Thursday, December 8, 2011

Trout Mouth Replica

Love him or hate him, TJ Trout has been an integral part of Albuquerque's airwaves for the last 25 years. Trout recently announced that he's retiring as host of  The 94-Rock Morning Show, he signs off on Dec. 21st. His announcement follows on the heels of Clear Channel abruptly firing KBQI's (The Big I) popular morning duo, Tony Lynn and Myles.  On his part, TJ made it clear that he was not forced out and "that it's time to leave and the decision was my own." he went on to say: "I thought that 25 years is probably enough, so it's time to take some time to sleep, decompress and to fish." 

What he really means is that once the "non-competition" period is over, he'll be back hosting a talk radio show. (his retirement may void that clause) For now the plan is to replace TJ with Swami & Rainman. They're probably just keeping the seats warm until Clear Channel pulls the plug and switches to a Regional Mexican format. Clear Channel has two rock stations in a market that's shrinking faster than a New Mexican mud puddle, logic says that one has to go. Something tells me that TJ Trout is the rat that knew when to leave a sinking ship.

Rock as a radio format is dying out, the general consensus in the radio industry is that the format is a money loser. For years KZRR has bucked that trend, 94-Rock has consistently finished in the top five in the Arbitron ratings for Albuquerque. Though they've always fallen just short of the top spot. Clear Channel's other rock station, KTEG 104.1- The Edge, plays more modern rock music that appeals to a younger, mostly male listening audience. A large part of KTEG's success is also due to their championing of MMA fighting, which has a huge following in the Duke City.

Clear Channel has an iron grip on the local radio market. The ratings book for this past summer showed Clear Channel stations holding four of the top five spots and six out of the top ten. KZRR is solidly in second place ahead of  KBQI, KTEG and KPEK, all owned by Clear Channel. The #1 spot is held down by KKSS (owned by Univision) KKSS appeals to a much younger demographic with a format that mixes hip-hop and hot hits, as evidenced by their high energy "ain't we having fun" Morning House Party. 

Terrestrial radio stations are almost an obsolete form of entertainment. They have been supplanted as the primary source for new music. Abrupt format changes and catering to the lowest common musical denominator  forced longtime listeners away. (KZRR still clings to its AC-DC, Ozzy & Led Zeppelin like a wino to his wine) The real problem (for radio executives) is that every single person out there is now his own program director and station manager. 

There is no reason for anyone to listen to a song they don't like anymore. We can program better rock stations than some consultant pouring over surveys. The options are almost limitless. I personally use a plug-in fm transmitter that plays flash drives loaded with the music of my choice. It plays through my car radio speakers on a frequency that I've selected (in urban areas your choice is limited) Radio (satellite, terrestrial or internet) can't match that. 

TJ Trout, brought the hi-jinks and shenanigans of the Morning Zoo format to Albuquerque at a time when the local airwaves were stagnant. Trout and his co-horts stayed true to the general template for zany morning shows across the country. Although, we didn't know that, since there had never been anything like it in Albuquerque. Before KZRR there was KRKE-FM, a faceless station with a bland album rock format. The KRKE jocks projected a laidback  vibe that wasn't much different from that of KRST (before the format change to country in 1981) 

KRKE was the classic example of what FM radio once was, complete with vinyl pops and skips. That would change in 1986, with a change in call letters and the arrival from Cleveland of a radio personality who would bring "shock" radio to Albuquerque.  The Morning Zoo format had been around for a few years, though it was mostly limited to a few stations in the midwest and east coast. WMMS in Cleveland had tweaked the format to perfection and it was a variation of that morning show that TJ Trout introduced to Duke City listeners.

After a highly hyped build-up, Trout hit the 'Burque airwaves like an angry stepdad. KZRR quickly made its presence felt and has been Albuquerque's rock & roll leader ever since. Over the years the station's cast of characters has changed. (Jer, Robin, Kapt. Krunch, Phil Mahoney, Renee, Hubby Dean, Jane Metzler, Erica Viking etc.) On a side note: Hubby Dean (Scott Mansfield) entered the priesthood and was once sued by the family of a Chama man for what he said during the eulogy "The Lord vomited people like Ben out of his mouth to Hell." 

In mid-1990's KZRR ratings took a dive. Which could be attributed to competition from Citadel Radio's Classic 104 or to dunderhead program director Frank Jaxon (who?) A man who was once quoted as saying "We don't play music from the 80's, because music in the 80's wasn't very good"  Obviously, Jaxon (who?) didn't see Grunge coming either. With him out of the way, KZRR settled into a format known as Active Rock (a mix of classic & modern rock)


It was during this period that TJ Trout found out that Sandia Peak Broadcasters (who first hired him) had trademarked the name "TJ Trout" without his knowledge.  This despite the fact that Trout had brought the name with him from Ohio. When the story first made headlines, Trout refused to divulge his real name (Timothy Lelko) stating that "It's an Eastern European name that's hard to pronounce." Negotiations with Twin Peaks Radio/River City Broadcasting (then owners of KZRR) went nowhere and in 1996 Trout resigned.

TJ then accepted a job at KOB-AM to host an afternoon talk show. He was however barred from using the name "TJ Trout" and River City made it clear that they had the right to give the name to his successor. KOB-AM wisely stayed out of the battle, although their program director did state that he would take TJ with or without the name. Then, as both sides geared up for a legal showdown, Trumper Communications swooped in and bought all of River City's Albuquerque stations.

The owner of Trumper Communications, Jeff Trumper opened the door for TJ to stay on the air at KZRR, by releasing the trademark on the name. Soon after that, TJ Trout announced he would remain at 94-Rock, "The problem I had with 94-Rock was not with the new owner, it was with the previous owners, who basically snubbed me on the trademark issue." By snubbed, he meant screwed. KOB-AM, which had only a non-binding agreement with Trout, chose not to pursue a claim in court.  

Under TJ's watch, the 94-Rock Show pranks were mild (disgruntled Elves marching in the Christmas parade, toll booths on the Montano Bridge) The repartee between TJ and the Morning Show regulars was intelligent and unforced. The Rasta Records parody song series, was top notch and often featured local musicians. The cast of characters ranged from the inspired (Joe Camel, Dave Chucklesen, Jimmy Stewart) the mildly amusing (Rambo's Reviews) and the highly irritating (Hank) As Albuquerque grew and familiar neighborhoods became a little less familiar, there was one constant.. TJ Trout on the radio.   After Dec. 21st. he won't be there anymore.






                        KRKE-FM air check featuring Renee on air and Frank Jaxon (who?) doing commercials