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Bubba the Love Sponge sues Cox Radio and Mike Calta, claiming ratings 'sting operation'

Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem laughs while broadcasting in his studios Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018 in Tampa. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem laughs while broadcasting in his studios Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018 in Tampa. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Mar. 14

Bubba the Love Sponge Clem filed suit against his old employer, his former employee and his biggest on-air rival on Wednesday, seeking unspecified damages for what he claims was the "malicious and deceitful destruction of his business relationships and career."

The longtime Tampa Bay radio host accuses Cox Media Group and subsidiary Cox Radio Inc. of a scheme to ruin him both personally and professionally via the efforts of Cox executives and on-air talent. Clem, according to the complaint, says they were "jealous and outraged" after he left Cox's WHPT 102.5 The Bone and soon beat the radio station in key Nielsen ratings demographics on a new station.

Also named in the suit are radio host Mike Calta, who took over Bubba's morning-drive time slot at 102.5 The Bone in 2015 after Cox chose not to renew Clem's contract, and Matthew Loyd, a radio personality known as Spice Boy, who worked on Clem's show for years.

"Cox Media Group has a long history of running world-class radio stations that are highly respected in the industry," reads a statement Cox sent the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. "While we typically do not comment on active litigation, the suggestion that our company participated in a conspiracy or any wrongdoing alleged in the complaint is simply false and without merit."

The suit accuses Cox of using its stature as a major Nielsen subscriber to pressure the ratings measurement company into imposing sanctions on Clem's network, leading to Clem's eventual firing from WBRN-FM 98.7, and of setting the stage for a Nielsen investigation through on-air comments made by Calta claiming Clem was cheating in the ratings.

The suit also claims Calta and Cox vice president and Tampa market manager Keith Lawless were involved in a "sting" operation, in which a Bubba the Love Sponge fan named Nicholas Tabachuk was enlisted as a Nielsen panelist and rewarded with gifts. With Nielsen meters installed in his home to detect what he listened to, Tabachuk, according to the complaint, was instructed to entice Clem into ratings tampering and collect evidence to be used against him. The suit claims Calta sent an email promising to "take care of Tabachuk."

Clem was sued by Nielsen for $1 million for ratings tampering in 2016. According to that lawsuit, Clem texted a Nielsen panelist offering cash to tune in to the Bubba show. Clem settled the case by paying Nielsen an undisclosed amount in 2018, saying, "I deeply regret interfering with Nielsen's collection of listening data." Nielsen said none of Clem's interference "materially impacted" the ratings.

Clem's lawsuit against Cox also alleges Calta and Loyd took part in the leak of the Hulk Hogan sex tape filmed with Clem's then-wife in his Pinellas County home. Excerpts from that video were published by Gawker.com and the Enquirer leading to a lawsuit by Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, that effectively put Gawker out of business.

A Tampa police investigation eventually concluded the sex tape was stolen from the Bubba Radio Network offices in Tampa by Loyd, though no charges were ever filed.

Cox and Calta are currently defendants in another lawsuit, brought by Hogan, in which the wrestler is accusing them of having roles in leaking the sex tape that upended his career.

Clem's lawyers, the Baltimore-based Nusinov Smith LLP, said in a news release Wednesday that harm to their client's reputation has damaged relationships with major advertisers and cost him syndication deals to air his program on other stations.

"(Clem) alleges that he sustained losses in the tens of millions," the release said.

Clem, who was once syndicated on multiple stations around the country, has aired his show on WHBO-AM 1040 Sports Talk Florida since February. The Mike Calta Show airs weekdays on 102.5 The Bone from 6 to 10 a.m.

Cox Media Group owns 61 radio stations across the U.S., more than a dozen TV stations and four daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Calta, who once worked on the Bubba show and went by the name Cowhead, and Clem have been in an on-air feud for years.

Clem has faced radio rivals in court before. In 2007, he was sued for defamation by competing Tampa radio host Todd "MJ" Schnitt over on-air remarks. A jury ruled in Clem's favor in 2013, though things took a bizarre turn when three of Clem's lawyers were found to have conspired with a Tampa police sergeant and a flirtatious paralegal to get Schnitt's attorney arrested for DUI during the trial. Attorneys Stephen Diaco, Adam Filthaut and Robert Adams were all disbarred.

MORE BUBBA: Tucker Carlson 'assured me he's not mad at me'

Contact Christopher Spata at cspata@tampabay.com or follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.

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