Back on the radio? Or off to retirement?
Answers about the future were hard to come by Friday, when 66-year-old radio legend Don Imus spent his first day of unemployment after nearly 40 years in silence — a change from his repeated apologies and media appearances of the past week. The biggest question was whether he would try rehabilitating his image or simply slip into obscurity.
Both options hold certain appeals for the I-Man, who was fired for a racist and sexist remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team and took just eight days to morph from “Imus In the Morning” into “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder. The Greek never landed another job after his 1988 firing as a CBS football analyst for racially tinged remarks.
Before either happens, Imus will sit down with officials from CBS Radio to work out the financial details surrounding his abrupt dismissal. Imus recently negotiated a new five-year CBS contract that reportedly paid him $10 million a year. (Imus had no contract with cable network MSNBC — a unit of NBC Universal, owned by General Electric Co. — which simulcast his show in a licensing deal with CBS.)
“I see many people in suits with briefcases haggling over Imus’ contracts,” said Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication Inside Radio. “I see a lot of that. There’s a lot of money on the table in this thing, and a lot of issues.”
Once they’re settled, Imus presumably could try to restart his career on radio — either satellite or terrestrial — or perhaps on television.
A new gig would provide Imus with another opportunity for his career to rise phoenixlike as it has in the past — surviving and thriving despite firings, drug and alcohol woes, on-air controversies and a raunchy 1996 Washington appearance in which he questioned President Clinton’s sexual fidelity — with the first lady in attendance.
“I don’t believe for a second that you won’t hear from him again,” said fellow WFAN-AM host Mike Francesa, a die-hard Imus backer, on his Friday afternoon program.
Or retirement beckons, perhaps with a multimillion-dollar golden parachute floated by CBS. Imus could spend more time with 8-year-old son Wyatt at either his $30 million beachfront home in Connecticut or his penthouse apartment with its 1,400-square-foot terrace on Central Park West.
He could also devote more time to his philanthropic pursuits, taking care of terminally ill children at his New Mexico ranch. His last radio appearance Thursday was to raise money for three charities; over the past 18 years, the Imus-hosted Radiothon raised more than $40 million.
CBS Radio spokeswoman Karen Mateo declined to comment on any aspects of Imus’ contract. She also refused to discuss the fate of other regulars on the canceled program, including producer Bernard McGuirk and longtime Imus friend and sidekick Charles McCord.
It was McGuirk who spoke with Imus during the 10-second, relentlessly regurgitated sound bite that came back to bite them both. McGuirk first used the word “hos” to describe the Rutgers players, with Imus then calling the 10-woman team “nappy-headed hos.”
McCord co-hosted Friday morning’s program, the first without Imus, with the fired DJ’s wife, Deirdre. She discussed her husband’s Thursday night meeting with the basketball team; coach C. Vivian Stringer said Friday her players had accepted Imus’ apology.
Filling Imus’ slot Monday morning will be Francesa and longtime partner Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Mateo said. The successful afternoon drive-time pair, New York’s top sports radio duo, will perform double-duty for the next two weeks until a permanent plan is in place, she said.
Westwood One (managed and partly owned by CBS Corp.), which syndicated the Imus show, did not return a call about replacement programming on the 60 other stations that carried the program. Comic Dennis Miller, who started a syndicated show in January, was mentioned as one candidate.
Speculation about Imus immediately centered on satellite radio. Howard Stern, the I-Man’s broadcasting bete noire, found freedom and a fortune by moving to Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. And shock jocks Opie and Anthony, booted from terrestrial radio in 2002, returned to XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. two years later — and now do morning shows on both satellite and FM radio.
But XM spokesman Nathaniel Brown said Friday that “we have no plans” to bring Imus aboard. Attempts to reach Sirius for comment were not answered Friday, although the Sirius talk centers on Imus’ tight relationship with company CEO Mel Karmazin.
“I wouldn’t doubt that Mel and Imus have lunch somewhere. I’m sure they’ve been on the phone or will be,” said Taylor. “But Mel is in the middle of frying bigger fish.”
Karmazin and Sirius are trying to merge with XM, creating one satellite radio company. Although the Federal Communications Commission does not regulate satellite content, any merger would require its approval because the FCC had previously barred a single company from controlling both satellite radio licenses.