Former longtime 93.3 WMMR-FM and 102.9 WMGK-FM radio host John Laboranti — better known to the listening public as Bubba John Stevens — died this week at 66 after a long battle with cancer, according to friends.
WMGK announced Mr. Laboranti's death Thursday night via a blog post, calling him "one of the most knowledgable DJs on the airwaves."
"I will never forget hearing the crazy rock-and-roll stories I used to pry out of him," says WMGK host Andre Gardner. "He was one of the sweetest guys I ever met in the business."
Mr. Laboranti, a native of Deptford, attended Deptford Township High School, and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. He then worked at various radio stations, including WGOE-AM and WRXL-FM in Richmond, Va., WOWI-FM in Norfolk, Va., and WMYK-FM in Moyock, N.C.
He began his Philadelphia radio career working weekends at 94.1 WYSP-FM in the late 1970s. Before long, he moved on to WMMR, where he worked afternoons and nights throughout the 1980s and '90s.
It is unclear at what point Mr. Laboranti began going by his "John Stevens" moniker, but longtime WMGK host John DeBella says it was at WMMR. Mr. Laboranti at the time followed former WMMR host (and current iHeartMedia program director) Joe Bonadonna on the air, and "management had decided that two names that Italian was too much for one radio station," DeBella says.
DeBella saddled Mr. Laboranti with his "Bubba John" nickname because of a series of promotions Mr. Laboranti had done for the now-defunct Rib-It restaurant chain, as well as the popularity of the 1981 high school sex comedy Porky's.
"I started calling him 'Porky' because of the ribs and pork thing, and he didn't like that at all," DeBella says. "I said, 'From now on, you're Bubba John,' and I called him that even after the promotion was over. The staff started doing it, and the listeners started doing it, and it stuck."
Mr. Laboranti's time at WMMR ended in January 1998, after the Greater Philadelphia Radio Group acquired the station in 1997. After being laid off, Mr. Laboranti spent several years out of radio.
He made his return to the airwaves in early 2005, when he took up weekend hosting on WMGK, which was looking to load its roster with veteran Philly DJs. In addition to broadcasting on weekends, Mr. Laboranti filled in for weekday hosts, and he could regularly be heard on the station until he retired in November 2013, after 45 years in the radio business.
"Bubba John was a wonderful soul, and one of my big brothers in Philadelphia radio," says WMGK host Ray Koob. "His passing is devastating to me, and I will miss him terribly, especially on Eagles game days."