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Is anyone listening as Bubba fouls the air?


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001

Clear Channel Communications is the Microsoft of radio, the biggest name in the industry. The company owns nearly 1,200 radio stations, including eight in Tampa. It claims to have the noblest ideals.

"Clear Channel's mission is to broadcast the best programming to the broadest audience," a company statement declares.

They must think nobody is listening. For Clear Channel also pays the salary of Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, the morning jock who has given the country another reason to regard Tampa as America's capital of trash.

Bubba has done much nasty stuff over the years. Last week, he topped -- no, make that bottomed -- himself.

Authorities think he had somebody kill a pig in the station's Gandy Boulevard parking lot. He told listeners that somebody was even going to eat the pig's testicles. Grooooooovy.

Under Florida law, "a person who intentionally commits an act to any animal which results in the cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering or causes the same to be done is guilty of a felony in the third degree."

That could get you five years in prison or a $10,000 fine.

Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober is investigating. I have my fingers crossed.

Whatever they do to Bubba -- who has made so much money he owns nightclubs and maintains a pornographic Web site -- it won't be enough. It won't put a dent in the corporate mentality that makes Bubba possible.

People forget. The airwaves on which his station, 98 Rock, broadcasts are owned by the public. To have a radio license is a privilege, not a right. Because it is a privilege the federal government regulates what you can do on the radio. At least it used to.

If a person was verbally attacked, he had a right to respond. The station had to do a certain amount of news reporting on local issues. The station had to pay attention to concepts such as equal time, fairness, and even obscenity and local community standards of taste.

These concepts have "sort of left town," says Neil Hickey, a media critic and editor-at-large for Columbia Journalism Review, whom I interviewed this week. "Nobody talks about them anymore."

Nobody talks about them because the laws that once made radio a civil medium were thrown out by Congress, in the name of deregulation and free speech, during the 1980s and '90s. Competition was to rule the day. Better radio was supposed to result. What resulted instead was Bubba.

The federal government also dropped the rules that once barred a company like Clear Channel from dominating a community, and the industry.

"A guy like you describe exists in the environment of the laissez-faire attitude . . . on the part of government," Hickey said. "The atmosphere is just not there for going after (him)."

In other words, Bubba probably will emerge untouched, and his bosses will keep pulling in record revenues, as they did last year.

There are ways, however, to let Clear Channel know what you think of its sleazy practices. You can boycott its Tampa Bay stations. You can complain to their advertisers.

The stations run the programming gamut of sports, popular music and talk: WDAE, WFLA and WHNZ on the AM side, and WFLZ, WMTX, WSSR, WTBT and Bubba's hangout, WXTB, on the FM side.

As Neil Hickey said, the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses the stations, is mostly asleep at the switch. But miracles have been known to happen.

You can write to the FCC and raise a stink about what Bubba did. The address is FCC, 445 12th St. SW, Washington, D.C. 20554.

Please. Make yourself heard over Bubba the Love Sponge, his bosses and the garbage they let him spew.

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