Don Imus overcame a major obstacle Tuesday in his widely expected comeback bid, reaching a settlement with his former employer that allows him to return to the airwaves at a new station four months after he made a sexist and racist remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.
Imus and CBS Radio agreed to a settlement that pre-empts the fired radio personality’s threatened $120 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS, the company and Imus’ attorney said in a statement Tuesday.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Just before his dismissal, Imus signed a five-year, $40 million contract with CBS.
The announcement essentially makes Imus a free agent, and broadcast industry experts say he will be back on the air soon enough.
“I’ve been comparing this to a divorce, now both parties are able to move on,” said Tom Taylor of radio-info.com, a sounding board for news and information about the radio industry.
Where Imus might land next is still up in the air.
WABC denes anonymous reportA person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that Imus has had informal talks with several broadcasters, including WABC in New York, about a possible comeback. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks, and it is unclear how serious the discussions were — given the fact that Imus’ CBS contract was still under dispute.
“I’ve had no conversation with Mr. Imus and no one at Citadel or ABC has had any negotiation with him,” said Steve Borneman, general manager of WABC radio. WABC radio is owned by Citadel Broadcasting Corp., which owns more than 140 radio stations as well as ABC Radio Networks.
The person familiar with the situation said the deal with CBS also calls for a “non-disparaging” agreement that forbids the parties from speaking negatively about each other.
One radio hire that did become clear Tuesday was the naming of Imus’ replacement on WFAN, the CBS-owned New York radio station that was Imus’ flagship.
Former National Football League quarterback Boomer Esiason will take over the morning time slot along with New Jersey radio personality Craig Carton, who has been known to push the boundaries of taste during his broadcast career. Carton and his co-host at times offended minorities and women, once nearly coming to blows with former Gov. Richard Codey in 2005 over comments about the widely publicized battle with postpartum depression by the governor’s wife.
Esiason has built a long broadcasting resume since retiring from football a decade ago, including stints on “Monday Night Football” and CBS’ NFL pregame show.
Broadcast executives have short memoriesThe fact that Imus is taking steps toward a comeback might have seemed unthinkable at the height of the uproar caused by his comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. He referred to the team as “nappy-headed hos” on his nationally syndicated radio program, becoming the target of heated protests led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
But industry experts say broadcast executives can have a very short memory if it means boosting ratings — something Imus can still deliver.
“He’s more valuable now than before the controversy. He was such a focus of media attention for so long that his career has been reinvigorated, and he’s in a position to sort of reinvent himself — to make himself more pertinent and even more interesting,” said Michael Harrison, founder of the trade publication Talkers magazine.
Sharpton issued a statement Tuesday saying the settlement is a “a legal matter between a former employer and employee.”
But he added that it is “also a testimony to the movement of people that raised their voices to fire Imus that CBS would rather pay him off than keep him on. ... To the rumors that Imus may resurface, wherever he resurfaces we at National Action Network and other groups will be watching and monitoring him.”
Kim Gandy, head of the National Organization of Women, said it was disappointing to hear Imus may be making a return to radio.
“After the heartache he caused untold thousands of young women, I find it disheartening that he would have another platform so soon on the public airways,” Gandy said.
As for Carton — one of Imus’ replacements — New Jersey Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo said that the radio personality is “a guy who’s managed to insult almost every community around.”
“You would have thought that after the Rutgers incident that a lesson would have been learned. But I guess they figured that this guy would get some ratings for them,” he said.
Codey told the AP on Tuesday that he has put the episode involving his wife behind him and that he has since been a call-in guest to Carton’s show to discuss sports.
Whatever Imus decides to do next, everyone is in agreement that he better be careful.
“All eyes will be on Imus, so he’ll have to watch his back, Taylor said.