Just after 3 a.m. on June 17, 2017, roughly 41 years after he had made his radio debut, Rodney Bingenheimer, iconic radio DJ and the anointed “Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” walked out of the KROQ building in West Los Angeles for the last time. Under the cover of night, with a single box of belongings, he drove away alone.
As unceremonious (and perhaps undignified) as the occasion may have seemed, the importance was not lost on a fellow former KROQ icon and Orange County staple, Jim Trenton. “What they did to Rodney was just shabby,” Trenton says over a caffeinated beverage at Kéan Coffee in Costa Mesa, near his Newport Beach home. As we talked, surrounded on all sides by moms in lululemon yoga togs, it became clear that what wasn’t shabby was Trenton’s perpetual dedication to the power and influence of local radio and TV over the past two and a half decades since his detachment from KROQ.
What also became crystal clear was that Bingenheimer’s departure may have actually instigated the return to radio for the radio personality known more popularly as Poorman.
The story of Poorman is very Orange County: part hubris, part redemption, with a keen sense of self-awareness. In the early years of KROQ, Poorman co-hosted the FM station’s morning drive-time show. Along with Richard Blade and others, Poorman was responsible for honing KROQ’s identity; it was something different from the classic rock stations that had dominated radio for the previous decades, including KMET and KLOS. With Devo, Sparks, Red Hot Chili Peppers and other early-’80s trendsetters in full rotation, KROQ was a legitimate alternative force. Admittedly, he was never hip enough to discover and promote bands, as Bingenheimer had famously done, but he was funny and cool—and that was just fine with both management and the growing listenership.
But as notable as Poorman’s deejaying skills may have been, his real rise to prominence came with his creation and hosting of the influential Loveline. The call-in show focused on a range of sexual topics, from intimacy problems to B&D, and remained a staple of the station from 1983 to 1993. But subsequent corporate purchases of KROQ, management changes and an increasingly competitive radio climate ultimately led to Poorman being shown the door; he left behind the station and his beloved Loveline. That would provide the genesis for his ongoing claim as the “most fired man in radio history.”
During the interim 20 years, Poorman has continued on the radio, serving short stints as a morning-show sidekick to Rick Dees on KIIS-FM, as well as to other, lower-bandwidth stations. His last true presence on the dial, however, was in the late 1990s, when he hosted his own show (by buying his own airtime) on a tiny radio station in Koreatown. That tenure ended abruptly when Trenton, down to his last week’s worth of budget, had his contract serendipitously bought out by the owners.
Since then, Poorman’s main staple of cultural relevance hasn’t been on radio at all. Rather, it has been his involvement with the on-again/off-again local television show Poorman’s Bikini Beach. From 1999 to 2017, the program ran on local airwaves, including Santa Ana-based KDOC, and then on a variety of Spanish-language stations. In half-hour tranches, Bikini Beach offered interviews with local restaurateurs, cannabis ads (before cannabis ads were hip), scores of local women in bikinis and occasional legal advice. It had all the makings of a beneath-the-radar backdrop for the changing climate of an early-21st-century Orange County. Until it wasn’t.
Airtime was increasingly expensive, and with local advertisers now aggressively hawking their wares on social-media platforms, Poorman’s Bikini Beach no longer had a home. So Poorman pulled the plug.
But there were short glimpses of an afterlife. “I came to find out that even after Bikini Beach had been taken off the air here in the U.S., it was one of the top-rated shows on Sony’s cable channel in Africa,” boasts Trenton. “There may be an opportunity in the future to distribute the Bikini Beach series, but for now, you can find bits here and there on YouTube.”
Left without a consistent platform for Bikini Beach and with radio gigs hard to come by, Poorman has moonlighted for the past few years in various mediums. He has even had occasional cameos in this very publication, as both cover-story subject (“Enter Poorman ,” November 2007) and guest writer.
And now, bolstered by the ability to claim (with a straight face) an international television audience and deciding to bury the hatchet of resentment nearly 20 years after his firing from KROQ, Trenton will return to the airwaves.
Beginning April 1, from 7 to 9 a.m. weekdays, KOCI-FM 101.5, a low-frequency station broadcasting from Costa Mesa with a reach “between the El Toro Y and Newport Beach,” will host a traditional morning drive-time radio program with Poorman at the helm. Poorman’s Morning Rush will feature music, interviews and a slight flavor of Poorman’s Bikini Beach, but without the visuals. And with a fitting dose of irony, KOCI’s current owner is producer Brent Kahlen, a former KROQ suit and producer. Operating as a nonprofit, the station strives to provide what it calls “creative partnerships” throughout its core Orange County-and-adjacent service areas.
“We’re going to have music, a surf report and interviews,” Poorman says. “I’ve spent long enough being mad, and now I’m ready to return to radio and have fun.”
The new show comes at a time when morning drive time in Southern California radio is well-populated—and pretty competitive. But optimism, as well as a track record of pulling through despite the circumstances, is certainly on Trenton’s side.
Cherin is a Los Angeles-based attorney and lobbyist. He lives in Long Beach.