"Shock Jock" Don Imus, Back on Air Tomorrow
The irony either wants to make you laugh or cry--on various film, t.v., radio, video, Internet, and other media outlets, the words like "bitch" and "ho," have been considered "business-as-usual" for a long, long, time. I don't approve of racism, but comics, the media, the music industry, the big corporations, the film industry, the advertising industry, and rappers have all been pushing the envelope for a long time. Imus was just a scapegoat, for the growing trend of the use of this kind of language.
In four decades on radio's high wire, Don Imus may never have faced a trickier challenge than he does tomorrow when he steps to the microphone at 6a.m. to launch his new morning show on WABC-AM (770 AM).
Without losing his edge, without becoming less blunt, less cranky, less entertaining or less funny, he's got to make clear he knows what was so unacceptable about cracking offhandedly in April that the Rutgers women's basketball team looked like "nappy-headed ho's."
It will require nimble verbal footwork, and it won't happen in one show, any more than he will complete all his thank-yous and trashings in one morning.
But tomorrow is when he has the brightest spotlight, which would be more daunting if he hadn't already come back to life more times than the masked maniac in a cheap horror film.
"He'll be fine," says Michael Harrison, editor of the trade magazine Talkers. "He got more attention now than he's had in years. He's bigger than ever."
He's also never taken the easy road.
The first time he made it big in New York, in the mid-'70s, he drank and snorted himself right out of town. He climbed back. When his radio act got tired, he developed a new one that gave him a unique and lucrative niche in high political, corporate and media worlds.
Ten years ago, when he insulted the President in front of some of the most powerful people in those worlds, he shrugged, said "Get over it," and stayed the course.
But none of those challenges was the same as the avalanche of fallout from "The Incident."
Offensive remarks were not unique on Imus' show, though he has noted many of them, including the infamous reference to CBS newswoman Gwen Ifill as a "cleaning lady," came from the mouths of satiric characters the show was ridiculing.
The Rutgers remark just hit a perfect storm on a slow news week. Critics dismissed his apology ("I'm a good person who did a bad thing."), advertisers bailed out, MSNBC dropped his TV simulcast and his flagship radio home WFAN finally followed suit.
Since then, he's gotten a reported $20 million settlement from CBS and kept his mouth shut, though a few details of the reborn show have surfaced.
Imus will have at least one and perhaps two regular or semi-regular black cast members. The show will be simulcast, 6-9 a.m., on RFD-TV. Sidekick Charles McCord, engineer Lou Ruffino and producer Bernard McGuirk will return.
Returning guests start tomorrow with James Carville. His advertisers, a big part of the reason WABC-AM hired him, have had a mixed response. General Motors says it will wait and see. Hackensack Medical Center is back. Verizon is gone, for now.
Tomorrow's show, a $100-a-ticket benefit at Town Hall for his Imus Ranch, is sponsored by Hanley Center, the West Palm Beach, Fla. rehab center that cleaned him up in the '70s.
Many critics, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, say they're waiting and seeing. So, perhaps, are radio affiliates, though he's back in his strongholds of Boston and Providence.
His goal, presumably, is getting back to normal - to the point where he's only confronting the same questions as everyone else in radio: Does he have advertisers and does he have listeners, and how many?
At age 67, those should be questions enough.