Don Imus Will Make a Comeback to Radio

Nine months after a racist, sexist remark threatened to end Don Imus' career, the shock jock is reportedly making a comeback. New York's WABC-AM annouced Thursday that Imus would return to its airwaves.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Don Imus will be back on the air in December. Only nine months ago, the shock jock lost his radio and TV gigs for making offensive remarks about the Rutgers Women's Basketball Team.

NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from New York. And David, first I want you to remind us how we got to this point with Don Imus.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, it was right after the Rutgers Scarlet Night women's basketball team had played in the NCAA Championship Tournament. And he and a few sidekicks were talking about their appearance. Referred to them in terms that many felt were very racially and sexually demeaning, essentially suggesting they were prostitutes. There was real outrage that these young athletes were sort of verbally assaulted, seen as less public figures, perhaps, than some of his other targets. And there's a real firestorm that ensued CBS Radio and MSNBC to pull them off the air ultimately.

SIEGEL: Now, he's coming back in December. How big a splash is he likely to make on the air?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the initial announcement involves Citadel Broadcasting's biggest stick, WABC here in New York. But Citadel Broadcasting reaches 50 of the largest markets in the country, and also has, you know, syndicates and distributes its shows to thousands of stations across the country. You know, the guess is certainly that it'll be on more than just WABC, and that, in fact, it will be a syndicated show in many key markets across the country.

SIEGEL: Are media watchers surprised that Don Imus is getting back on the air?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, as I said, it was a firestorm at the time. You know, Imus himself was a guy who feeds on controversy and, you know, you want to skip right up to that line, he clearly somehow seemed to go over this invisible line, and has been, you know, off the air since the spring. And at the time, controversy in some ways fuels notoriety, and that's a currency that's welcomed by a lot of shock jocks.

So, in a sense, the thought was this is a guy who's done very well on radio. He's been able to have a signature show that both goes into the more salacious areas and at the same time, often has very intelligent discourse on books, on novels, even on the political arena. And people have, I think, missed a little bit having that on the air.

SIEGEL: Well, a big question for him and for the stations that carry his shows - are the sponsors going to return? Will they be enthusiastic about him throughout the controversy?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he's always attracted an affluent demographic, not the huge audiences of a Howard Stern, but because he had major figures, writers, politicians, you know, he had an upscaled audience that were willing to spend some money. That's always been appealing for sponsors.

SIEGEL: And African-American reaction to today's news?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the Reverend Al Sharpton who led protests earlier this year against Imus has demanded a meeting, asking Citadel Broadcasting's executives to explain what limits there will be on Imus' show. The NABJ, which is the National Association of Black Journalists, had been very disturbed and very strong against Imus at that time. (Unintelligible) said that they'll take a wait-and-see attitude. And I touched based with the spokeswoman for the Rutgers women's basketball team. She says the team wants to focus on basketball and is now asking to be left alone.

SIEGEL: Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's David Folkenflik in New York.

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