MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We have more about the limits of free speech in a free society. Eight months after he was fired for comments seen as racist and sexist about a group of college women basketball players, radio personality Don Imus is heading back to the airwaves. He'll be appearing on WABC New York from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily.
Phil Boyce, officially the program director at WABC and also vice president for news talk programming at Citadel Communications is one of them and behind the decision to bring Imus back. He joins us from the WABC studios.
Welcome. Thanks for joining us.
Mr. PHIL BOYCE (Program Director, WABC; Vice President, News Talk Programming, Citadel Communications): Hi, Michel. Thank you for inviting me.
MARTIN: Let's remind the listeners - just for the sake of clarity - what it is that Don Imus said back in April that got him fired. The other voice you'll hear is the sidekick Bernie McGuirk. Let's hear it.
(Soundbite of archived audio)
Mr. DON IMUS (Host, "Imus in the Morning"): Some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and…
MR. BERNARD McGUIRK (Co-host, "Imus in the Morning"): Some hard-core hos.
Mr. IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm going to…
MARTIN: So Mr. Boyce, would a reasonable person assume that you don't find that offensive?
Mr. BOYCE: No. I think I found it offensive. I think just about everybody found it offensive.
Mr. BOYCE: You know, we can't always guarantee that every host isn't occasionally going to offend. He didn't work for me when he made those statements so I'm not going to try to defend him.
MARTIN: Well, this isn't the first time, or that wasn't the first time, that Don Imus said something that many people considered racist. I mean, he and his sidekick said that Venus and Serena Williams, the tennis stars, for example, belonged in National Geographic. Bernie McGuirk called Hillary Clinton the B word on at least one occasion. Do you think that Don Imus has changed?
Mr. BOYCE: Well, I don't know if he's changed, but I think he's learned a lot from this experience. I think he's going to be smarter and more careful. I don't think he's going to repeat that kind of incident. I'm not too concerned about him getting that kind of trouble on WABC.
MARTIN: What is it that you find attractive about him as a radio personality?
Mr. BOYCE: Well, look, he's been a morning guy in New York City since, I think, 1970, so over 30 years, and he's an icon. He's an institution here in New York. He is extremely talented. He's very bright. He's - and he has this knack or this ability to get some really big-name guests and to kind of let them get their hair down. So he's one of the best interviewers I've ever heard. He knows his stuff and he does great radio.
And it's interesting because all these years, well, the last many years, he's been on a sports station doing an issue-oriented morning radio show that got pretty good ratings. I'm curious how he will do on a station like mine, which is issue-oriented all day long. And he will fit this station a little bit better than he fit that one, so the potential is he could do even better over here.
MARTIN: It's my understanding that the show he is replacing, which is hosted by former Guardian Angel Curtis Sliwa and the controversial high profile defense lawyer Ron Kuby, got higher ratings than Imus did when he was previously in New York in that timeslot. So, what is it that's attractive about him since the show you're taking off to put him on was doing better than he was?
Mr. BOYCE: Well, I created Curtis and Kuby. I put those two guys together about 10 years ago. We groomed them for probably four or five years before we gave them the morning show. I love that show. I thought it was one of the best shows in New York. They did beat Don Imus 12 plus. They were close to him in 2554, which, in radio terms, that's the money demo, that's what advertisers like. So Imus did a little bit better in that demographic. But I think this wasn't so much a rating's decision. We weren't unhappy with Curtis and Kuby. Really, the opportunity here is from an advertising side. Imus's advertisers are big, and we think that we could bring some of them over here.
MARTIN: Given that the advertisers leaving his show, abandoning his show, is one of the reasons he was fired. What makes you so sure of that?
Mr. BOYCE: Well, I don't know if that's true that his advertisers abandoned the show. I know that when the initial controversy occurred, a lot of advertisers said pull my spots for a while. CBS didn't really give him a chance to ride that out. They suspended him for two weeks and then several days into the suspension decided to pull the plug. So I don't think we ever really knew for sure what the long-term negative effect would have been. My feeling is a lot of those advertisers would have come back. He apologized 100 times for what he said. He was forgiven by the Rutgers basketball team. They didn't say that he should be fired. So I just think they would have been back, and I think we'll find out here in about a month.
MARTIN: What are you hearing so far?
Mr. BOYCE: So far, I'm hearing good things. Obviously, there's some good and there's some bad, but I think for the most part, a lot of people are excited to hear him back. I think he'll have a lot to say. He hasn't said anything publicly since this thing occurred. I think that first show on December 3rd here on WABC in New York will be huge. And I think everybody will be listening and want to know what this guy has to say and we just all have to listen.
MARTIN: Your boss, Citadel's CEO, Farid Suleman, said that he thought that Imus had been punished enough. But do you think that if he were talking about your daughter, that you'd think he'd been punished enough?
Mr. BOYCE: Yeah, I think so. I mean, look, I think everybody should follow the example of the Rutgers women's basketball team. If you want to set an example for young people, look what they did. Yeah, they gave him a grief for it. They - he went down, he met them. They told him personally one-on-one, face-to-face, that they were offended by what he said. He apologized. They accepted the apology and that should be the end of it. So if somebody said that to my daughter and he apologized to my daughter, I think my daughter would forgive him.
MARTIN: But that's not the only time. That's not the first thing he said that many people have found offensive over the years, but for some reason, that's the thing that the match that kind of lit the straw that set the whole thing on fire.
Mr. BOYCE: You know, I run a radio station here in New York, WABC, that has some of the biggest talk show hosts in America - Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Bob Grant. I cannot guarantee that if you listen to my station, you won't be offended. I can't guarantee that. I will guarantee this: you will have great radio, it'll be fun, it'll be entertaining, you'll learn something. But I can't - you know, there are certain people in America that are going to be offended about anything, so that can't be the standard - are you offended by something?
MARTIN: What should be the standard?
Mr. BOYCE: Well…
MARTIN: Where the people thought somebody has crossed the line or not?
Mr. BOYCE: You know, obviously, we don't tolerate racist comments. I think that's wrong and we pay a lot of attention to that here. I've been program director here for 12 years and we haven't crossed that line. However, I've also have to…
MARTIN: I'm sorry, but forgive me, who is the person who decides whether something is racist or not? And do you have any people of color involved in those decisions?
Mr. BOYCE: Well, I think - and specifically, in the case of Don Imus - I think, there may be a person of color on his staff. We're not sure about that, but that might be something that comes.
Mr. BOYCE: Well, I can't reveal that. You're just going to have to listen on December 3rd.
MARTIN: Oh, come on.
Mr. BOYCE: No, no, no, that's a secret.
MARTIN: Make some news.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BOYCE: Well, if we make news…
MARTIN: We're a news program. Come on.
Mr. BOYCE: …you're going to have to make it on my situation on December 3rd on WABC.
MARTIN: Okay. Some groups have asked for a meeting with Citadel to discuss this decision. I know that the National Association of Black Journalists' president asked for a meeting. I think Al Sharpton's asked for a meeting. Are you all going to meet with any of these groups who've expressed concern about Don Imus coming back?
Mr. BOYCE: I don't have anything scheduled. If those discussions are going on with the corporate office, I assume, at some point, I would be called in to be asked to participate in a meeting. I don't have any problem with meeting with certain people, but that should be a decision made by the corporate folks.
MARTIN: And finally, I wanted to ask you, some of the comments which many people found most offensive about Don Imus's show were sparked by his sidekick Bernie McGuirk. He was the person who called Hillary Clinton the B word. He was the person who started the whole nappy-headed-hos conversation. Is he going to be joining Don Imus at WABC? Is he going to be part of the team?
Mr. BOYCE: I'm not going to answer the question about Bernard McGuirk.
Mr. BOYCE: I'm not going to answer.
Mr. BOYCE: You're just going to have to wait till December 3rd.
MARTIN: Well, you're ready now that Charlie McCord is coming back.
Mr. BOYCE: Charles McCord will be back. I'm not announcing anybody else on that team. You'll have to wait and let Don announce that himself and I anticipate he will either before December 3rd or on December 3rd.
MARTIN: All right. Phil Boyce is vice president of news-talk programming at Citadel Communications. He's a programming director at WABC in New York. Thank you for speaking with us.
Mr. BOYCE: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: And perhaps you'll come back and see us in December and tell us how things are going.
Mr. BOYCE: Be happy to.
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