Don Imus Is Coming Back
Rod Proctor, NewsMax.com
Monday, July 23, 2007
Radio talker Don Imus, exiled from the airwaves in April after making remarks many saw as racist, will return to the microphone as early as September, industry analysts and observers tell NewsMax — but not all agree that the return will be triumphal.
The industry has been rife with rumors since Imus sidekick Bo Dietl's announcement on an Albany radio show, and picked up by the New York Post, that an Imus comeback was in the works for this September.
But experts explain to NewsMax that events are moving so quickly that the "I-Man" will be back in his broadcast chair by late summer or early fall.
"The I's are being dotted and the T's being crossed," media analyst Brian Maloney tells NewsMax. "When rumors went out, and the station not only didn't deny it but played along, that's key right there."
Radio & Records senior editor Mike Boyle, speaking to NewsMax, echoes that certitude. "The sun, the moon, and the stars seem to be aligning with all of this information — whether rumor or fact," he says.
And Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine — the industry bible — is surprised Imus wasn't rehired sooner. "I always thought he'd be back, even before they fired him."
Even the Rev. Al Sharpton, arguably Imus' most vocal critic in April, has blessed the comeback.
In comments to The Associated Press and Radaronline.com, Sharpton says: "My position is that we never called for him to be permanently barred from being on the air. We wanted him to pay for being a repeat abuser, and he paid. We never said we didn't want him to make a living."
Imus spokesman and attorney Martin Garbus, has refused comment.
The questions now are, Where will Imus land? and, What kind of radio landscape will he find once he gets there?
Boyle and Maloney are convinced he'll be back at his old New York City flagship, WFAN-AM, owned by Viacom and CBS. The reason, says Radio & Records' Boyle: "Money."
"You have to look at how much money that radio station billed. They are definitely one of the top 10, if not top five, billing stations in the country. A large portion of that came from Imus."
Analyst Maloney sees another motivation for CBS to return Imus to the fold.
"I think the reason he's returning so easily is they fear an expensive legal battle over the terms of his contact, which were highly favorable to him and they know it," he explains to NewsMax. "They could have been liable for up to $40 million in a payout were they to lose in court. So the alternative is to put him back on the air. Pay him the regular salary. What's the cheaper option?"
Talkers' Harrison isn't quite so sure of what lies in Imus' future.
"I've heard inside reports both confirming and denying he'll return to WFAN," he tells NewsMax. "Imus has all of radio to choose from. I'm sure there are many, many companies that would love to have his services."
And Newsday.com's Neil Best reports on that Web site that CBS CEO Les Moonves in June discounted the possibility of a CBS reprieve. Media journalist Ken Auletta asked Moonves whether Imus would return to CBS Radio. Moonves' curt response: "No."
Some question how successful Imus will be upon his return. The New York Post, at the time Imus was fired, reported that his audience had slipped 50 percent over the last 10 years, and had slid a full 25 percent in just the prior six months.
"He will return in a greatly diminished capacity," Maloney tells NewsMax. "If he's syndicated at all, it will be only a handful of stations. On [WFAN] itself, he will not be in the timeslot he has had. There is no way he's going to recapture what has been lost.
"All I see with certainty is a local New York City radio show," Maloney continues. "Keep in mind Imus was not a big syndication star. He was not on that many stations before. The very few big ones he was on were mainly in the Northeast and a few in the Southeast. Nothing in the West. The only other big station he was on is in Boston and that station has already announced a replacement. So where does he go?"
But Talkers' Harrison disagrees.
"[Imus'] ratings were not so terrible, especially when you have a qualitative audience the way he did. Considering more than 5,000 talkers are in America, top 20 is nothing to be embarrassed about," he explains to NewsMax. "That's major league.
"Radio ratings are only one aspect of what makes a host valuable. Loyalty and specifics of demographics. He's a valuable property whether he's 50th, 20th, or first. And now that he's had all this publicity and proved what an important newsmaker he is, I think his appeal as an attraction has been increased."
Indeed, NewsMax Magazine's October 2006 edition put Imus as the 3rd most influential man in radio, due to his high-level demographics in audience, his major newsmaker guests, and his simulcast on MSNBC.
There's no word yet if a new Imus radio show would include a cable simulcast as MSNBC did with his "Imus in the Morning" show.
Another angle of Imus' comeback circulating within the industry has some scratching their heads: Rumors that he has been visiting comedy clubs in search of a black sidekick.
"I think that would be kind of strange," Maloney responds to NewsMax. "You can't predict what Imus will do. He's always been an oddball. If that's the way he returns, that kind of move could backfire. It could be seen as blatant pandering."
Harrison has a different take.
"I don't know how true it is," he tells NewsMax. "But it makes sense. He should work into his routine and repertoire whatever new dimension of understanding he has about race relations.
"The fact is, Imus is not a racist. The whole thing was distorted and trumped up, and he was executed for a crime he really didn't intend to commit."
Boyle also defends Imus: "You only hear about the bad things he's said on the radio. Nobody talks about the things he does for kids with cancer out at his ranch.
"He got railroaded. If there's any chance to bring him back, everybody's going to become a winner."
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