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.