Bubba vs. The Bone, Round 3: Shady Ratings Shenanigans

Bubba's in trouble after getting caught trying to influence Nielsen ratings.

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This isn't what they meant by "No Rules Radio."

Bubba The Love Sponge (aka Todd Clem) has been hurt in his ratings war with Mike Calta and 102.5 The Bone.

Worst of all, the wound is self-inflicted.

Previously, Bubba was accused of trying to tamper with the Nielsen ratings. After a press conference he held Tuesday, they're not accusations anymore. They're true.

Bubba admitted to trying to influence a participant in the Nielsen program, which determines not only area ratings, but affects advertisers, budgets and sometimes station programming. He said he was embarrassed, and accepted blame for the transgression. But that was after he got caught and previously claimed he was off the air for an injury.

Reportedly, the issue was discovered early and didn't affect any previous or upcoming numbers. Bubba and Calta have gone back and forth in the ratings since going head to head weekday mornings at the beginning of this year. Bubba was let go from The Bone in 2014, and Calta shifted from his afternoon spot to mornings a little more than a year ago. Bubba returned to the airwaves in January, had an entire station named after him (Bubba 98.7) and waged war on his former employer. He's landed some blows, but in this latest battle he only hurt himself.

Since the numbers didn't change, Bubba still gets credit for taking a station with a smaller signal and a fraction of the budget and competing well with Calta and The Bone. But the facts of this incident don't change, either. He intentionally tried to beef up his own numbers in an unethical manner, which means he must have been worried about how things were going. A confident, clear front-runner would have no reason to do such a thing, even if they were inclined to do so. And someone like Bubba, with decades of radio experience and plenty of accolades, knows better.

On the other side, Calta and his crew don't really have to do anything to benefit from the fallout. They gain simply by being the guys who didn't cheat. Listeners know what happened, and, more importantly, advertisers know. If they don't have faith in a station, that station ceases to exist. How this affects Bubba and 98.7 remains to be seen, but his station has a lot invested in him. In any case, it won't help in a ratings battle that Bubba expected to have won by now.

The real loser here is the radio listener. This round wasn't determined by show quality, or popularity, or entertainment value. It wasn't decided by who was the funniest, or had the momentum, or had better turnouts to events. Both Calta and Bubba have loyal fans, and both have other people who can't stand them. Twitter has become an entertaining-but-obnoxious sewer of opinions on the competition, with flame wars blazing, trolls trolling, and bloated haters on both sides spewing their noxious swamp gas into the ether of social media.

But at least it was a real competition on the radio, with both programs seeming to hit their stride over the past several months. While neither has kept the ratings they enjoyed at the height of their popularity, a creative battle helps keep things lively.

But it has to be a fair fight, and Bubba was caught with his thumb on the scale. We don't know what the future holds, so it could end up influencing everything, or nothing at all. But this is a low point for the local radio legend, and it has nothing to do with the quality of his show, or how many people enjoy it.

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