Written by Matt Wake
Now it's a longtime Southeastern talk-radio phenomenon, but in the early-90s "The Rick & Bubba Show" "kind of started by accident," co-host Bill "Bubba" Bussey says.
"Rick (Burgess, fellow 'The Rick & Bubba Show' co-host) and I were friends and I was actually an engineer at the station in Gadsden (WQEN 103.7 FM) where we started," Bussey says. "And we used to go to lunch and laugh and basically do the show like we do now, talk about things. And we talked about doing a contest where somebody with a heavy southern accent read Shakespeare. Rick thought that was a good idea and he was going to do it, but 30 seconds before he went on the air to do it, he pushed the book over to me and said, 'Hey you read it. You sound like everybody's Uncle Bubba.'"
A couple decades later, "The Rick & Bubba Show" is based in Vestavia Hills and broadcast to more than 50 radio stations in 15 states. Broadcast live 6 – 10 a.m. weekdays, the show can be heard on radio stations including Birmingham WZZK 104.7 FM, Madison's WBHP 1230 AM, Scottsboro's WMXN 101.7 FM, Montgomery's WLWI 92.3 FM, Tuscaloosa's WRTR 105.9 FM Huntsville's WQRV 100.3 FM and in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area, WCSN 105.7 FM. The show can also be watched live, via cable channel Heartland, formerly TNN.
Bussey and Burgess, ages 50 and 49 respectively, are wrapping up a victory lap of sorts, with a 20th anniversary tour titled "We Ain't Never Been Nowhere." The final stop is a sold-out Aug. 1 show at the Von Braun Center Mark C. Smith Concert Hall, located at 700 Monroe St. (Some tickets are available via online ticket reseller StubHub.)
Despite a professional partnership that lasts longer than many marriages, Bussey and Burgess are not together 24-7. On a recent afternoon when called for separate, back-to-back, phone interviews Bussey was in his Jeep Wrangler following a lunch at Birmingham restaurant The Purple Onion and Burgess was traveling with his two teenage sons to purchase some dog-food in his pick-up truck.
For people who aren't familiar with what you guys are doing on the 20th anniversary tour, what can fans expect to see at the Huntsville show?
Bubba: It's a lot like the radio show. We say, "Hey you never know." We have a general format we go by, but of course that changes during the show. [Laughs.] We'll do a little stand up, there'll be song singings, we'll play some games, we'll give away some money. Then we'll do questions and answers. Tell some more stories. We have special guests at each show. And when it's all over we'll be there to meet-and-greet, get pictures, hug babies, kiss mommas all that kind of stuff.
Rick: We didn't know how it would work, how it would transfer, because radio and stand-up comedy are two different things. What works on a stage doesn't necessarily work on the radio, and what works on the radio doesn't necessarily work onstage, so trying to find the parts of the show that would translate to the live show took some time and some of it was trial and error. But surprisingly it's actually come together quite well and it's been a blast.
What's an example of one of those things that works on radio but not so much onstage?
Rick: When you're live on stage it's physical and there's an immediate feedback. You might be on the radio listening to a storyteller and there's some interaction on the phones that might get it going and you can have some sound effects. And you can go out onstage and try and recreate that theatre of the mind and sometimes it just doesn't work. It just doesn't. And we've had a lot of comedians that are great stand-up comedians but they get on the air and the room is so dead, they don't have the reaction of an audience, they don't have the atmosphere of a concert hall or a theatre and some of their best stuff onstage just doesn't work on the radio. There are the rare moments in comedy that work on both, and that's what you're trying to find.
You've referred to yourselves as "the two sexiest fat men alive." Who are the two sexiest women alive?
Rick: I would probably say ... What's the actress right now that's in all the movies? Melissa McCarthy. That would probably be one. And probably the other would be the great Mama Cass, I think. [Writer's note: Folk singer Cass Elliot, a member of '60s hit-makers The Mamas & The Papas, died in 1974.]
Is there anything you've done on-air on "The Rick & Bubba Show," looking back, you regret doing now?
Rick: It's hard to get specific but I can get general. To me, it's live and it's happening and we don't plan much of the show and we say the show is the good, the bad and the ugly. The only days that have bothered me are the days I feel like I was too combative when I maybe should have listened more and talked less with someone who disagreed. And I don't want to compromise Christ ever, and the days that maybe because there's some celebrity news or whatnot and we start going down a track that's a little off-color or something like that and not knowing where that line was and maybe crossing it from time to time. Those are the days I get in my office and sit down and say, "I could have done a better job than that."
You both have talked a lot about your faith on "The Rick & Bubba Show." What's the biggest push-back you've received from radio corporation "suits" in regards to doing that?
Bubba: I think the suits aspect of it is pretty straight-forward. If you get rating and revenue, then they'll leave you alone and we kind of counted on that for protection. If the numbers start to slip than you open yourself up to a lot of corrective help, but we haven't had that, and you know, really we decided long ago we are who we are, warts and all. I'm not talented enough to fake it. You just have to go with what you're feeling. Sometimes you're right, sometimes not. But faith has been a big part of my life and I've seen it become a big part of Rick's life. If that is a big part of our life, why would be ignore it like it didn't exist? We're football fans, we talk about that. I am what I am. We feel it.
Who's been the most memorable guest you've had on the show during your 20-year run?
Rick: To me, because I learned so much from him, the most memorable guest we've had on is Bill Cosby. As a kid, that's where I learned it. I sat in front of me and my parents' record player and I remember listening to him and he was the master storyteller. He wasn't dirty and he didn't have to lean on cheap laughs. And we was brilliant, He told stories about what? Real life. About being a dad, about being a husband. You can hear a lot of his influence when I'm telling stories about my own family. I got to go over and introduce him at a theatre where he did his show that night, and hang out backstage with him and talk football. That's probably the coolest experience the show has given us from a celebrity standpoint.
And a guest you've never had on the show but would love to one day?
Rick: You know, the one we've still have never got to talk to, we've never met Rush Limbaugh. Whether you like what he says or not, if you're a radio person he's one of our pioneers. He saved a.m. radio. He is the pioneer of opinionated talk-radio that gave so many of us a chance to continue going and opened a whole other genre of radio – entertainment, political talk, comedy or all of it. And we've always wanted to meet him or have him on and that opportunity has never presented itself.
What stands out as one of the most awkward on-air moments you've had on "The Rick & Bubba Show"?
Bubba: Every member of the show, except for me, has mistakenly congratulated a woman for being pregnant who is not. There's really no recovery from that. The way I've kept my streak alive is I will not acknowledge you're pregnant until you tell me. Your water could break, people could start screaming "Dial 911!" and I'm not going to acknowledge you're pregnant until you tell me.
"The Rick & Bubba Show" is a conservative alternative to shock jocks, but are there any edgy radio guys, like say Howard Stern, who even though it's not your thing you respect part of their game?
Bubba: Here's the thing about Howard Stern. I don't care for the topics and the language that he uses. But I certainly appreciate the way he does his show – he does it his way and he's anti-radio-establishment. To me he would be entertaining and funny if he didn't use the blue language. I think a lot of people that would fall in that category.
Your show is produced in Vestavia Hills from the Rick and Bubba Broadcast Plaza and Teleport, a location that not only allows for the show to be filmed in front of a studio audience, but also allows fans walking by on the sidewalk a view of the show. What's the weirdest thing you've seen looking out on that sidewalk during a show?
Rick: Probably the weirdest thing was a monkey riding a dog. You look out there and you're like, "I think I just saw a monkey ride by on a dog." And then one time there was a zebra standing out there. And I still haven't figured out how you get a zebra into a shopping center, but they did.
For information on how to book Rick and Bubba for your next event, visit premierespeakers.com/rick_and_bubba.