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Drowning in the sleaze on the air

It was late, and I couldn't sleep so I turned on the TV. Thanks to the miracle of channel surfing, within about three seconds, I saw a crotch _ up close and personal, a female crotch, the way God made it, the way I never thought you could see it on TV.

But now you can, thanks to the additional miracles of public access cable television and the minds of a couple of guys who dreamed up this show called Live on Tape and are still trying to figure out a way to turn voyeurism into a paying job.

Before people howl that this isn't a subject they want to read about while eating their Wheaties, I want to make it plain that there is socially redeeming value to this topic _ even if there wasn't a shred when said crotch appeared on Tampa's public access channel.

It appeared after 11 o'clock on a Monday night, a safe enough time for children, usually, except in the middle of summer and whenever Mom and Dad are gone and the babysitter has dozed off. Seeing this crotch and various other comparable human phenomena on the tube was bad, but in its way not as bad as the other thing I saw _ if only because of when I saw it, on a Friday night, right around the dinner hour, at 7 p.m.

That's when Dr. Strangelove rose from the deep in the person of Herbert Poinsett and started spewing creepy stuff about the group he then hated, which may or may not have been the same group he hated the week before. Hard to tell. Poinsett is so strange on his program, Race and Reason, he's hard to follow.

In between that crazy man and the crotch, I happened to turn on my radio and caught a guy who unlike the others actually gets paid to be offensive, Bubba the Love Sponge.

Bubba is already a cult figure in town, and he deserves to be appreciated for the nifty music he plays. But otherwise, old Bubba delights in teaching kids new ways to curse and talk dirty, in case they need any instruction. Hearing him was one of those rare moments I was grateful I have no children, because Bubba would not be welcome in our house. I hear he is not welcome in some homes already, where parents spend half their time acting as lifeguards trying unsuccessfully to save their kids before they drown in sleaze.

This overstates the case, of course. Or does it? Hell, no.

This subject of dirt on the air used to be taboo among people in my business. Every day we write or yap and either bore or infuriate and occasionally inform, and when somebody complains about us (or the crotch or the crazy man or old Bubba), we beat our chests about the First Amendment. And we miss the boat that the real story is sailing on, and by the time we notice, the boat is already over the horizon.

If it is not too late in this case, I'm jumping on. Maybe if enough people jump on and object vigorously to this air pollution, then the people in charge won't be so scared to take a stand.

Last week, for instance, the very beleaguered chairman of Tampa's Cable Advisory Committee, Roc Roque (say: Roh-kay), was explaining how they do things better in Pinellas County. They actually have rules that had barred the dirtiest stuff from Pinellas' public access, he said, and he wished Hillsborough County could learn from them.

But when I called Pinellas County's Vision Cable, the public access manager, Amy Van Dell, began stammering, apparently fearing that anything I might write would just encourage the smut artists to cross the bay _ in case they don't already know how to get there. She referred me to her boss, who never called back.

Cowardice is everywhere. It occasionally takes the form of saying that if you don't like it, you can just switch the channel. You can't. You'd have to shoot the radio. In the meantime, old Bubba gets treated, indirectly at least, like a regular Joe. His station, the Power Pig, sponsors that Memorial Day fireworks display in Tampa, Boomsday. I used to think Boomsday's greatest offense was the inconvenience it caused, but I was wrong. What's wrong with Boomsday is that Bubba the Love Sponge gains legitimacy for talking dirty by being associated with this all-American event.

But don't tell Tampa City Council. They've put off dealing with the complaints against Boomsday.

I know. I know. You don't believe I'm saying this.

I sound like Dan Quayle. But don't thank me. Thank the crotch, the crazy man and Bubba the Love Sponge.