Imus needs to Swallow His Pride
A kind reader named Charles wrote a great response to my last Imus article. As I started to write a reply, I decided that his thoughts deserved much more than a snappy paragraph.
Until now, I have simply been reporting the news as it is reported on the A.P. wire, various news reports, my email and discussion boards. Where Imus will land is anybody’s guess at this point. Buckley Radio, like WABC-AM and Citadel, is just another educated guess. Conventional wisdom tells us that many radio operations executive are sitting and dreaming of a way to get Imus on board.
The reality of the situation is that Imus, all sides considered, is a ticking time bomb for many reasons. That is why Imus needs to swallow his pride and do whatever it takes to get back on the air.
Imus is a genuinely intelligent, witty, savvy and entertaining individual. He is undoubtedly one of the ten best interviewers on radio and television. He has an excellent way of getting right to the heart of the matter. Even if he loves you and calls you a friend, Imus will not shy away from the burning questions, nor will he let you get away with a contrived, rehearsed, “spin” answer..
Imus will be a major player in the upcoming presidential election. Audiences need Imus to get the candidates to bare their hearts and souls to the electorate (Empress Hillary aside). America needs Imus to help educate the voters and get them out to the polls.
Imus has been through a career crisis that further polarized radio audiences and opinions about his character. The activities of Rev. Al Sharpton and Media Matters for America have rallied the anti-Imus forces around charges of racial bias and bigotry. Only the most naïve radio listeners will fail to recognize that a stupid, bad joke was all that Hillary’s secret forces needed to unseat one of her most popular and outspoken critics.
The sad truth is that Imus has always walked the thin line between good taste and bad taste in his humor. Imus needs to understand that and deal with it. As a former radio personality by night/weekend and corporate flunky by daytime, I had to learn the lesson myself. I used to enjoy getting my program director at Oldies 97 (WCZX, Poughkeepsie) all riled up. My motto was that it was a bad show if “Rainman” didn’t call “the hot line” at least twice to yell at me while I was on the air (there was also the “usual” memo the next day). After a while, you accept the critique, you deal with it and move on by following the rules from the pezzonovante.
Another concern for Imus’ next employer is the intense scrutiny that Imus will have on himself and his station(s). Will Rev. Al, Ryan Chiachiere, MMFA and a host of other opportunists be looking for a reason to nail Imus again? Count on it. The Clinton campaign has too much at stake to allow the I-Man free rein on the airwaves.
Another issue that will affect negotiations is the salary Imus commands. Who will think that the risks of signing Imus are worth the potential gains? There are a limited number of entities that can afford Imus’ price tag, and their risk management teams are probably headed for the hills right now. Charles pointed out in his comment that Imus is worth tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue and syndication fees. It may, however, take advertisers a while to start lining up for the Imus band wagon as Rev. Al will use racial extortion and his usual hypocrisy to scare them away.
A final “ticking time bomb” in Imus’ satchel is his health (although it may be the least troublesome). Imus turned 67 in July. That would normally not be of much concern but his health history and admitted recovery from various drug addictions leave many question marks about his long-term radio future.
One thing that may work in Imus’ favor is the lawsuit filed by Rutgers’ Kia Vaughn a few hours after Imus reached a settlement on his contract with CBS Radio. In the eyes of many, including various minority communities, the lawsuit is earning Imus sympathy from some of his former detractors. Racially inflammatory comments continue to come from Sharpton who has already demanded that Imus pay off Kia and the other Black American women from Rutgers. On the other hand, writers like Bob Parks have expressed outrage at the bogus lawsuit.
As a result of all of these issues, Imus needs to recognize that his next chance is likely his last on commercial radio before satellite radio is the only option left. He also needs to understand that he has an obligation to America and his loyal listeners to get back on the air. He needs to put an end to the racially motivated hyperbole being generated by Rev. Al and Media Matters for America. He needs to revive his philanthropic efforts on behalf of children.
Salary should not and must not be an issue for Imus, a millionaire many times over. He can afford to accept a fair salary with incentives based on the number of markets that accept his syndicated show. There comes a time in everybody’s career when they have to give a little bit back or take a little less to do the right thing. In fairness, Imus has done a lot of charity work, but getting back on the air with lower earnings would be the least of all evils at this particular time.
There is nothing preventing Imus from starting his own syndication package with a satellite broadcast from the Imus Ranch. Imus could also institute a “jukebox” program like Scott Shannon’s True Oldies Channel, offering online streaming and local local advertising for affiliates. These are viable options but not as good as turning to an owner/operator with an existing network. Could CBS Radio and Imus make up and be partners again?
It is just my opinion but some radio executive is going to be a big hero and sign Imus before we are well into the Fall ratings season. Although Buckley is the last big name tossed out there, many other possibilities exist. For everybody’s sake, let’s just hope it is not Clear Channel or Cumulus (I worked for a Cumulus “cluster” … ugh!). Whatever happens, we should have an answer in weeks if not days.
The Real Truth About Imus August 27, 2007
Imus needs to Swallow His Pride