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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
When they first met, he greeted her with the f-word.
The date was April 2002 and the scene was the Livestock music festival in Zephyrhills. Heather Cole was working for an Internet TV site, hoping to score an interview with shock jock extraordinaire, Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
But when Cole didn't recognize him - she says the real-life guy was too cute to be the infamous Love Sponge - Clem took off in a huff.
"He says, well f--- you, then, and drove off in his golf cart," said Cole, a down-to-earth 32-year-old. "In the back of my mind, I was saying, 'I hope he doesn't turn out to be the kind of person I hear on the radio.' Because I don't like that person."
"That person" is the jock who got fired from WXTB 97.9 FM 98Rock by skittish owner Clear Channel in February 2004. His crime: drawing a record $755,000 fine over controversial bits like a skit in which beloved cartoon characters such as George Jetson discussed sex.
His shtick didn't ease when he moved to one of shock radio star Howard Stern's satellite radio channels last year. In one stunt, a man's shaved genitals were sprayed with carburetor cleaner; and an Internet porn model sued Clem, accusing him of forcing her to use a too-large sex toy.
But he left that guy behind when he began wooing Cole - taking her young daughter from a previous marriage, Julia, and his son Tyler to the kiddie play area at International Mall in Tampa "like, at least 10 times" before things grew serious between them.
Now, less than five years later, they will marry Saturday at a St. Petersburg church, with wrestling star Hulk Hogan as best man and Stern sitting in the audience.
'I'm growing up'
Even Clem seems to marvel that he is finally settling down.
"I never thought I could meet a woman who would understand what I do ... and put up with it," said the shock jock, who often jokes he was married "for about 90 days, same as cash" to a woman in his Terre Haute, Ind., hometown in 1988, and has a son with another woman who lives in the Tampa Bay area.
"I've got a child. I'm 40. I don't think I have to run four nightclubs and three restaurants anymore," Clem said. "I guess I'm growing up."
These days, relaxing in Clem's spacious home near Fort DeSoto Park, the pair look like any well-off couple in a ritzy subdivision; he, padding around the house in a track suit and socks, she, looking fit in a striped top and tolerant expression.
But sitting on the desk in his home office is a reminder that Bubba-land is never far away: a color photo of Clem strapped into the torture rack in his Tampa studio, an array of sex toys lined up behind him.
Clem, who showed friends and family the 9-carat diamond engagement ring for months before giving it to Cole, said her support during the 23 months he was jobless cemented their love. In turn, she insisted the Bubba she knows is dependable and a good father.
"It's not fair for me to tell him what he can and can't do on air," said Cole, who only asks that Clem avoid talking about Julia. "Besides, I don't listen to the show that much, anyway."
A West Virginia native who graduated from the University of South Florida in 1997 with an English degree, Cole has modeled for Internet sites, including one featuring women in bikinis wrestling, so she has a pragmatic view of what Clem does for a living.
But there was that one time - "it was something with a female guest that pushed the envelope" is all Cole will say - when Clem learned the limits of her patience and got an earful at home.
Clem and Stern celebrated their one-year anniversary Monday at Sirius, a company facing its own challenges.
"Satellite radio just had its slowest growth period ever - down 39 percent on October and November from (2005)," said Joel Denver, president and publisher of the radio trade Web site All Access.com. "You've got a lot of people making a lot of different choices for their personal media."
Industry consultant Fred Jacobs said the lack of federal content restrictions and smaller audience has robbed the shock jocks of two things that once fueled their success: conflict with authority and a broad audience.
In December, Clem held a "fireside chat" with listeners, in which he claimed his two-year contract pays just enough to cover the show's expenses and his staff's salaries (he said his personal income comes from other business ventures). On 98Rock, he had a top-ranked show with listeners aged 18 to 54; now he has been talking with area Cox Radio executives, contemplating a move back to terrestrial radio.
These days, Clem has been nervously preparing to host Stern - who is expected to fly down many of his radio crew to St. Petersburg on Thursday for the wedding, including Robin Quivers and Artie Lang.
Did Stern, who divorced his wife of 23 years in 2001, offer any advice?
"He told me to get a (prenuptial agreement)," said Clem, laughing. "As spontaneous as you have to be, to do what we do... you have to have your paperwork together."
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Eric Deggans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.