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King Bob and T-Ben Together Again

'90s radio cutups reunite for a city in need of laughter 

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Angus Lind Times-Picayune Column

     For sheer radio entertainment that almost made listeners drive off the road with tears of laughter, they were as good as it gets -- afternoon going-home host Oldie King Bob Walker and his "traffic dude in a traffic mood," the legendary Sgt. T-Ben Boudreaux.

     From 1989-1992, Walker and T-Ben kicked butt on Oldies 106.7 -- among the first FM stations in New Orleans to play oldies -- with King Bob the setup man and Boudreaux throwing the knockout punches.

     Boudreaux, wearing torn blue jeans with a piece of rope for a belt, mirrored sunglasses, a coonskin cap and a shirt emblazoned with sergeant's stripes, became a household name, and he and Walker captured the New Orleans mentality as no station had since WTIX-AM ruled the New Orleans radio airwaves in the '60s.

     The hyperactive Boudreaux saw himself as the supreme and exalted commander of traffic flow, aided by a runaway ego that made him truly believe he was exactly that -- a "modern-day traffic hero," by his own admission.

     "Think of the Causeway Bridge as a symphony! Think of me as the conductor!" he would say. "Listen to me -- I'll set you free!"

     Typical of radio, which changes formats and ownership more than Peyton Manning changes plays, the station was sold, the budget was slashed and T-Ben and his coonskin cap were out the door.

     Walker eventually resurfaced at WTIX FM-94.3, the call letters of the AM station where he had spent most of his time behind a mike since 1965. In the spring of 2002, after dedicating his life to New Orleans music and oldies, he packed it in, totally disgusted and disillusioned with bottom-line corporate radio that neutered play lists and could care less about the betterment of music.

     But that was then and this is now. And never say never.

     "I was determined that I was done," Walker said. "Believe me."

     But his house in Mississippi blew away so he didn't have anyplace to watch sunsets. People stopped him on the street and said they wished he'd come back. "I saw people so down about the hurricane, people that needed to laugh," he said. "So I thought, if I can bring 'em a little happiness, why not?"

     He and Boudreaux approached station manager Michael Costello about the possibility of resurrecting some history and . . .

     Last week, Walker went back on the air on WTIX-FM from 3 to 7 p.m., and T-Ben is scheduled to join him on Monday. They had talked through the years about re-creating the magic. "It's the only scenario that would bring us back," Walker said. And if this city ever needed an uplift, well, here it comes.

     "We have a great vehicle for our gig because it's a great New Orleans station," Boudreaux said. "Michael has the biggest music library there is. It's a great local treasure."

     When you hear Walker asking T-Ben what's playing at the adult movie house near the Chef overpass over I-10, and Boudreaux responds, "King Bob, it's Aaron Broussard in 'Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow!' " -- you'll know the past is now the present.

     And when the sounds of "wham-bam traffic jam" and "creep-and-crawl, y'all" fill the airways, you'll know, as Walker says, "that the sound and the spirit of old New Orleans are alive today. We just want to bring back some fun in the afternoon -- and we're both excited about it."

     Walker sees himself as Ed McMahon and Sgt. T-Ben as Johnny Carson. "I'm just the grease that keeps it going. T-Ben is Robin Williams on speed. He's always been ahead of his time, or any time."

     "If we are going to rebuild the city, I must be the first brick," Boudreaux said, "and King Bob will be the mortar. He's come out of retirement more times than Hulk Hogan."

     Between Jefferson Parish President Broussard, Saints owner Tom Benson, Mayor Ray Nagin, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and a cast of thousands, Boudreaux said thinking about what will be playing at the adult movie theater near the high rise "literally keeps me awake at night. I keep a pad by my bed. That adult movie thing taught me how to write jokes."

     He apparently learned his lessons well -- he has been writing jokes for Jay Leno and other radio stations for years.

     "With these clowns, I've got enough material for adult movie signs through 2008," he said. "Now comes the fun."

     "The traffic report is just an excuse for him being there," Walker said. "Nobody ever paid attention to his traffic reports -- no more than they watched Morgus for scientific reality."

     Boudreaux would watch the traffic monitors, but he enjoyed winging it a lot more. "Yahoo! OK, King Bob, eastbound on the Huey, I'm beginning to see some heavy traffic and here's some evidence: At the local convenience stores in Avondale, they're out of the tall Old Milwaukees!"

     "Oh no, West Bank! The bridge that set you free has enslaved you again. It's wham-bam traffic jam!"

     Boudreaux said that when he would do remotes, people would come up to him and tell him that he gave the best and most accurate traffic information -- and Boudreaux would think to himself, "My God, what an idiot."

     The new show will be "duplicated exactly from the old show. It's going to be the way we did it before, the way we know works," Walker said. "It'll be like Morgus going back with Eric and Chopsley. We talked about it for years -- now the time is right."