Seven years can seem a millennia if one is waiting.
Waiting for the sun, waiting for Godot. I dunno, but waiting for the return of rock radio humorist TJ Trout may have indeed been a trial for fans who also favored a disturbed rewrite of the old long form epithet for our state. Surely those bearing signs that read “Land of Entrapment” also had a fire burning in their hearts for the silky smooth baritone, tangential humor and generally good-natured but utterly profane entradas into popular culture entertained on the show by Mr. Trout and members of his comic universe.
And why not. The excursions TJ Trout took listeners on could be expansively informative, dangerously distracting or just goddamn funny. When TJ retired seven years ago he left a void in Burque’s broadcast kingdom that has yet to be filled. And though some have tried to ply the deeply humorous waters of home since the broadcaster’s lapse, the dude is still one of the giants the rest of us ride into battle while “Two Tickets to Northeast Heights” blares in the background.
Anyway, when the dust settled—on his retirement, on market forces, on la politica en Burque—Trout decided to return, taking a popular drive time slot at KKOB-AM.
That would be culturally interesting if the aforementioned 100,000 watt beacon was just any old AM station, given to playing tuneage like “Top of the World” by The Carpenters and deriving most of their advertising income from a demographic sold on the virtues of mechanically separated chicken and Polydent.
But KKOB ain’t just any station. From the reign of Larry Ahrens forward into our post-millennial epoch, the station—KOB was the second AM radio station west of the Mississippi and once a repository of news and music departments that rivaled outlets in Kansas City, Phoenix and Las Vegas—took a wide right turn in the middle of the ’80s, adopting a talk radio format, becoming KKOB in the process.
With that format came right-wing agitators like Rush Limbaugh, whose show continues to be featured at 770 AM. As the ascendancy of Trumpism came to further influence the AM radio format recently, so did that right-wing partisan flavor become more prominent at radio stations like KKOB.
That was until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when KKOB’s corporate voice announced the addition of new programing and what would be subsequently called a great experiment afterwards. The addition of a TJ Trout show from 3 to 6pm five days a week was not a sea change, but rather a look forward to a time when political discourse is driven by diversity, not singularity.
That’s what Trout told me anyway. Trout had a lot to say on that day—about life, the media and how important tone is in today’s sometime divisive cultural discourse—while we met at Cumulus Media offices. Here’s a deep glance at our meeting in the broadcast company conference room.
Weekly Alibi: How’s it going, TJ?
TJ Trout: So far so good; it’s about two weeks in and I’m happy with the shows that I’ve put on. It’s interesting because this radio station has a reputation as being a conservative radio station.
What are you talking about on the air?
A lot of politics, a lot of what’s going on in town. The first week was sort of catching up for me. A lot of discussion was about what I missed. I’ve been gone for seven years, so I need to catch up with the culture in Albuquerque, what’s in the news, what’s going on with politics. I’m getting there.
What do you think is going on? Do you have a synopsis to offer us? What vibe do you get?
The feedback so far—though you gotta realize I’m in a bubble, like we’re all in a bubble—has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m trying to play this politically right down the middle.
As a centrist?
Yeah, as a centrist. And my contention is that most people in the country are—look here [TJ draws a vertical line in the air]—10 percent are on one side of this middle line, 10 percent are on the other. Then of course you have this fringe on both sides.
Are they all tuning in?
Because I think there’s this stereotype—the left-wing says that people who listen to talk radio are necessarily right-wing, that they’re supporters of Trump and ultimately, Rush Limbaugh. Period.
So this is, I would put it, a sort of grand experiment because it’s a conservative radio station and my politics don’t fit this station. But like I said, I’m trying to keep it right there, in the center. You asked me about the response: mostly extremely positive. But trying to play the middle is difficult and I’m getting shit from both ends.
What’s notable that you’ve heard: Funny or tragic, something that made you think about what’s going on in Albuquerque?
My response to that is that I don’t think much has drastically changed in the past seven years, since I’ve come and gone. Albuquerque has always been—and I don’t mean this as a put down—well stuff happens and then it happens here a little later.
Sure, I’ve always felt you can see potential trends here by looking at what happened in California a year or two or five before it manifests in Burque.
I’ll go as far as to talk about the economy. The recession happens but it’s not as bad here. But when the recovery happens, it’s not as strong here either. Albuquerque, the state of New Mexico are in very unique places, so to speak. Our dependence on government jobs guarantees that position, I think. My impression coming back to town? I drove around a lot. I looked around Nob Hill, Downtown. I thought Nob Hill looked good. I think Downtown had a little bit more vibrancy than it used to. I noticed that there are TV shows and movies being shot. The other day I had to walk around a shoot. But I noticed there seems to be more homeless people here.
That’s something I’ve noticed too. There seems to have been an upsurge. The other night I was driving around and noticed a fellow had a two tents set up near a major intersection in the Heights.
That was me.
And I’m not trying to be cruel. It could be any one of us out there these days.
I know: And I am sympathetic but I think that some citizens think of crime when they see situations like that, so close to home.
Well, I told friends and family that I was moving back and many said they figured I’d do that, but the first thing they said was “But the crime! What are you gonna do to protect yourself?” And you realize this discussion is not coming form anywhere in the Southwest; it’s coming from thousands of miles away. People out there realize we have a crime problem. That’s troubling.
What’s your impression of the new mayor?
I have very little to go with in regards to an impression of the new mayor.
He’s a hesher, ya know.
I know he is, I know. But surprisingly—I’ve made a couple of offers to have him come on the air—he hasn’t come on. Maybe he’s thinking I’m gonna ambush him, because of the reputation of this station. And right now I’d tell him, “Dude, come on let’s have a conversation.” Last week I had former Mayor Marty Chavez on. We had an hour-long conversation. It was an interesting perspective, coming from a former mayor. He’s actually quite hopeful about the future of Albuquerque. But to your point about crime: Chavez said we don’t have enough police officers. He thinks it’s cause and effect. There are a lot less police on the street, no wonder there’s a crime problem. That logic is hard not to agree with.
I’d be okay with that. Even as an aging hipster, I think it would be nice to have more cops around.
It makes perfect sense. I wanna feel safe.
Do your listeners want those same basic needs taken care of, not so much an ideology to be advanced?
Yes and that’s interesting. Most people, my listeners, anybody’s audience, just people in general, have very basic concerns. After you take care of basic issues, then come the secondary issues like local politics. And then, after that, some people have time for national issues. But that said, I had a conversation yesterday about global warming.
That’s a huge issue that we covered this week.
Oh my God, there is so much disinformation out there. That made our conversation yesterday, at times, painful.
Is that because people are less educated about science?
Let me preface this by saying that I’ve talked to many scientists. Every one, to a person, says we have a problem. But that aside, my question to you is when did learning and education become liberal values?
Do you think they’re only valuable to liberals?
Well this whole issue was brought into focus, 20/20 and I get what some of the anti-climate change people are saying. A lot of them feel that—and I’m going to do this in quotes—the elitists are talking down to them, telling them what to do and what to think.
I’m sorry it comes off like that.
That’s what I’m saying, but this is where the left and the progressive have a problem. I think the issue has been identified but we have a bad way, an inadequate way of getting that message out to people. The perception is that finger-pointing is going on.
So do people on the right feel like they’re being judged? I kinda get that. But I also see it as a divide between people who have a certain level of education and those who don’t. But I can see how it can be perceived as a sort of attempt at control. In any case, how do we convince these people of science?
Well, if they’re complaining about the messaging, then there is a messaging problem. The issue is pretty spot on, but the people who are putting forth the message are not doing so in a way that appreciates the audience. Another thing and this kills me: I think learning and education have become liberal values.
Well I remember substantive Republican intellectuals like Buckley and Goldwater, even. But something happened.
The point I was trying to make is that there will always be people that are smarter than you, and there will always be people that are less smart than you. That is the way of the world. The way I was brought up and the way I have come to think is that if somebody is obviously smarter or more educated than me, I’m probably gonna pay attention to them.
Even if they’re a dick about it?
That’s the problem! If someone comes off as an asshole then of course they’re a pompous asshole and I understand that the response is going to be “Fuck you! I’m not listening to you.” That’s where the problem lies. Yesterday it was proven to me that the problem is not the subject matter, it’s the delivery, the tone. We messed up badly. But we have much more in common than we realize. The radicals on both sides don’t want us to realize that. I realize that. That’s my new radio show, in a nutshell.