any difference, and I think that's kind of a cool quality. And if we can make that come through the speakers, I think we'll be fine--whether the audience is brown, black or white."
Trenton, who still lives near the sand in Newport Beach, has at least one thing in common with his listeners: He loves the music.
"Hip-hop is today's alternative music," he says, adding a swipe at his former KROQ listeners: "I live in Orange County, and these people who think they're being individuals are part of what I like to call the Stone Temple Pilots fashion show. It's like, how many more shaved heads, goatees, navel rings and tattoos can you see? It's just massive trendiness.
"Modern rock is now commercial rock. To me, the guys who grew up in gangs and lived in ghettos--they're making alternative music."
Trenton says he started listening to KPWR after KROQ effectively dumped him in August of 1993 for "violating station policies." A feud with another KROQ deejay had resulted in Trenton's being suspended by the station, and he was kept off the air for the final 15 months of his contract.
Before his contract expired last November, he filed suit against KROQ and its parent company, Infinity Broadcasting Corp., alleging breach of contract, slander, fraud and copyright infringement. The $22-million suit, still pending, contends that by continuing to air "Loveline," the station is infringing on Trenton's creation.
Last fall, Trenton starred in a similar teen-advice program, "The Love Channel," on KDOC-TV Channel 56, but the show was canceled after Trenton did a show in the nude.
For the past year, he has lived off his savings and the money he makes giving show-biz reports to a radio station in Australia.
"If I hadn't gotten the job at KPWR," he says, "Mom and Dad would have been supporting me."
KPWR first contacted Trenton about nine months ago, but KIIS was first to offer a job--after he spent a week filling in for a vacationing Domino as host of "Desperate and Dateless."
Trenton worked only one night as a regular co-host of the late-night show before getting a call from Cummings, who was looking for a deejay who would be the antithesis of Big Boy and the Baka Boyz, the most streetwise of KPWR's on-air personalities.
"Between those two [acts], we've sort of maxed out that whole hip-hop personality kind of thing," Cummings says. "We're not going to find anybody better than those guys at doing rhyming and doing that kind of lifestyle humor, so we thought, 'Maybe we ought to take a completely different approach.' "
His moxie impressed Trenton, who was quick to sign on.
"He's kind of a riverboat gambler," Trenton says. "He reminds me a lot of Rick Carroll, who started the KROQ format."
Cummings isn't sure what role Trenton will eventually play at KPWR--"The first six or eight weeks are purely a fishing expedition," he says--but he has already told the deejay that he will get a shot at hosting a teen-advice segment during his show.
Trenton's all for it.
"I don't think it's going to be completely revolutionary," he says, "but I like the idea of Coolio giving love advice. Or Warren G, or Dr. Dre. And it would be interesting to ask Snoop Doggy Dogg if he's ever had an orgy."
Don't bet that he won't.
Says Cummings: "We listen every night and say, 'Wow, it's like we've got our own Beavis and Butt-head show.'
"He really is entertaining."