Take A Minute To Soak This In
September 12, 2013
Bubba The Love Sponge is doing mornings on a Country station. Betcha never thought you'd read, say or even think that, right?
The improbability of such a scenario ranks right up there with Dennis Rodman as (possibly) our nation's best hope for detente with North Korea.
Amazingly, both are true in 2013. For today, let's focus on radio, rather than international diplomatic relations. I recently spoke with Bubba and I'll put money on him being 100% more reasonable than Kim Jong Un or Rodman, both of whom were unavailable for comment.
The syndicated "Bubba The Love Sponge" show debuted Tuesday, September 3rd on JVC Media Country combo WTRS (My Country)/Ocala, FL and WYGC(My Country)/High Springs. Both signals are part of a four-station acquisition for JVC in May and were quickly re-branded with JVC's "My Country" moniker, a move overseen by JVC VP/Country Programming Phathead. The addition of The Love Sponge soon followed and marks his first-ever foray into Country radio.
"I listen to Country; it's very mainstream now," Bubba recently told me. "But I listen to everything and am very representative of the average 47-year-old guy."
But can this 47-year-old, who brings a consistently strong ratings track record in Talk and Active Rock -- along with a reputation for controversy -- relate to Country listeners, even in his Florida stronghold?
"Not only do we believe he can connect with the Country fan, but we are sure that Country is something he wants to completely immerse himself in," Said Phathead, in our recent 10 Questions feature on Allaccess.com. "For our company it was a no-brainer. Here's a guy who lives in that market, owns businesses in that market, and is very well known in that market. Advertisers are already lining up."
And don't look for Bubba to change up his show anytime soon.
"We're not reinventing ourselves," Bubba told me, explaining, "The show isn't a Country show; it's good radio. People gravitate toward good content because the genre blinders are off now. In Country, it's watered down with not a lot that really moves the needle."
And Phathead believes moving the needle can be a competitive advantage for both Bubba and WTRS/WYGC. "The market of Gainesville/Ocala has been run by one very old and stale Country station for a very long time. It's time to make some noise and give them something to think about."
That noise has already begun.
"My competition is somebody named 'Mr. Bob,'" said Bubba, referring to Dix Communications WOGK/Ocala's "Mr. Bob Morning Show." The Sponge says he's already called out his competition on the air for doing what he believes is predictable, pedestrian content, asserting, "That's what's wrong with consolidated, consulted stations now. Radio needs to get off its ass. There are so many talented people out there but we've cannibalized ourselves with talent."
It's only been about 10 days since his debut, so I asked The Sponge if there was any blowback so far.
"Yes, this has almost been like the Orson Welles 'War Of the World's' reaction; some of the most knee-jerk reactions I've seen in 29 years of radio. It's exciting and I love it. Even those who hate it. The haters get to the front of the line on our show. And one of three things happens:
- Usually the haters just bury themselves
- We try to engage them.
- We end up hanging up on each other.
"Any of these are entertaining," he says.
So what are Bubba's long-term goals for his show? "To grow as big as we can," he says, not surprisingly. "I'd like to do another five to seven years with half my station portfolio being Country."
Knowing that objective, I circled back to the question of core Country listeners and what, if anything, he'll do differently to cultivate their support. "I'm not worried about P1s, I'm worried about programmers afraid of the big bad wolf," said Bubba. "I've been #1 37 straight books in Tampa and we have a lot of big sponsors for the show."
That sounds pretty brash and trust me, Bubba The Love Sponge is all that. But being in radio for nearly 30 years teaches all of us a little modesty, too. "Getting fired from Clear Channel [in 2004] was humbling and thank God Cox gave me a shot. Thank God for JVC, too. They're willing to show the industry that entertainment can cross genres. So if you're a PD who can make a decision and you're getting your ass kicked, call me and I will win."
Whether or not Bubba wins in Ocala remains to be seen. Remember: It's still early. I spoke to him just three days after his show launched on WTRS/WYGC and purposely did not listen to Bubba prior to our conversation. I have streamed it since and will reserve comment for now because I'd really like to hear reaction from our vast and unpaid research department: You. Give him a listen and post your comments below, or email them to me here. It could make for a lively and interesting column next week.
I will share this observation, however, and perhaps it speaks to Bubba's point about people gravitating toward great content. There's no music on the show other than parodies and bumpers (some Country, some not) from commercial breaks. Most Country PDs shudder at that very thought -- especially now, when we're in such an amazing music cycle. But that has worked well for another show with a guy named Bubba. "The Rick & Bubba Show" airs on Cox Country WZZK/Birmingham and is all talk. Former PD Justin Case (now at Journal KFDI/Wichita, KS) told me they regularly pull shares in the low-mid teens. They also have 16 years of equity in the market with a very different approach to their content selection, which Case describes as "conservative and faith-based."
A final thought: During my programming career – all of it in Country radio - I'd estimate that at least 50% of the air personalities I hired came from outside the format; Top 40 in most cases. They quickly fell and stayed in love with the music. All of them brought energy and strong mechanics with them and made the station sound great. Since leaving radio I've interviewed numerous personalities who migrated to Country from pop radio. All of them believe we in Country don't know what we're doing and they are here to save us from ourselves.
And I have experience with bringing a former Talk personality to Country radio. In 2000 I hired former KABC-A/Los Angeles host Peter Tilden for mornings on crosstown KZLA. Peter brought an amazing wit, with a hilarious sense of humor and timing to the station that was refreshing. He also had an edge to him that frankly – and I say this with love because he and I will always be friends – produced mixed results at the end of the day, although Peter would tell you that's because I never let him do "his" show. Bubba The Love Sponge is doing "his" show on WTRS/WYGC. Tell me what you think and let's all watch what happens.
Department Of Corrections:
When writing about Linda Ronstadt's recently disclosed Parkinson's disease in last week's 'Ville, I said that Parkinson's was genetically inherited. This was something I had read from more than one source when seeking more information about it for the piece.
However, fellow industry journalist and I might add, my good friend Phyllis Stark corrected me, saying, "I did want to gently point out that there is no evidence that Parkinson's is a genetically inherited disease. As the daughter of a Parkinson's patient, I have to confess I bristled just a little at the 'you can't pick your parents' line."