RIP Bubba John

It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of the great Bubba John Stevens (John Laboranti) .  Bubba's smooth delivery graced the airwaves for 45 years.  He was an extremely popular member of the WMGK and WMMR airstaffs.  He retired from WMGK and radio in November of 2013.

Bubba was known for being one of the most knowledgable DJs on the airwaves.  His kind, gentle nature and HUGE heart will be missed by everyone that had the pleasure of working with and encountering him.  The MGK DJs share their thoughts on Bubba John below.  A photo gallery can be viewed here.

Information regarding any public funeral arrangements will be posted on wmgk.com.

The MGK staff shares their thoughts below.  Many members of our staff are still processing this tragic news and will post their thoughts soon.

JOHN DEBELLA
I can’t begin to explain my level of shock over the passing of Bubba John. He was one of my oldest friends in Philadelphia.
On my very first day at the WMMR Bubba came in early to take me out to lunch. Now most would assume that because I was new to Philadelphia Bubba took me for a cheese steak, but he claimed everyone else was going to do that so he took me to the Nick’s Roast Beef on Walnut Street and there he began to teach me the ways of Philadelphia.

Bubba was one of the kindest souls you would ever want to come across and he was a die hard Eagles and Phillies fan. During my first year in Philly I would be at his apartment on Sunday’s to watch the Eagles game. Coming from New York and having grown up a Jets fan I used to bust his chops that I can only root for one team in green. It took two years but he won me over. Some of the best Christmas dinners I ever had were at Bubba’s house in New Jersey. You would’ve thought you stepped into a Christmas movie when you got there, a quaint farmhouse with the perfect collection of Christmas decorations, and the most interesting array of people.

Bubba and his wife had two of the loveliest young daughters you would ever want to meet, and because I didn’t have any kids at the time it became the highlight of my holiday to buy the girls the prettiest party dresses I could find. To this day, they remind me about them.

But of all the Bubba stories I have my favorite has to be how he became Bubba John, a nickname I saddled him with. Now the first part of it I had nothing to do with.

Bubba and Joe Bonadonna were both hired WMMR around the same time. Now Bubba’s real name is John Stephen Laboranti and management had decided that two names that Italian was too much for one radio station, especially with them following each other on the air. John was asked to change his and with the addition of an “S” he became John Stevens. You can only imagine his ire a few months later when they hired a guy named DeBella. I heard about it for years, but all in fun.

The Bubba name came out a promotion he was doing with the old Rib-it restaurant chain. John was giving away and hosting dinners at their location on Walnut Street. At the time the movie Porky’s was out and very successful and I started referring to John as Porky Stevens whenever I had to talk about his promotion. John was NOT KEEN on this nickname and ask me to kill it. Not one to give in easily I decided to change it from Porky Stevens to Bubba John. By the time the promotion was over most of the listeners and all of the air staff had all adapted to calling him Bubba John. Eventually he gave in as well. Sometime later he told me it was one of the best gifts he had ever gotten. He thought that the John Stevens name was always sort of bland, but Bubba John Stevens had character…and that he was.

He was one of the kindest, most loving people I have ever known. Goodnight sweet prince, say hi to Lowell George for me.

 

DEBBI CALTON
I am just gutted with this news. I honestly never heard ANYONE say ANYTHING negative or bad about Bubba. I loved the times that he filled in for Andre so I would have the opportunity to spend a little time with him. He was a TRUE music lover:he was always so supportive of Chip and what he was up to in the performance world. I loved the way Bubba called me "darlin'." I loved the way I would just hear from him out of the blue with a youtube clip or something that he thought I might want to experience. I loved how THRILLED he was when he became a grandfather. I loved how proud he was of his daughters. I loved that in the past several years he found a true love and that he was happy. I remember how excited I was when he came to MGK because I always LOVED him on MMR. What a great DJ and so very humble and unassuming. I loved his stories of his wild and crazy days and how he had reconciled THAT Bubba John with the current Bubba John. The world just got a whole lot sadder and dimmer but I am a better person for having been friends with him.

ANDRE GARDNER
I’m heartbroken to hear the news of Bubba John Stevens’ passing.  It was such a privilege for me to work with him here at MGK, having been such a big fan from his days on MMR.  I will never forget hearing the crazy rock and roll stories I used to pry out of him, not to mention his great humor, quick wit and, my goodness, that cool-as-hell, smooth-as-silk delivery on the air.  He was one of the sweetest guys I ever met in the business, and I send my love and condolences to his family.  Rock on, Daddio…

RAY KOOB
I was lucky to have Bubba John as one of my big brothers in the radio business. We hit it off right away and shared many incredible times through the years. 
His passing is devastating to me, and I will miss him terribly, especially on Eagles game days! 
A few years ago, at his urging, I began to "Disturb The Neighbors," one of his trademark sayings. I'll keep neighborly disorder alive, Bub! 
Love ya, miss ya already, Bubba-licious!
Koob

TONY HARRIS
It’s just unbelievable and heart wrenching to lose one of our family particularly this guy who was just as nice as he was professional. He followed me every Saturday morning and he’d greet me with “ you’re on fire Daddio”. On and off the air we would discuss life, the kids, various Italian food delicacies and yes the music that he so loved. He was a loving father too. Many times his girls would accompany their dad to the station and hang out…he loved it and would just beam. I’m gonna miss his warmth and spirit… and knowing Bubba he’s smiling on all of us saying “it’s up to you now…keep rockin’”. We will but it just got a little bit lonelier for the MGK family. Rock on in heaven my friend…we’ll try and do you proud down here.

CYNDY DRUE
I had the good fortune of working with John at no less than three radio stations – WYSP, WMMR and finally at WMGK where we saw each other everySaturday for about 8 years. What a sense of humor! He had the funniest stories that always had me laughing. He was a generous, gentle soul who was like a brother to me. He was pals with lots of musicians including Flamin' Harry, John Eddie, and George Thorogood's bandmates, and he went to the same high school as Patti Smith (Deptford High). When he decided to retire from radio, the last song he played on WMGK was “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison. So appropriate then and now.

KATHY WAGNER
On the morning of November 24, 2013, I decorated the studio with balloons & a banner that read "Happy Retirement." I also got a cake. It was Bubba John Stevens' last day on the air before entering retirement, and I sure as hell wasn't going to just say "Hey, nice workin' with ya!" and leave it at that. He gave us 45 years... and he was the sweetest soul you could ever hope to meet. While at 102.9 WMGK, we worked back to back on Sundays for a long time... and this was his swan song...so I did my best to make it a special day for him, while also keeping it simple. I will always remember the look on his face that day when he entered the studio... he just paused, looked around at all the balloons... and smiled the biggest smile. And he said (in typical Bubba John style -- so humble... so sincere... so genuine), "Awwww... you didn't have to do all this!" And I said, "I know. But I wanted to. You deserve it."

And he did deserve it. He absolutely deserved it.

I could tell he was truly surprised... it was heartwarming. In his eyes, I could see deep appreciation. I lit the candles on the cake, and he made a wish and blew them out. (here's a video:  https://youtu.be/Qb_EEAxrUmQ )

He reached out to me in July of this year, told me he was doing well, ....and it was SO wonderful to hear from him. At the end of our conversation, he said, "Thanks again for my retirement send off. That cake was BITCHIN!!!!" To hear him say that, 3 years later, really made my day.

But he gave us ALL so much more. He was funny.... he was kind... he was blunt & direct and said what was on his mind (loved that about him!). No bullshit. He was REAL.... he was GENUINE. And he had a heart of gold. And I will miss him very, very much.

RIP John Laboranti.... aka "Bubba John" Stevens

DOUG STELL

I live in the Richmond, VA area and am a member of a group of flower children who worked together at the campus radio station at VA Commonwealth University during the late 60's-early 70's. John was a leading member of our group and we've all stayed in touch for the last 45+ years. It's no small comfort to see that the Philadelphia community is grieving with us down here in Richmond. Long John Stevens was "that guy."

john-laboranti-1969

In January, 1969, I transferred colleges to Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA. Having worked at the campus radio station at my previous school, I immediately made my way to WJRB, the VCU campus station, whose broadcast signal was transmitted through electrical lines only to the campus cafeterias and major high-rise dormitory buildings. It was here that I met a DJ named John Laboranti who used Long John Stevens as his air name—John was assigned to be the mentor and trainer who would introduce me to the station leadership folks, guide me through the familiarization process with the station equipment and get me qualified to do radio shows on my own. It was the era of AM dial screaming DJ Top 40 radio and that mindset is what I thought I needed to adopt to be successful as a college radio DJ. Long John counselled differently. He would say, “You need to talk into the mike as though you were having a friendly conversation with your best buddy. You don’t scream into his face when you’re talking, do you? So—don’t do it here.” In an age where everybody on the radio was a screamer, John had already adopted that calm, folksy, friendly style that would eventually serve him so well in a professional career yet to come. Luckily I listened and took his advice—he got great at doing radio; I got personally better at trying to imitate his style.

Somebody heard John on WJRB and in early 1971 he was offered a job as a DJ at WGOE, a 5000 watt daytime-only station that played a Top-40 format. Soon after starting there, John started up the “Saturday Subway” program, playing progressive album music on Saturday afternoons instead of the Top-40 format. It caught on quickly and one day in May, 1971, when the station owner was out of town, John and the other DJ’s decided it would be fun to completely ditch the Top-40 tunes, in favor of the album music they liked. It was a daring move and the only reason they kept their jobs was that the format change was so immediately and enthusiastically received by the listeners. WGOE soon went from the bottom of a 13-station market to 4th in the ratings. John was able to get me aboard as a weekend/substitute DJ and so I was able to enjoy being part of something fantastic in Richmond radio with him. To this day a number of folks in the Richmond area remember WGOE as that little daytime radio station that freaked out one day. All good things must end, though. With the advent of FM stereo radio and limited daytime broadcast hours, WGOE eventually changed its format and got new DJ’s. John saw that coming accepted a job at WOWI-FM in the Virginia Beach area. We drifted out of contact with each other for a time before I heard that he was on the air at WMMR, followed by WMGK. By that time we were back in touch with one another and stayed that way until the end.

John—Of all of us at WJRB, you were the one who took a radio broadcast career the furthest. You were a mentor, a wing man, a close friend and a brother. One day I’ll see you on the other side and we’ll throw around the Frisbee—just like old times.

 

 

Here are some videos of Bubba.

"Bubba" John Stevens retires from radio! 11/24/13

After 45 wonderufl years in radio, "Bubba" John Stevens retires! Sunday, November 24, 2013.

 

 

 

WTAF, WMMR (Bubba John Stevens) "Puttin' on the Hits" Auditions, 1985

Rock jock Bubba John Stevens of WMMR calls for Philadelphia-area lip synchers to come audition for WTAF channel 29's "Puttin' on the Hits" in 1985. (Might be '86, need to check my records.) No rights held or implied.