Friday, April 1, 2011

"If I am Too Loud, You Are Too Old" - The Redemption of Bubba

Under The Gun: Bubba vs The World

The rush a fan gets when the home team takes the field for a game is like nothing else. An indescribable experience that gets the adrenaline flowing and causes grown men to cheer for guys half their age. The trademark intro music blares, fireworks go off, people are dancing, screaming, spilling their beer. It's a rite of passage passed down from father to son since the days of the Roman Colosseum.

The experience transcends all sports. Each individual league has their own traditions and customs. In baseball, it's the introduction of each individual player on opening day. In hockey, the lights come down and hard rock blasts through the PA system. The referees come out first, usually to a chorus of boos. The visiting team follows suit. As the music builds to a crescendo, the home team finally takes the ice as the announcer declares them YOUR team.

Even nontraditional sports, such as professional wrestling, use the introductions as a way of storytelling, a way to build up anticipation. Who doesn't remember the feeling you got just knowing that in about five seconds, the Ultimate Warrior's music was going to hit and beat you over the head with power chords and a driving beat as your favorite roided up maniac went full bore to the ring, Gorilla Monsoon criticizing him for using up all of his energy before the bell even rang.

It's the same for Arena Football, a sport which brings to the table a completely different breed of the mix between sports and entertainment spectacle. Fireworks, dancers, hard rock, and the public address announcer introducing your team.

In Pittsburgh, where the Power are only four weeks old, the man introducing the team is no stranger to any of this action. He is known simply as Bubba - kind of a Pittsburgh version of a Jack-of-All-Trades who was made most famous by his run as a co-host of the popular morning show on now-defunct B94 FM.

Bubba is extraordinarily popular with the young adult demographic. He helped to usher in the teen pop of the early 90's to the Steel City through his gig as the voice of top 40 active pop and pop culture shenanigans on WBZZ. A lot of older radio listeners, the Howard Stern and 'DVE crowd, in particular, didn't exactly flock to 93.7 on their radio dial. It goes without question that Bubba was off their radar, sort of written off instantaneously with the brand of bubble gum pop that his radio home was churning out.

Far be it from Bubba to care, though.

He's always been a guy who does his own thing. Bubba, a fan of pro wrestling, used his local fame to find work as a grappler with several organizations in the mid to late 90's. It was his first of many explorations of his personal interest.

"My first match ever in the WWF was a tag team match. Me and Yokozuna versus the British Bulldog and Owen Hart. Sadly I am the only person from that match that is still alive," Bubba recalled.

"I have wrestled everyone from Mick Foley to Shane Douglas to many many more over the years."

Not one to stop at chasing one dream, he's also in the bar business. Bubba is a proprietor of the popular local Mullens chain. There's one on the South Side and one on the North Shore. You can find the Power hosting post-game parties there with regularity.

Today, the survivors of Bubba's morning team at the ill-fated B94 co-host a morning show on Pittsburgh's Star 100.7, the bastard lovechild of the old Variety 96 and B94. He's still pulling goofy stunts and still spinning mostly pop music. It's easy to see why a large segment of the younger, hipper Pittsburgh crowd would hate him... Or at least like him, but only ironically.

Love him or hate him, Bubba's career path lead to another unique opportunity earlier this year, when, Michael Gorham, Chief Operating Officer of the fledgling Pittsburgh Power Arena Football League franchise came calling.

"[He] called me and asked me if I wanted to audition and interview for the position. They approached me. I have zero idea [how they chose me]. I am just very happy and fortunate that they did."

Shortly after starting his stint as the arena voice of the Power, Bubba began to, for better or worse, build up his own style and personality.

He's had a love of the sport since the AFL on NBC era, and tries to incorporate what he learned and loves of the game into the gameday product.

"The thing that I love about Arena football is the speed of the game. I have been a fan of Arena football for years. I used to watch the games on Sundays on NBC. The wide receivers have some much speed and skill and the QB's have such a fast release, that skill level is awesome," he noted.

Speed, speed, speed. It's what everybody first notices about arena football. Given that, Bubba says he's tried to incorporate a high-energy approach to his announcing style. He makes no qualms that some of the things that he says are unrehearsed, including his infamous player nicknames.

"They were not planned. They just sort of came out.....I want Pittsburgh Power football to be a fun fan participation sport. So if they love the names, or hate the names, at least they are participating. There are more to come, and the number one question I get is about Mike 'The Joystick' Washington - What does the nickname mean? He plays like a video game receiver, it's like he is controlled with an old school Atari Joystick."

Not everybody who attends Power games wants to accept that this is a professional or even entertaining practice. One only has to read the comments on this blog to see that Bubba has been receiving a lot of fan criticism for his overzealous style. In fact, one of the regular posters on BoltsBurgh, "The Voice" (aka Dom Errico, who has been pimping an upcoming Pittsburgh Power talk segment on TribLive Online Radio), has often times challenged Bubba's status as public address announcer for his favorite team. Bubba pulled no punches when answering the criticism.

With several laughs peppered in, Bubba obviously doesn't take the armchair announcers too seriously, stating, "It is very simple. I want Pittsburgh Power Football to be fun. The feedback that I have received has been 98% positive, that people love it. They want more of it. It seems like the people that don't like it are old! If I am too loud, you are too old!" Bubba sprinkled in another laugh for good measure. "I can tell you this: Lynn Swann LOVES it and so do the Shaners. Mr. Swann has asked me to even turn it up a bit more."

In his normal humorous, pull no punches, yet laid back style, Bubba addressed the situation with Mr. Errico, who has challenged Bubba to a "Voice-Off" to determine who really is the best fit to be the Power's PA announcer.

"As for the the guy that hates me, he has sent me e-mails, he has sent the radio station e-mails, the Pittsburgh Power e-mails. I even told him, 'I am not sure that this the track I would take to try and get my foot in the door', but then again I am not him. If this is what he wants to do....he should probably learn humility first. I have a horrible voice, I have a stammering problem, so beating me in a voice off would not be hard!"

Still, we pushed harder to see if any kind of adjustments were forthcoming in light of such harsh criticism. Bubba says, "I will let the crowd drive me."

Bubba also reiterates that the gameday presentation you're getting is neither spoon-fed nor scripted, but 100% Bubba.

"The commercials come from the team, but the rest is all me. I am always open to discussions, although I know the ownership is happy with my direction."

The controversial voice of the Power also touched on several other tidbits, including the commitment of the Swann group to Pittsburgh for the long term. He says the team is here to stay, and he's on board for as long as they'll let him.

"I am a Pittsburgh sports fan: Pirates, Penguins and [expletive omitted]. The Power is just the next logical step in that progression. They are great for different reasons. I really love this team and this organization and am so excited about the buzz they are creating."

No matter what you think of Bubba, which aspect of his career formed your opinion of him, or whether you've never even noticed him, you have to respect him. He's come full circle, from borderline local teen idol to just a voice in the background on the very frequency that made him famous (B94, after several format changes, eventually became 93.7 The Fan, the radio home of the Power), but never compromised doing things his way. Like him or not, Bubba is a part of the Power.

Bubba has also offered an invitation for an open dialogue with any reader of BoltsBurgh Blog, so feel free to post any followup questions in the comments. You can check him out on the Star 100.7 Morning show every weekday. You can also compare Bubba's work to Dom Errico's by checking out Dominic's site.


Anonymous said...

Since he says he is getting 98% positive reviews, all of those other 2% must be the folks that fill up my section at the games or at least within a 10-15 seat radius of my seats. Methinks he overstates the percentage a tad bit.

Dom Errico said...

This comment will be for Bubba to enjoy.

First of all, I think one thing we can both agree on is that we want the Power to be big in this town.

I am trying to get my name out there, and in true wrestling style I chose to "call you out." I figured as a former wrestler you would appreciate that approach. Maybe I was wrong.

I figured there was no way you would actually take me up on the offer because you already had the job.

I don't consider this a lack of professionalism or humility on my part. I was just trying to have some fun with you. It's the classic "Publicity Stunt."

The exchange got me noticed by other sources and has led to some other opportunities I may not otherwise have had.

I know we have very different voices and I will stand by my belief I can do it better. If I don't feel that way then I am pursuing the wrong dream. In light of that way of thinking, I expect you to believe 100% in what you are doing.

To the article writer, I think you did a great job with this piece. You really gave an in-depth look at Bubba and touched on the fact that not everyone will like what you do in radio/announcing.

Perry said...

@Anonymous - The cool thing about it is that he understands that he has his critics and is VERY receptive to constructive criticism. He was insanely cooperative with us, even though we asked some trollish questions.

@Voice - I appreciate it. I was worried you might take offense, but I tried to remain objective and have some journalistic integrity.

VideoPgh said...

I liked the interview, while I myself am not a huge fan of his delivery I do have the ability for the most part to tune him out when I feel the need to. I mean his delivery and how he does the game is no different then 50% of the NBA announcers I have heard before. Is it my cup of tea, no, will it cause me to lose sleep? Nah. Will it at least give me things to laugh at while the college students behind me rip on him unmercifully thru the game, you bet!

Brian Schwartz said...

Actual question for Bubba: Where would you rank yourself in the hierarchy of every guy ever who was named Bubba?

Perry said...

@BS That's a great question. Posed it to him via Twitter. Hahaha.

Dom Errico said...


Don't ever worry about my feelings when writing your pieces.

In fact, I hope fans are honest with me concerning my talk shows and any announcing I do. If you feel I am doing stuff wrong, go ahead and call me out on it.

You did misspell Errico in the first part of the article. Only one C in it :-)

Thanks for the link to my website. I'm in the process of overhauling the look to make it look better so, please excuse the mess.

Perry said...

Correction on the spelling duely noted and fixed.