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Bubba the Love Sponge testifies in defamation lawsuit

TAMPA — The radio world that Todd Clem described to a jury Wednesday is a make-believe one made up of fictitious alter egos. On radio, he is not Todd Clem. He is Bubba the Love Sponge. His fans are the make-believe "Bubba's Army." He is their "six-star general."

In his "radio war" waged against a rival morning show host, Clem said he attacked only the alter ego, MJ Kelli. He said he never attacked the man, Todd Schnitt.

On the witness stand Wednesday, Clem wore a dark suit and maintained a cool, businesslike demeanor. He smirked only occasionally during the playing of tapes of his show.

But on the tapes jurors heard obsessive, bullying, profane rants — the voice of Bubba the Love Sponge.

A sample of Clem's on-air assaults on Schnitt: "Fight back. … Be a man. I'm calling your wife a whore."

Jurors will have to decide: Who's the real man?

In their defamation lawsuit, Todd Schnitt and his wife, Michelle, say there's no doubt. Clem wasn't playing, wasn't just being Bubba, when he called Schnitt a crook and called his wife a "whore." He meant to hurt them, they allege, both financially and physically.

On Wednesday, Clem told jurors that the type of "radio war" he waged has a long history in Tampa.

The station he was originally hired at — Power Pig 93.3 — he said, was at war with the No. 1 station — Q105. The battle cries of that era were "Flip the Pig" and "Screw the Q." Clem said Power Pig prevailed, causing Q105 to switch to a country format.

Clem said he and Schnitt were themselves rivals during that time, though they both worked for the same company, Clear Channel.

Clem said the rivalry was revived after he ended a hiatus on satellite radio and returned to Tampa radio in 2008.

On Cox Radio's WHPT-FM (102.5), Clem targeted Schnitt, the then-top-rated morning guy on his MJ Morning Show at WFLZ-FM (93.3).

Almost immediately, he accused Schnitt of engaging in "plugola," the practice of accepting favors and gifts from businesses in exchange for plugs on the air.

He also accused Schnitt's wife, then an assistant state attorney, of conspiring with State Attorney Mark Ober to bring animal cruelty charges against him after an on-air stunt in 2001. In the much-publicized stunt, Clem presided over the slaughter and barbecue of a wild boar.

Clem was later acquitted of animal cruelty. But he vowed revenge against the Schnitts for being prosecuted.

On Wednesday, Clem said the accusations and name-calling were all theater, all aimed only at replacing Schnitt as the area's No. 1 morning show host, which he did.

The campaign, Clem's attorney, Joseph Diaco, told jurors, "was juvenile, offensive, maybe even disgusting," but wasn't personal.

He called it a collision of two giant egos.

"I was the big dog," Clem boasted on the tapes, describing the early days of their rivalry. "I'm not some little numb nut here. Everybody knows who I am."

At their plaintiffs' table, the Schnitts bore grim expressions. The tapes played on all afternoon.

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or jbarry@tampabay.com.

Bubba the Love Sponge testifies in defamation lawsuit 01/16/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 12:11pm]
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