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Bubba’s Back!
Up Close With Bubba The Love Sponge

By Michael Parrish

When Clear Channel Radio showed Bubba The Love Sponge the door in February 2004 after a record $755,000 fine from the FCC, no one could have imagined him ending up teamed with Howard Stern at Sirius Satellite Radio.  After all, the two had a history and weren’t exactly on the best of terms, but controversy can breed strange bedfellows. Now the FCC’s worst nightmare has come true as the number one and number two most fined personalities in the history of radio have joined forces for a one-two broadcasting punch beyond the Commission’s sphere of control.  

Bubba returned to the airwaves on Monday (1/9) as part of the Stern line-up on Sirius, making his debut on his new home of afternoon drive (4-8 p.m. Eastern, 1-5 p.m. Pacific) on Howard 101. His crew consists of Manson, Brent Hatley and Hulk Hogan making daily appearances. “I have all but Ned and Spice Boy,” explains Bubba. “Spice Boy stayed terrestrially at 98 Rock (WXTB/Tampa), and if I was a betting man, I would say that Ned will come along eventually.”  

The saga of Ned’s contract has made its way to Sirius’ airwaves the first week on air, as have many of the bits that eventually resulted in FCC fines. After two years on the sidelines, Bubba is back to broadcasting and is flying out of the box with his edgy content. He’s already gone one-on-one with his NFL nemesis, Warren Sapp, and has promised that come February, he is going to “drop bombs” about Clear Channel. FMQB caught up with Bubba a few days before his return for a conversation about how and why he ended up with Sirius and Stern.

How did you hook up with Howard?

After I got fired, I started talking to Sirius a little bit about coming over.  Then, as I was in talks with them things kind of got put on hold when Howard became available. Obviously, at that juncture, they had to get that deal done.  Once they secured Howard, they came back to me, but I needed to meet Howard. November of ’04 was actually the first face-to-face with Howard.  We kind of hit it off.  We have a lot of things in common, and are recognized as anti-establishment, old- fashioned radio, most fined one and two respectively. So that’s how I met him, and after that, for lack of a better term, got Howard’s blessing, or at least we were on the same page as to what Howard had envisioned for his channel to be. Howard felt me out as to what I wanted to do, where I was headed, what my thoughts were of what the channel could be or would be.  At the end of the day, I understand that it’s his channel and that I work for him. After I got his endorsement, he handed it back over to Sirius and we worked out a deal.

So you were talking to Sirius and were put on the backburner once Howard’s deal came along?

Sirius was very upfront. I knew all along what was going on.  They were not disingenuous.  They were not shady or sneaky.  They just said, “Listen, we got something cookin’ right now.  Don’t make any drastic moves and we’ll get back to you.”  It was a matter of 30 or 60 days and then we were back on target.  It was important for Sirius as a company to get with Howard and see if he thought we were compatible. After that happened, things went very smooth and pretty quick.

There is some history between yourself and Howard. How did that meeting go?

I was very nervous, because Howard and I are competitive and we’ve talked some sh*t about each other over the years -- it’s the nature of the beast.  But I’ve got to give it to Howard, he’s quite the showman and he was very approachable and very, very kind. There weren’t a lot of people ready to give me a chance since the FCC had really made me out to be the bad guy. There weren’t any radio stations terrestrially ready to take a chance on me, regardless of what kind of share or how many markets I was heard in. Nobody cared.  I was made an example of, and at the end of the day I’ll be forever grateful to Howard for sticking his neck out and giving me a chance to be able to broadcast because there weren’t a lot of people calling me.

Give me some of your thoughts on the Clear Channel firing and the lack of any other company willing to step up and hire someone such as yourself that had a huge listening audience and dedicated fan base.  That had to be really frustrating.

It was frustrating -- and I’m not saying this disparaging Clear Channel -- I feel for what they had to do since basically their hands were forced by the government to get rid of me.  They needed a sacrificial lamb and I was it.  So I don’t have any hard feelings for Clear Channel.  I’m in a better place today, I really am. I am part of a team that’s going to be the next biggest thing.  I couldn’t be happier or more appreciative. But for thirteen years in Tampa and other markets, we were pushing the envelope. We made Clear Channel a ton of money and did well and got paid to shock and titillate.  Then I was hung out to dry, as all of a sudden what I did was now offensive, illegal and unmentionable.  There wasn’t anything in my personnel file asking me to stop doing this or less of that or more of this.  I was never sat down and told to do this and not do that. I basically was chopped at the knees after the NAL [Notice Of Apparent Liability] came down.  It was very sad and to this day I don’t have any closure from the terrestrial aspect of my career, but I don’t need it because I’m certainly on a much bigger and better stage.

 

Don’t you feel the attention of this launch gives you that closure? 

Yes and I’m sure a lot of people in this industry will say “Bubba’s selling out” or “Bubba’s kissin’ ass” or “How can Bubba have said things about Howard when they were competing against each other and now work for him?” Here’s the bottom line: there’s not a person -- well, maybe Rush [Limbaugh] and a couple of other huge whales in this industry -- in this industry that can actually look themselves in the mirror and say they wouldn’t want to be in the spot that I have at this juncture.  And if you say that you wouldn’t, then you’re lying, because who wouldn’t want to work for Stern or with him? At the end of the day, they can just be a bunch of jealous motherf**kers and watch as we take this genre to the next level.

Explain your role with Howard’s channels. Are you going to be involved outside of your afternoon slot on Howard 101?

I need to go in and do a radio show and do a real damn good one, and then I’m sure other opportunities will follow.  But I don’t need to come in and cut all these outlandish demands and stuff like that.  I need become a commodity, like I always have been, and then things will happen. 

You have your own studio in Florida. How much time will be spent between there and New York?

I do have studios in Tampa and that’s where our home base will be.  We have a great, unbelievable studio that we built. It has everything I always wanted a studio to have over the years from a stripper pole to a torture rack. We were able to build a dream studio. We’ll be based out of Tampa, but doing probably up to half of our shows in New York.

So you got the stripper pole that Howard couldn’t get into his studio.

Yeah.  When you’re 1,300 or 1,400 miles away, we can probably fly under the radar somewhat.  I don’t think anybody’s really going to make a big deal about a small little brass stripper pole, but it means a lot to us.

Even though it’s a different ballgame and you’re not under the FCC’s indecency watch at Sirius, Howard has said he’s not going to go over the top with swearing just for the sake of swearing.  Give me your take on the freedom that you feel now that the chains have been taken off.

Because of the FCC and its clamping down, they’ve made regular radio so beige and vanilla that the only place you’ll be able to hear good content -- from sports to Martha Stewart to Richard Simmons to the Maxim channel and to Howard --is Sirius.  Satellite radio itself is going to explode because regular radio -- and I hate to say this and I hope nobody gets offended -- really sucks and it's getting spun down to the bottom of the barrel. We don’t have to say the word f**k or go so far over the edge that it becomes offensive all the time, we just have to be that much better and more entertaining than regular radio, and regular radio now is in a really bad place.  Like the Sopranos and Sex And The City, they may say the word f**k or something objectionable three times.  They pick and choose when they’re going to say it, and it means a lot when it’s said.  It makes sense; it’s strategically placed and the shock and the entertainment value is there.  Howard and I have talked about doing the same.  Not over using our freedom and not going too far over to push the envelope, just for shock and titillating fact or sake.  But instead, strategically be offensive, strategically be objectionable, and strategically be dirty so that it doesn’t become a big t*ts, ass and f**k fest.

How do you feel about shedding the shackles of Arbitron?

One of the things that Howard and I spoke about in our meeting is that we’re no longer giving things away for free.  We’re selling tickets to the movie and we don’t have to live and die under the guide of Arbitron anymore and that methodology of determining how successful you are.  You could have a 29-share one book and a 0.9-share the next; it’s a crapshoot at best, so that is an unbelievable factor.  From Rush Limbaugh to Howard to whomever, all talent gets a little bit nervous on Arbitron day just because that’s your report card and that’s what your bonuses are structured by and there’s so much riding on it.  We no longer have that set of pressure on us. 

What are your parameters for victory in knowing that you guys have taken off and done well?

We obviously have a different set now, like selling subscriptions, the influx of phone calls and the amount of street buzz that we are going to be able to create.  I’ve always been big on what type of street buzz you have and then, obviously, what your phone calls are like.  If we have ten or fifteen people that pack the phone lines every day and that’s the only ten or fifteen people we hear from, and you’re not getting an influx or cross-pollination of people from Texas to Seattle to Michigan to Florida to New York, then obviously you’re not doing as well. Howard’s a lot more used to that than I am because his show was more widely syndicated than mine.  I was a little bit more regional. We’ll be able to quickly find out if we’re a hit or not.

Going back to when Howard first made this announcement, do you think Infinity (now CBS Radio) did the right thing by leaving him on the air?

It was the absolute, greatest infomercial that Sirius could never have put a dollar value on. He had basically over a year to get everybody up to speed as to where he was going.  Regardless if he had to use code words or whatever for Sirius, everybody got it.  Sirius couldn’t have asked for it to pan out any better than it did.  Infinity were idiots for keeping him on, but God bless them for doing it, and it only makes our new place that much stronger.

I’m going to throw a few words out at you, and just give me the thoughts off of the top of your head.

Howard Stern:  My savior and I’m so thankful.

John Hogan:  (laughs) No comment.

FCC:  Idiots.

Michael Powell:  Bigger idiot.

Warren Sapp:  A**hole.

Ronnie The Limo Driver:  Almost as big an a**hole as Warren Sapp.


FMQB NOW

Sam Milkman, EVP
Coleman Insights

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