Bubba The Love Sponge accused of ratings tampering

AP News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2015 4:53 PM

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Radio shock jock Bubba The Love Sponge Clem is being investigated by Nielsen and the owner of a chain of radio stations for allegations that he tampered with ratings, the companies said Friday.

Both Nielsen and Beasley Media confirmed the investigation in separate statements. Beasley Broadcast Group, which owns 53 radio stations in 12 markets and is based in Naples, Florida, wouldn't say whether Clem would remain on the air.

The Tampa Bay-area host was not on his popular morning show Friday. He told WTVT-TV that he was unaware of the allegations and was off the air because he hurt himself in a fall. He could not be reached by The Associated Press.

Nielsen said it is aware of evidence of attempted ratings distortion activity in the Tampa radio market and would provide further details once they are available.

Nielsen calculates its ratings by putting listening devices that look like pagers called "portable people meters" on people in a household. Each person represents thousands of listeners in a given market. Those people are meant to be kept secret, and the panelists are changed every 18 months to avoid unusual behavior.

In many cases of ratings fraud, the identity of someone in the Nielsen sample is compromised and they are induced to tune into a specific program or station more than normal, said Mary Beth Garber, executive vice president of marketing strategy for Katz Media Group, an ad sales network owned by Beasley competitor iHeartMedia Inc.

Artificially boosting a station's audience market share by even a tenth of a percent could mean higher ad revenue totaling "hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a year," Garber said. "If you've got 18 months' worth of being able to jack the ratings up a tenth of a point in key demos, that's a lot of money."

Last year, Nielsen disqualified two families from its pool of participants in Los Angeles after ratings discrepancies at two Spanish-language stations, Univision's KSCA-FM and Radio Centro's KXOS-FM, the Los Angeles Times reported. One of the families was related to a Univision radio executive who was later fired, the Times said.

In the Tampa Bay market, Beasley owns six radio stations. One of the, WBRN-FM, was switched in February to a new format based around Clem's personality. It's called "Bubba 98/7, No Rules Radio"; Clem hosts the morning show and picks the music content and personalities for the rest of the broadcast day.

Clem counts a litany of stunts both on and off the air, including legally changing his name to Bubba The Love Sponge Clem in 1999. His guests range from political candidates to sports stars to area sheriffs.

In 2002, he was acquitted of animal cruelty charges stemming from the on-air slaughter of a feral pig. The animal was castrated and slaughtered during a show in February 2000.

He was fired in 2004 after the Federal Communications Commission proposed a $755,000 fine against Clear Channel Communications for segments of Clem's show that aired on four Florida radio stations. At the time, it was the single largest fine ever proposed for indecency.

Then he ran for Pinellas County Sheriff. He received 30 percent of the vote but lost. He later joined Howard Stern's channel lineup on Sirius XM for a time before returning to traditional broadcast radio.

In 2013, a rival radio host, Todd "MJ" Schnitt sued Clem. Clem's three lawyers were later found to have orchestrated the DUI arrest of Scnhitt's attorney, and a judge recommended their disbarment.

Clem was also a longtime friend of wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan, a former WWE wrestler whose real name is Terry Bollea, is suing the news website Gawker for posting a video of him having sex with Clem's then-wife.

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Nakashima reported from Los Angeles.