Shock jock gets shocked

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on January 28, 2004.

He had to wait almost two years, but a Jacksonville man appalled by the content of the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show has received the support of the Federal Communications Commission.

Douglas Vanderlaan's complaints about Bubba have led the government to propose the largest one-time fine it has ever handed down for indecent broadcasting.

Douglas Vanderlaan, shown here with his wife, Doris, in 2002, filed the complaint with the FCC against the Bubba the Love Sponge radio program that led to Tuesday's FCC action.
BOB MACK/The Times-Union
"We've been eager to hear this type of response," Vanderlaan said after the decision was released Tuesday. "I think it will get their attention."

The $755,000 fine levied against four Clear Channel Communications stations in Florida -- including local station WPLA (93.3 FM) -- includes the maximum $27,500 penalty for 26 violations. The stations also were fined $40,000 for not keeping complaints about the show on record, as the law requires.

In 2001, Vanderlaan turned on the radio in the car used the night before by his teenage son and heard Bubba talking with the owner of a pornographic Web site.

"Bubba's comment," the Jacksonville resident said, "was if you're 16 or 17 years old, you should become a Web master for a porno site, because that's the way to get a lot of ass. I was amazed and flabbergasted."

Vanderlaan began writing to advertisers and, the following year, filed a complaint with the FCC.

In a statement released yesterday, the commission said the violations involved "graphic and explicit sexual and/or excretory material and were designed to pander to, titillate and shock listeners."

In separate statements, individual commissioners said they felt the fine didn't go far enough: Kevin Martin said he discovered 49 violations, which would have resulted in a fine topping $1 million, while Jonathan Adelstein said the violations were "the type of serious repeated behavior" that should result in broadcast licenses being revoked.

Michael Copps was the only one on the five-member commission to officially oppose the fine, pointing out that Bubba has been fined three times in the past and now the FCC should start the process of revoking the stations' licenses.

Nevertheless, the size of the fine is "a home run," said Vanderlaan's Washington attorney, Arthur Belendiuk. "It's clearly sending a message."

Calls to WPLA and to Bubba's producer in Tampa were referred to Clear Channel Communications in San Antonio. The corporate office refused to comment beyond releasing a statement calling for an industry-wide task force to develop clear indecency standards.

"While the government's role is important in this area, there are limits established by the First Amendment to our Constitution," Clear Channel president Mark Mays said. "The task of developing guidelines about what is and what is not appropriate is the job of every one of us that delivers content into the home."

John Hogan, chief executive officer of Clear Channel Radio, said the company works hard to entertain listeners rather than offend them. "None of us defend or encourage indecent content," he said. "It's simply not part of our corporate culture."

On his Web site, Bubba, whose real name is Todd Clem, makes it clear that his show is not for everyone.

"After being hired and fired from almost every radio job he had," his "crew" page says, "Bubba has finally found his radio niche. Bubba the Love Sponge by far is the most straightforward, in your face, say it like it is, radio savant in America today. If you are interested in ... [a] middle-of-the-road, non-offensive, morning nut hut/zoo keeper morning show, turn the station, because that's not what Bubba is."

The fine proposed by the FCC can be appealed by Clear Channel, a process which can take six months to a year to resolve. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the commission will then levy the fine.

Vanderlaan, however, isn't waiting. He said he plans on continuing to tape Bubba's show and expects to file another complaint.

"This isn't enough," he said about the fine. "They have to begin revoking licenses, particularly if the behavior from Clear Channel doesn't change."


This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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