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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Imus

I hate to go negative so early in the new year, but the great Paul Stueber once told me "You have to go where the news takes you."

Don Imus died December 27.

He started as a radio shock jock and he transitioned in to a talk show host, with politics a specialty.  when Imus was hot, a visit or a call to his show was a "must" for every politician or author.

I respect the big numbers he pulled in the glory years of 66 WNBC.  I respect how addiction got him down and he got back up.  I respect how Imus managed to reinvent himself in a talk driven radio universe.  I respect the man's considerable charity work.

On the other hand, I saw Imus in action.  Our local public station had a magazine show for a while, and I was allowed to tag along while the WVIA crew interviewed Imus in his Queens studio.  I watched a bitter, angry old man who berated his staff and was less than friendly to visitors.  I shook his frail hand, exchanged a few pleasantries, and bolted for the lobby while the WVIA crew did the interview.  Don Imus wasn't pleasant to be around.  I smelled that quick and took off.  He yelled at his staff in front of strangers, embarrassing them.  The staffers shrugged it off as Imus being Imus.  I don't care.  There was no excuse.  By the way, the interview was entirely forgettable.  Not one interesting thing came out of the I man's mouth.  No new ground broken.  Every word seemed like a major effort.  It was clear he wanted no part of it.

And then, there was the morning Imus was supposed to broadcast live from Scranton.  He was angry the desk clerk actually obeyed an order by not putting calls through to his room.  Imus bolted back to New York, stiffing the radio station that brought him here, and his fans.  There are many words to describe his behavior, but childish and unprofessional really jump out at me.

Most people believed Imus was a great interviewer.  After watching him work, and listening hard, I just got the feeling he was reading questions prepared by his staff.

I've read and heard several interviews with friends and co-workers after Imus' passing.  He apparently treated those in his inner circle well.  That's wonderful.  I have to ask the question.  Why wasn't Imus kind to everyone?

Imus got knocked down a few pegs after a racist comment about a womens' college basketball team.  I won't repeat it here.  It wasn't funny.  I'll paraphrase sportswriter Dick Young, after the Howard Cosell racism controversy.  Young said Cosell wasn't a racist.  He was stupid.  When it came to the basketball team comment, Imus was stupid.  No defense.

The Imus in the Morning show was syndicated for several years, carried on radio stations around the country.  As I have said here before, one clear sign of a station in distress is when it picks up Imus.  he never pulled big numbers.  Imus proponents say he brought in an affluent audience, and radio stations could charge big money for commercials.  Meh.  Imus was on loser stations around the country.  there were exceptions, but most were weak signaled AM stations in tiny towns.

Imus spent his final years on WABC, a once great radio station that seems to plunge to record lows with every new ratings book.  There was a simulcast on a couple of different cable networks over the years, rendering the show even more unlistenable.  Listening to a TV show on the radio just doesn't work.

Imus is considered one of the greats, and I sort of get that.  His early years broke ground, one of the first shock jocks.  Unfortunately, he was a guy who stayed too long and didn't know when to keep his mouth shut.