Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Imus Cleveland Fallout

Don Imus hasn't been on the radio airwaves in Northeast Ohio for a good 10 years, since his syndicated show aired on sports talk WKNR, then at 1220 AM.

But there are plenty of connections between this region and the now-former host of "Imus In The Morning", a morning drive radio program that aired on CBS Radio, and simulcast on MSNBC cable, until this week.

We won't repeat the oft-reported story here. You've probably already heard that both his radio and TV masters have now shown Imus the door, and he's now without regular daily access to a microphone.

But things running through our head while listening to - and watching - local radio broadcasters talk about "the new climate" based on the quick suspension, and later firing, of Imus...

WE MADE HIM: Cleveland has played a huge role in Imus' career.

Don Imus started in radio in the small Southern California city of Palmdale, which was once even more out of the way than it is now.

He eventually aired in places like Sacramento. But his "big market break" was in Cleveland, where he worked at the old WGAR/1220. He was "discovered" here, and quickly headed for New York, where he ended up staying.

HIS RETURN: ...well, most of the time. A transgression in the Big Apple forced his corporate masters to ship him back to Cleveland as "punishment", where Imus held court on WHK/1420 for a year or so...before finally returning to, and staying in, New York.

When his home base in New York, WNBC/660 ("66 W-NNNN-BC"), switched to sports talk - WFAN/1050 entered a deal and took over 660 from NBC - the station kept Imus on in morning drive. Of course, the frequency once also aired Howard Stern in afternoon drive - before the latter host moved to FM on then-WXRK/92.3 "K-Rock". (Our thanks to Lance Venta of for the memory correction.)

(Of course, those calls and format name are now on the very same frequency here.)

HIS SYNDICATION: His success on the relatively new sports talk station prompted sports radio stations across America to add "Imus In The Morning".

One of those stations was Cablevision's new sports talk outlet in Cleveland, WKNR/1220 "SportsRadio 1220". And yes, it was the very same frequency where Imus vaulted into stardom when it was WGAR.

Imus was around on 1220 the second time for a couple of years or so, if we remember right, in the mid-1990's. At some point, WKNR and other stations realized that just because Imus got big ratings in New York City on a sports outlet didn't mean he'd get similar ratings in other cities running the format.

(Someone commented to us today that if WFAN had run dogs barking in morning drive and it got ratings, every sports station in America would follow.)

ABOUT THAT NEW CLIMATE: Local talkers like WTAM/1100's Bob Frantz and Mike Trivisonno cite the "post-Imus world" we're now in...where they are worried that their every word could lead to someone being offended, and doing something about it...costing them their jobs.

In reality, though we understand any host's concern about this sort of thing, we'd respectfully submit that the worry is overheated in light of very recent news events. Maybe some perspective will be gained over time, and we'll see just how this all fits in - like with the infamous "Janet Incident" at the Super Bowl a couple of years or so ago.

While we're at it, in a case of Major Timing, nationally syndicated afternoon drive host Michael Baisden just happened to be in Cleveland today, doing his talk show from the studios of Radio One urban AC WZAK/93.1.

Baisden provided perspective for WZAK and his national listeners, including airing a live, telephone interview with Al Sharpton, who has been a part of this story and who hosts a show for Radio One - which airs on WZAK sister station WERE/1300.

And Baisden also became the perfect interview on the story for Cleveland's local TV stations...


Anonymous said...

OK--it's poll time: Where will Imus go...1050? 710? 770? XM? Sirius?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, "Imus in the Morning" was also heard for a time in Youngstown on WRTK/1390 (now WNIO). This would have been somewhere in the mid 90's thru late 1998, when WRTK went nostaglia. Prior to RTK, he was on at Y-town's "K-Rock" WRKU/95.1.

Anonymous said...

Re: Poll time...


How's about the I-Man settling in at WANR in Warren? ;-) Ya thinkglunt would go for his antics?

Johnny Morgan said...

Don't forget that Imus was on 3WE in about 1993-94 as well, just before Chuck Meyer.

Anonymous said...

Free speech is dead in this country.

I never liked Imus, but if you don't like that kind of talk, turn the station or turn the radio off.

Haven't we given up enough freedoms for the War Against Invisible WMDs?

More freedoms fly out the window almost daily.

Lance Venta said...

Stern never did mornings on WNBC. Imus was the morning man and Stern did afternoons.

We have Imus' debut on WFAN at the Format Change Archive here

raccoonradio said...

We have free speech but speech has
consequences (ask the Dixie Chicks.
And yes, we can use our freedom
of choice with them: freedom to
not buy their albums or see
them in concert if we disagree
with what they said...)

That being said, the firing was a bit of an over-reaction...maybe they could have given him time to do his
mea culpas, meet with the team, etc.
but pressure from Sharpton & friends--and sponsors dropping like
flies--pushed CBS into action.

Anonymous said...

I am not an Imus fan at all, but this is a very sad day for the industry. What did CBS stand behind their man? Why are the giving in to those complaining? Yes what he said was over the line, but where is this country going? This will be another reason why Sat Radio will take off in the country.

Anonymous said...

Imus shouldn't have to meet with anyone, or make any apology. Here again, radio helps ruin it's own product by falling in line with morons and watering down the contant of their own product.

If you can't speak your opinion, no matter what it is, on talk radio, what is the point?

Groveling to losers like Sharpton only feeds these nuts, who only like freedom of speech when it says something they agree with.

Remember Tawana Brawley? Sharpton was sued and lost a libel suit for falsely blaming police for raping Brawley. He has never paid a dime and never issued an apology.

That is far worse than any comments made by Imus. Why do people take this moron seriously?

The fact that radio people do not stand up for free speech only shows the business is doomed, from all sides.

Anonymous said...

Well, find out who all the advertisers were who dropped Imus...then write, call, go to their website{s} and tell them that they're such chickens**ts and obviously don't believe in free speech you will no longer buy their products, support their companies, etc. And the ones who stuck with him, write them and thank them. What Imus said WAS wrong, but he apologized for it....not ONCE have I EVER heard Sharpton, Jackson,Farrakhan, etc. apologize for their slams, insults, threats against white people, jews, hispanics, etc. Why the double standard?

Anonymous said...

There is one connection you forgot about. Al Roker who at one point worked at ch 3 was one of the NBC staffers who was asking for his release.

I think what Imus said was,racist,sexist, and out of the ballpark even for the I-man but how some is asking for his head on a sliver platter is just as wrong. Imus is not the only one yet he is taking most of the heat for what I can assume was a very bad joke with no real punchline.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 12:07AM--excellent post and excellent website. Alex Jones should be on a better signal than WCER.

Now that Shaprton extorted CBS into doing his bidding, I wonder what will be the next incident of extortion? We also know who has more power now---Sharpton or O'Reilly, since the latter didn't get the "firing" he wanted.

Of course, considering all the dmub things CBS has done of late(especially w/the programming of their New York FMs), I guess one shouldn't be surprised.

Anonymous said...

I do remember Imus on 1100-AM. I remember they did an over-ride of part of his show for news/traffic and he replayed that on the air and ranted about it. I wondered about a host who tries to embarrass a 50k-watt affiliate for serving its audience with information.

Another point...I'm not sure on which side of the argument this falls...the Rutgers' athletes could very well argue that they have been slandered (being called a "ho" or whore is, I believe, prima facia defamation if untrue). Are the corporations firing Imus to head off a lawsuit? Should they keep him and tell the world that the legal option exists for those who need it and thus makes firing Imus unnecessary?

I, for one, find myself surprised and a bit amused by two corporations that would each drop properties worth about $20-million/year in revenues.

And I'm not sure if this will have a chilling affect on shock radio. The publicity this earned might tempt any number of broadcasters to take the plunge, and not only with Imus. He has certainly grabbed a signficant amount of attention over the last two weeks. This is the sort of thing that most shock-jocks live to achieve.

Anonymous said...

What the Imus incident shows me is that American culture has been downgraded by business, politicians and the media's pandering to the lowest common denominator and using our base tendencies to greed, hatred, meanness and racism to sell products, get ratings and get elected. The sad fact is that it works.
This really took off in the 1980's, and now an entire generation has grown up immersed in it. It's all they know. And the cold-blooded hypocrisy of it is not even apparent to many of them.
Good talkers can be funny, controversial, adamant and dogmatic without being mean-spirited, hateful and vulgar. But would that reach today's hard-hearted and cynical generation?

hymie said...

Alex Jones gets away with all the garbage he spews because he buys the air time. Don Imus should do the same. The 2 morons would be right at home together on WCER.

Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock said...

The only people who should be offended by what I-mouth said are the owners of the Nappy Head company, a British manufacturer of baby clothes.

"Nappy" is the British equivalent of "diaper". A "nappy head" is someone who acts childish. Imus is a nappy head, and so is anyone who takes anything he says seriously.

Anonymous said...

Q: Who replaced Imus at WGAR when he left for NYC???

A: John Lanigan

Anonymous said...

hymie said...>>Alex Jones gets away with all the garbage he spews because he buys the air time. Don Imus should do the same. The 2 morons would be right at home together on WCER.<<

Alex Jones, who at times can overhype a subject, is generally right on the money re his anti-governmental(at all levels) abuse stance. He may(or may not--do you think Dave Ramsey or Dr Laura are?)be buying the air-time at WCER, but keep in mind he's also on KLBJ-the major Austin talker, w/Rush/Boortz/Clark Howard/etc, and I seriously doubt KLBJ has to sell time like WCER does.

If Imus chooses not to retire, I'll bet he'll wind up at either WOR-710(remember, that's where Bob Grant went after the Ron Brown "incident") or back his old buddy Mel at Sirius(a place where one doesn't worry about advertiser boycotts).

Anonymous said...

Since I have both XM and Sirus on stream, I got to listen to both Howard and O&A pile on..I don't see Howard welcoming Imus, unless the two are kept far far apart in the Sirus building..and I'm not sure that XM would free up a channel for the I-Man..I doubt he would want to take the Bubba the Love Sponge route and share time on a channel with another host..

Again, CBS won't stand up for its hosts who made them millions..first Stern, then O&A and now Imus..Why does anyone take
Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson seriously? They have no career or job skills, other then to shake white people down for whatever it is they want..nothing more..

Anonymous said...

"WE MADE HIM: Cleveland has played a huge role in Imus' career."

Ugh...what does that say about Cleveland? :( Don't we have enough bad things going for us without taking credit for Imus???

Anonymous said...

I liked what Tavis Smiley said on "Today" this morning: "The First Amendment guarantees Imus's right to say what he did, but the First Amendment does not guarantee him a radio show on which to say it."

That's paraphrased, but that is pretty close.

But I do agree that the constant drum-beating by Sharpton and Jackson was (as always) over the top.

9/11 - Inside Job said...

Alex Jones is right on the money about most things, like 9/11.

So is this

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to consider Jackson's outrage.

Wasn't it Presidential Candidate Jackson who referred to New York as "Hymie-town"?

Forgive me if I feel that Rev. Jackson lacks credibility, at least in this one area.

This is certainly not meant in any way to exonerate Imus. I'm just a bit curious about the people leading the charge against him.

I'm also struck by the comments offered by anonymous at 10:05AM. I believe there is a great deal of truth in that. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Imus is syndicated by Westwood One, now a separate company from CBS Radio. So Imus could still do his show from Arizona, NYC, wherever. Not as much money with WFAN out of the mix, but he's still ok.

There's Sirius as someone mentioned.

Also, if WWOne doesn't continue to carry him he could go to TRN or Jones.

Anonymous said...


Many good points but .. look, there are a lot of professional broadcasters here.

We all know in our hearts, if you say something like that, you're gonna be fired.

Say what you want, Sharpton-Jackson, P&G and GM .. whatever you want to say ..

It's simple: You say that, you get fired. It's the way it works. When you're in the business, on the air everyday, you know this.

It's just the way it is.

You just can't do that.


It's just, in the end, stupid. Just Stupid.


Anonymous said...

True enough.

We all know stories about careers that ended with that kind of misjudgement.

It's also true that the FCC used to have strict rules and enforcement people. Some of the stuff said now would have resulted in government action prior to 1980.

Were we better off then?

Anonymous said...

I d much rather take credit for Don Imus than take credit for that clown Dennis Kucinich who is running a fantasy campaign for President. Free Speech is Dead. Long Live Satellite Radio.

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember the good ol days of Gary Dee? 'Nuf said...

Anonymous said...

Imus was on WKNR for less than seven months in 1997, following the dismissal of Mike Wolfe. It ended for the very same reason OMW stated as such, but he was dropped when Jacor bought 1220 in January 1998.

(Coincidentally, it was a sale that was delayed by, you guessed it, complaints about WKNR's staffing - at the time - by the Rainbow Coalition.)

It's been pointed out elsewhere, and here as well, that Don Imus was in afternoons on then-country WHK/1420, whose talent also included the iconic Gary Dee and, yes, the late Joe Finan. Plus, WHK was then housed in the same building (Statler Office Tower) that housed WGAR-AM.

Note too, that WHK's sister station, WMMS, was programmed by John Gorman. Gorman was the program director for Howard Stern's Detroit affiliate (WKRK/97.1) in the late 90's.

Of course, Stern left terresterial radio for Sirius - whose CEO, Mel Karmizan, has a son (Craig K.) who now owns WKNR/850, the former WGAR-AM. And whose newest talent (Tony Rizzo, Munch) were former sportscasters for Imus' first replacement in Cleveland, John Lanigan.

Oh, and Lanigan's current boss at WMJI/CC, Kevin Metheny, was the program director at WENNNNNBC, who employed, yep, Stern and Imus.

And... another legendary deejay at WGAR, Chuck Collier, started at 1220 the VERY SAME DAY that Imus did.

THAT'S scary.

- Nathan Obral

Anonymous said...

Imus' late-70s exile to Cleveland wasn't because of an on-air transgression, but a format change! WNBC had been programmed by John Lund and the GM was Jack Thayer, who were the masterminds behind WGAR in the early 1970s. They put a similar format with lots of heavy personalities on WNBC. Then Thayer was promoted to president of NBC radio and WNBC's new GM decided to pin his hopes on Bob Pittman, the hotshot young programmer who switched WMAQ in Chicago to country with much success.

Pittman switched WNBC to a tight top-40 format with a very minimalist, low-key announcing style in an effort to knock off WABC. There was no room in the format for someone like Imus. Later, when the Pittman format tanked, Imus returned to New York.
As for Pittman, he would later move on to run MTV and AOL.

As for Imus' current controversy, I don’t think he’s really a racist and never did; the remarks he made sound more like some sort of dumb locker-room talk than anything more malicious in intent.

This all might have blown over if it hadn’t been for several related factors: 1. The words spoken by Imus and his sidekick, once divorced from the larger context of his show and their actual delivery, can take on a very different tone. Hearing “nappy-headed hos” from Imus’ own mouth isn’t the same as reading it set in type. 2. Even if his initial apologies might have been enough for some, nothing would ever be enough once such opportunists as Sharpton and Jackson piled on. 3. When Sharpton and Jackson start making noise, the distinguished politicians, authors, etc. realize they’d better steer clear of Imus for the sake of their own reputations, and advertisers also begin to take notice. 4. Once all that happens, there remains only one course of action for Imus’ employers.

I think there’s some risk inherent in trying to reconcile the persona of prestigious interviewer of prominent people with that of shock jock. You can’t do one successfully without compromising the other. I assumed Imus had more or less evolved out of the shock jock persona; even someone as incorrigible as Joey Reynolds appears to have done so in making a similar tranformation to interview host. It sounds as though Imus was walking a knife-edge, and it would be difficult enough for someone less volatile than Imus.

My problem with Imus’ remarks was that they weren’t funny, or witty, or anything else, at least not as they read on the printed page. Imus has always been politically incorrect and offensive, but in years past it was an integral part of a much more fully developed and realized act. I’ve got a tape of Imus from WHK in which he develops a story line over the course of his show that is as hilarious as it is outrageous, and includes some outlandishly racist jokes — so outlandish, in fact, that one could not possibly take him seriously. (A friend from Cleveland at the time told me that Imus had a lot of black listeners; they knew the difference between his style of irony and the real thing.) I still consider it one of the best pieces of radio I’ve ever heard.

But the offhand remarks about the Rutgers girls aren’t any of that. They come across as simply mindless and mean-spirited. Satire works best as originally intended, as a weapon of the powerless against the powerful. Imus is no longer a scrappy underdog shock jock; he’s a rich celebrity big shot, or at least that’s how he could be perceived, making gratutiously mean-spirited remarks about a bunch of young African-American girls. (Forget about the “hos” remark; in the photo on the front page of the New York Times earlier this week, the girls weren’t at all nappy-headed either!) I feel badly for them; what should have been their moment of triumph was hijacked, first by Imus and then by the media circus that amplified the situation and reduced them to mere props in the big noise of the news cycle.

Anonymous said...

The only racists in this whole thing are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton not Don Imus and frankly I am sick and tired of them always looking for something to blame white people for. Enough is enough. When will tell them to just go away!

Anonymous said...

The two previous posts have said it all as far as I'm concerned. Amen!