Bubba the Love Sponge Returns to Free Commercial Radio in Tampa and Jacksonville
Nearly four years after earning what was then the highest single FCC indecency fine in history, shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem is returning to free "terrestrial" radio in January, appearing on Cox Radio stations in Tampa and Jacksonville in a deal valued at seven figures.
On Jan. 8, Clem will take over morning drive time at WHPT-102.5 FM (The Bone) in Tampa and WFYV-104.5 FM in Jacksonville, hosting a show from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Then, he'll host a national show for Sirius Satellite Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Combined, both radio deals are worth more than $3-million annually for Clem's production company. (former Bubba producer Mike "Cowhead" Calta will move from mornings at The Bone to afternoon drive, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., on Jan. 7)
"I want to do both (free radio and satellite), because I have a lot of unfinished business in the market," said Clem, calling by cellphone this morning from New York City, where he celebrated his new deal with Sirius on boss Howard Stern's radio show. "I never got to say goodbye to the fans. I was thrown off the air by Clear Channel -- which hung me out to dry."
Clear Channel Radio fired Clem, then Tampa's highest-rated morning personality, in February 2003 after he earned a record $755,000 fine from the Federal Communications Commission for broadcasting skits in which cartoon characters talked about sex and drugs. Fired days before Clear Channel executives were to face a U.S. Senate hearing on radio indecency, Clem has always said that company never gave him warning that he was crossing a serious line until he was ejected.
Out of work for nearly two years, Clem's career was resuscitated Jan. 9, 2006 when Stern tapped him to work the drive time shift on one of two channels Sirius was formatting around the self-styled King of All Media. Now, Clem will return to the Tampa free radio market two years later -- almost to the day -- after scoring ratings on Sirius making him the Number Two personality on the satellite service (behind Stern).
"I gotta stay away from the sex stuff, basically," said Clem, who often features graphic appearances by strippers on his satellite radio show, which is not bound by government radio indecency rules. "I don't want to get fired again. If I get fired again on regular radio, I'm a one-trick Willie...and I know I'm coming back with a huge target on my back."
While on terrestrial radio in Tampa, Clem was fined for broadcasting someone receiving a milk enema and was tried for animal cruelty after broadcasting the castration of a pig (he eventually beat the charges). And he's raised the stakes on satellite: In one stunt, a man's shaved genitals were sprayed with carburetor cleaner; and an Internet porn model sued Clem last year, accusing him of forcing her to use a too-large sex toy.
So the question falls to Cox Radio executives: Why hire a guy who earned a $755,000 fine from the FCC the last time he was on free radio?
"I think Bubba is more concerned about this than I am," said Jay O'Connor, regional vice president and Tampa market manager for Cox Radio. A friend of Clem's who attended his Jan. 13 wedding, O'Connor spent months negotiating with Clem's agent to set up the deal.
O'Connor says Cox had a strict indecency policy that prohibits graphic talk about sex acts, among other things. Clem's show will operate with a 10-second delay, with pre-taped skits screened by executives and advance notice required for any controversial bits.
And if Clem crosses the line, drawing another FCC fine? "Depending on the nature of the utterance, that probably means we would discontinue the program," O'Connor said. "The stakes are high. And Bubba knows the stakes. He's said to me 'I know I can't afford another mistake.'"
Now age 41 and married with a son and stepdaughter, Clem even disavows his most notorious prank, saying he would not air the pig castration he once defended in court. "It wasn't illegal, but it was distasteful," he said. "After having done it and saw how much of a grotesque act it was, I don't want to see it. It offended me, too."