Bubba's dual personalities

He debuts a cleaner a.m. act while still doing an explicit p.m. satellite show.

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV/Media Critic
Published January 9, 2008

TAMPA - The torture rack was hidden behind a black curtain, the stripper pole obscured by a collection of local TV cameramen and reporters jockeying for position.

Even the poster-size ads for sex talk phone lines along the wall were covered by mock chain link fencing, as a forest of bright lights turned a cramped studio into a spotlighted stage Tuesday for the spirited return of shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem to local, free "terrestrial" radio.

Clem made history as the first personality to present a toned-down terrestrial radio morning show and an explicit afternoon drive-time program for Sirius Satellite Radio in the same day.

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Debuting at 6 a.m. on Cox Radio's WHPT-FM 102.5 in Tampa and WFYV-FM 105 in Jacksonville, the beefy host tore into an array of enemies, sparring with reporters while welcoming telephone visits from his boss on Sirius, fellow shock jock Howard Stern, and Orlando Davis, host of the Freak Show morning program on WLLD-FM 98.7.

And even though the broadcast was far from family-friendly - subjects ranged from Clem's wife electrolysis on her nether regions to the attractiveness of various female local TV personalities - it also wasn't quite the avalanche of explicit fare that once characterized his terrestrial show years ago.

"I gotta think one step ahead of myself," said Clem, sitting behind the show's massive control board, where he used the show's 10-second delay just once, to cut out an offhand profanity uttered by a member of Stern's show who called in. "I'm different now - I'm married and have a kid and I need this job. So maybe I'm doing a different show."

Jay O'Connor, regional vice president and Tampa market manager for Cox Radio, said the company never utilized its ability to "dump" audio from Clem's show during the four-hour debut, saying the first broadcast drew a flood of compliments from sponsors and fans.

Still, Clem was the first to admit Tuesday's show wasn't typical, as the crowd of cameras provided an opportunity to joust with visiting journalists, turning those who had come to cover his story into on- air foils.

The shock jock opened his new show by lashing out at critics and rivals, decrying a critical column in the Tampa Tribune from longtime media indecency advocate David Caton and aiming pointed insults at morning rival Todd "MJ" Schnitt at Clear Channel-owned WFLZ-FM 93.3. Curse words permissible by the Federal Communications Commission guidelines (but not publishable in a family-friendly newspaper) flew by, though Clem's habitual use of the b-word to refer to women seemed curbed, at least for the moment.

Old enemies

Caton shrugged off the put-downs from Clem, saying his Florida Family Association was taping each program and intends to file an indecency complaint with the Federal Communications Commission if the shock jock moves ahead with plans to feature porn stars as guests.

"No matter how innocuous the conversation, an appearance by a porn star is glorifying pornography to the community," said Caton, whose 1998 complaint about a skit depicting a man receiving a milk enema brought a $23,000 fine for Clem nearly a decade ago.

Clem blamed Clear Channel for "running him out on a rail" when he was fined $755,000 by the federal government four years ago. The company fired him from the morning slot at WXTB-FM 97.9 (98Rock), leaving him out of work for nearly two years before Stern hired him at Sirius, bankrolling a custom-built studio in an office park where Clem now broadcasts both shows.

On Tuesday, while calling in from New York to support Clem, Stern expressed concern over a grueling schedule that requires his friend to leave home sometime around 4 a.m. and return at 8 p.m., five days a week.

"I feel good that Bubba's making a living ... (but) I hate like h--- that he's got to do two shows a day," said the recently divorced Stern, noting sarcastically, "at least you know your marriage will last."

Stern and Clem implied on air that the shock jock was prompted to go to Cox Radio because Sirius wouldn't pay enough money.

Experts speculate Clem may also be hedging his bets, in case federal regulators disallow Sirius' plan to merge with rival XM Radio and the satellite radio industry is disrupted.

Despite all the trash talk by Clem and his crew, Schnitt downplayed their competition, saying his rival was employing a classic radio technique to try goading a top-rated personality into talking about a new show.

"I'm not buying into this pseudo war that Bubba's trying to create," added Schnitt.

"He needs to invent a war against me to reintroduce his clown act. ... All he needs now is a big red nose and floppy shoes."