The Industry Responds To The Death of Imus

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Don Imus, best known for his daily radio show, “Imus in the Morning,” which launched on WNBC-FM in 1971, died last week at the age of 79. Since his passing we’ve heard from many people who worked with Imus throughout his very successful 50-year radio run. Here’s what they had to say.

Imus’ show eventually moved to WFAN, and had been simulcast by MSNBC since 1996. He started in radio at KUTY in Palmdale, CA in 1968. He retired from radio less than two years ago.

Joel Hollander worked with Imus for 12 years at WFAN and 10 as CEO of Westwood One and CBS Radio. “He was an Icon in its truest sense. Helped many people professionally and untold stories of people who needed help across the country for so many causes. It was Stern and Imus and everyone else was on another planet. Hard to find that type of talent today.”

Mark Chernoff: “I worked with Imus for 14 years and got to see all sides of him…the good and not so good. What was most amazing about him was the loyalty of his listeners who always came through when we held our annual Radiothons. He raised over 40 million dollars for the Tomorrows Children’s Fund for Kids with Cancer, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer. He could at times be ratings challenged but never advertiser challenged. Not everyone loved his style and he could be surrounded by controversy but his sponsors were always loyal and Imus could sure sell product. I will miss him very much.”

John Lund: Imus is America’s original Shock Jock. I was a young Program Director from Portland, Oregon, and first met Imus in Sacramento when he applied for our morning show position. His letter to me read, “Mr. Lund, I am the best “f—ing” disc jockey you will ever hire”. He was right. Together we worked on his unique comedy style and persona which we later brought to Cleveland and then New York. I was both program director and collaborator. The “Imus in the Morning” brand made fun of topical issues – current events, religion, the media, and politics. He framed his often biting remarks in parodies and comedy routines, and many were voiced by his characters. Don was a master storyteller, borrowing material and sketches from other stand-up comics, including Mort Sahl and George Carlin, always shared with an attitude.

Imus’ comedy skits were new to radio. Reverend Billy Sol Hargis (LISTEN) (LISTEN) from “the First Church of Gooey Death and Discount House of Worship” made fun of fundamental religion with a daily sermon. His outrageous phone calls included “1200 Hamburgers to Go” which we creatively scripted and executed (My voice is the McDonalds’ store manager). After Cleveland, Imus went to WNBC in New York and continued to irritate some and entertain many. Imus brought attention, ratings and ad revenue to “66 W-NNNN-B-C!” As Program Manager we focused on fresh content to make his show a “must listen daily” event. We promoted him with the ad campaign, “Did you hear what Imus said today?”

Don was an equal opportunity offender but always with humor. He was fast to pick up on trends, the concerns of his audience, and then he made light of it. He became a voice for the average Joe. His charitable involvement started with fundraising marathons at WGAR in Cleveland, and in New York they were immense; his contributions were greater than any radio performer in history.

Before working at WFAN and cable TV as a master interviewer and talk show host, Don pushed the envelope with comedy. While Imus’ trade was satire, he connected with his listeners. I rarely had to remind him to “talk into the mic as if you are talking to one person.” He was a master of this radio formatic.

Walter Sabo was at WNBC his first few years. ““He was the first to break the candor barriers. He was the first to attack hosts on other stations. The first to attack management. The first to parody everything. He made management work very hard to defend and protect him and his GM, Perry Bascom and his PD Pat Whitley then John Lund did their job.”

Here’s the statement from his family: “Don loved and adored Deirdre, who unconditionally loved him back, loved spending his time watching Wyatt become a highly skilled, champion rodeo rider and calf roper and loved and supported Zachary, who first met the Imus family at age 10 when he participated in the Imus Ranch program for kids with cancer, having battled and overcome leukemia, eventually becoming a member of the Imus family and Don and Deirdre’s second son.”

Imus was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasting’s Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.

The family will be holding a small, private funeral.

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. A great talent. Complicated yet simple man

    He was so supportive and caring for his brother Fred.

    He was able to manage his addiction, have a wonderful family and do some good in a significant way

    RIP Don. Say hi to Fred. Thanks for the entertainment over the years

    Best

    Larry Schillings

  2. What a wild ride. I first found the I-,Man in 2007 and had never heard anything like him. Incredibly smart, faster on his feet than anyone in the room. One time he followed an interview with this:. “it does not…get any better…than this”. Wow!! Miss you Don.

  3. I can’t believe you guys did not talk to Joey Reynolds or Big Jay Sorensen. Both of these guys knew Imus better than nearly anyone in our business, or maybe Dale Parsons from 66 WNBC. Instead the same people get quoted over and over, just like when we go to the conventions and see the same people on the same panels repeatedly. Radio‘s biggest problem is staying fresh and relevant and not getting stale. 2020 is the 100th birthday of Radio let’s make it a celebration instead of a funeral.

    Radio’s Best Friend

  4. The late Jack Thayer should be included in any conversation about Don Imus. He’s the one who brought Imus to Cleveland and again to New York. It was Thayer who worked hard to get/keep Imus sober and he had Imus’s back when virtually nobody else did.

  5. You won’t be surprised to learn that about a million stories stem from my relatively short “association” with the I-Man. From serving as guest sportscaster to recurring interview subject (“target”) to panelist helping determine who succeeded Mike Breen as the regular sportscaster, appearing on “Imus in the Morning” was a thrill, a scare, and good fun…all rolled into one!
    As a broadcaster-turned-congressman, I saw first-hand the allegiance of Imus listeners. Once upon a time, I was asked to speak at a national convention of CEO’s in my district. I thought the questions would center on tax policy. WRONG! Instead, I was peppered with questions about the I-Man–what was he REALLY like? What was it like to appear on his show? Was the comedy off-the-cuff or scripted?
    Despite the “lifetime ban” he imposed on me in the Fall of 2006 (as a “frontrunner,” he must have seen or sensed my polling difficulties for the upcoming midterm election), I enjoyed the show and the I-Man…even when he came after me! Rest in Peace, John Donald Imus.

  6. God Bless Don Imus. I was a 15 year old in Cleveland, Ohio and listening to the Radio every night as I fell asleep with my AM Radio underneath the pillow turned down so I could at least hear it without my Mom telling me to turn it off.

    I was hooked on Radio and had practiced at home.Then went to the new WGAR 1220 Radio station to their new Brookpark studios. When I arrived I asked to see the Program Drector to inquire about a job for a Radio position. When I asked that I wanted to apply, I was directed to the General Manager who was in their brand-new studios being constructed. His name was John (or Jack) Thayer. Also with him at the moment was Don Imus. Don was complaining about the setup of the new studio. He said it wasn’t the right setup for what he was going to do. John (or Jack) was wearing a white shirt with a tie and sport coat). Don had a shirt and tie on. Back then, I wished I had a camera to take photos but when you’re 15 years old and hungry to get on the Radio never thought of it.

    I will celebrate 50 years in Radio come this June 1, 2020. He was one of my Cleveland, Ohio mentors.

    Presently working with the legendary Jerry Rogers (of the also legendary Top 40 AM Radio station, WSGA 1400 and sole owner) at WRHQ-FM, Quality Rock, Q105.3, Savannah, GA.

  7. I turned on my radio in 1968 in Cleveland, Ohio, and heard this guy on 1220 WGAR-AM and was hooked on him. He was fantantic! I lovev “Imus In The Morning”. A year later I was in radio (and spent the last 50 years in it). I ended up in Pittsburgh as sales manager of WPEZ-FM (an 18 year old Bob Pittman was the PD) and when I traveled to New York on national sales I asked what ever to Don Imus. Somebody at the rep firm said he at WNBC. I listened to him everytime I came to New York. He was on a local station in Little Rock and they brought him to town. I was in the front row and the hotel ballroom was packed. God Bless You “I-Man”! You are the last of the great ones!.
    Gordon Heiges
    Little Rock, Arkansas

  8. Goodbye dear, wild Don Imus. Thank you for the countless laughs, for your unpretentious intelligence, for the hours you spent with us, and for the many ways you ‘gave back’ to society. You will be missed.

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