The host with the most -- rancor
Having met Jim “Poorman” Trenton -- the man, the myth, the legend -- for the first time Wednesday morning at his seaside digs, I must admit to some disappointment.
Not a bikini in sight.
Yep, he says, he’s heard that lament before. As the brains behind “Poorman’s Bikini Beach” TV show, people have come to expect that Trenton and women in swimwear are never separated.
“This time of year, they’re all in hibernation,” he says. “When the weather gets cold, the girls go away. The season for taping is from March through the end of October.”
So we are left with Trenton, who doesn’t mind calling himself eccentric and “very bizarre in the way that I am,” but bridles when I tell him that a former business associate has just referred to him as a “nut case.”
I won’t weigh in on that. I’m here only to tell you that Trenton, a former KROQ deejay who gained fame in the early 1980s by creating the wildly popular call-in radio show “Loveline,” is still around. The brain is still percolating, the confidence is still there, and he still has the knack of irritating authority figures.
The latest installment is a complaint he filed against KDOC, the Orange County TV station that last fall began airing his half-hour bikini beach show six nights a week at 11:30 p.m.
In a dispute over what Trenton says was an ad featuring a male porn star, the show ended after 5 1/2 weeks. The porn pitchman, fully clothed and seated on a sofa between two fully clothed women, was hawking two adult videos for $1 but didn’t mention salacious titles or display the DVD covers.
Trenton says management had approved the ad and aired it throughout his five-plus weeks on the air. Other advertisers pressured the station to quit running it, he said he was told.
Station owner Bert Ellis, who hasn’t seen the suit, says the ad was just part of a larger ongoing problem with Trenton, who wouldn’t conform to the station’s goals for the show and “started sinking back into the dreck he does on a normal basis.”
Ultimately, Ellis says, Trenton asked to be let out of his contract.
Trenton scoffs at Ellis’ interpretation and is suing to be paid for lost ad revenue. That comes into play because Trenton is one of those rare birds in TV who buy a time slot from a station, then sell their own ads. He does that so he can have control of the program, subject to FCC and station policies.
But neither am I here to mediate the legal dispute, which doesn’t involve all that much money.
I just like talking to rebels. And self-described geniuses. And to a father who would say this about his 17-year-old honor student son: “He could be a dope-smoking, high school dropout, and I wouldn’t care. But he’s the opposite.”
Despite the legal hassle, Trenton says he’s feeling good. “Right now, I have a sense this year could be my year,” he says on a morning where the Newport surf already looks good out his second-floor window. “I don’t know why I do, I just do. I know the bikini show could be a hit, and I have others lined up I could do. I just think I’m a creative genius. I’m not saying that to brag. I can just think of stuff. It’s just what I do. And I do it better than anybody.”
I have no idea if what he says is true, but it comes off as kind of charming, not off-putting. Maybe it’s because he then says something self-deprecating like this:
“I don’t think I could even get an audition to host my own show. Plus, I’m not 25 years old and a pretty boy. The only way I can get on the air, even though I operate at a superstar level, is to sell my own ads and buy the time. Eventually I wish someone would hire me again. But nobody’ll hire me. That’s the reality.”
Why won’t they? For a moment, he seems baffled. “I’ve never been fined by the FCC,” he says. “I never offend groups. I only offend managements. I constantly offend managements.”
Maybe that’s why you don’t get hired.
“That could be,” he says.
For showbiz reasons, he won’t divulge his age, but looks to be mid-40s. He’s got a lean look and says he runs 12 miles a day and surfs when he can to relieve stress.
Nothing about him looks particularly strange, but did I mention that he did a live TV show in the nude in 1994?
That was “The Love Channel,” a similar format to his “Loveline” creation, except that it was taped in front of a live audience. It was Trenton’s first venture into selling his own ads, and he admits to feeling the stress. So, on the way to work one day, he thought it’d create some buzz to do the show naked, “except for my baseball cap over my groin region.”
It created enough buzz to get him fired the next day by KDOC (yes, the same station that let him back on the air last fall with “Poorman’s Bikini Beach”).
Even today, KDOC’s website almost sounds nostalgic about Trenton. “Perhaps the most controversial of all KDOC program hosts was Jim ‘Poorman’ Trenton,” the site says. “On what became his last night, Poorman decided to tape his show in the nude.”
But that was then. Next week, his bikini show picks up on Spanish-language KRCA, which first aired it in 1999. It’ll be the only English-language show on the station, he says. Doesn’t matter, he says.
Girls in bikinis transcend language.
People can call him kooky, but this is a guy who still pounds the pavement selling ads, in addition to producing, hosting and scheduling the ads during the show.
In other words, despite the surfer-dude image he doesn’t try to hide, he ain’t lazy.
“Honestly, I think I could have stumbled into a genius move here,” he says. The bikini show has drawn good ratings wherever it’s gone, and KRCA’s Latino audiences in Los Angeles and Orange County will eat it up, he predicts.
Someday, he says, a cable or broadcast network will come calling. If not for “Poorman’s Bikini Beach” (in which he attends events involving bikini-clad women and gives a thumbs up or down for the event), then for some other show he’ll create.
“My strongest suit is coming up with shows,” he says.
“Some people can change a tire. I’ve just been able to think up shows my entire life.”
Dana Parsons can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at email@example.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.