The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, February 23, 2004

You may recall the saga of Tampa Bay shock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge, who recently brought down a record $755,000 FCC fine over some raunchy on-air material last year. Now, late-breaking news has it that Bubba has been fired by his corporate employer, Clear Channel Communications. Details to follow tomorrow. Thanks to my friend Kirby for the heads-up on this.

I guess this frees Bubba to pursue the Howard Stern-like fame he believes he's due. Given that he's flopped in the couple of times he's tried to break into larger markets like Chicago and Philadelphia, though, I'd say his more likely destiny lies in strip clubs and metal-rock festivals.

I can make a lot of guesses on this, but without any details, it's all conjecture. I'm sure Bubba's track record, both in terms of past fines and contentious contract negotiations, helped with this decision. Obviously, Janet Jackson's Super Bowl performance has got big media players like Clear Channel nervous too, and hits in the wallet like the one Bubba brought drive the point home. I'd assumed Bubba was still the area's ratings king, which presumably insulated him from negative consequences; I wouldn't be surprised if the latest numbers may have shown a slip, thus providing a good excuse to can him. He also serves as a convenient sacrificial lamb, given the environment.

All this is somewhat negligible to me; I don't listen to any mainstream radio (only NPR at work, and I can take or leave that most days), and having Bubba off the air won't change my mind one bit. I'm sure there'll be a lot more made out of this by both sides of the debate.

UPDATE: It's now official, but Clear Channel managed to dismiss Bubba in the most hypocritical way possible:

"After conducting an internal investigation, we concluded that Bubba's show will no longer be carried on any Clear Channel Radio station," [Clear Channel President John] Hogan said in his statement. "This type of content is inappropriate and not reflective of the way we run our local stations or Clear Channel Radio."

Bubba's been on the Tampa Bay airwaves, doing pretty much the same schtick, for over ten years. Clear Channel has owned the stations where Bubba worked for just about that long. So what Hogan is trying to sell here is either one of two things: a) It's taken Clear Channel the better part of a decade to conduct this "internal investigation", or b) Corporate just now, after years of broadcasts, realized what was in the content of Bubba's shows. Both premises being complete garbage, of course.

The bottom line here: Clear Channel is trying to get out of paying the FCC fines, and is cutting Bubba loose as a good-faith move in order to get the fines quietly reduced or (less likely) eliminated altogether.

It's a cynical move, especially because it shows how slimy this company, and others like it, is. They'll put raunchy programming on the air, encourage the personalities to continually push the limits in pursuit of ratings, probably with assurances that they'll stand behind them. Then, once the heat gets too hot, they stab them in the back. That was the case with Viacom's "Opie and Andy Show" in New York, and that's exactly what happened with Bubba. It tells you just how meaningless a contract is in the radio industry.

I'll reiterate that I'm not a fan of Bubba's show, nor of any other crap, banal or extreme, that pollutes the radio airwaves. But I recognize a raw deal when I see it.