Radio personality, born John Donald Imus, on July 23, 1940, in Riverside, California, he was raised in California and in Prescott, Arizona, with younger brother Fred, where his father owned a cattle ranch. After a self-described “horrible adolescence” in which he changed schools frequently and his parents divorced when he was fifteen, he left high school, joined the Marine Corps, and the marine band.
After his discharge at the age of 19, Imus had unsuccessful stints as a window dresser, and as a rock ‘n’ roll musician with his brother. For a time, he was homeless, and found shelter in laundromats. In 1961, Imus hitchhiked to Arizona, where he worked in uranium and copper mines, made another attempt at a recording career, and worked as a brakeman for Southern Pacific Railroad. An injury sustained on the job earned him a cash settlement and a chance to play the music him and his brother loved, working as a disc jockey.
Imus got his start at a small radio station in Palmdale, California, in 1968. After establishing himself and his brand of witty, somewhat coarse and controversial, humor, he moved on to Cleveland. During an on-air gag in California, where he ordered 1,200 hamburgers from a fast-food restaurant, Imus earned the distinction of inspiring a new Federal Communications Commission ruling that demanded radio personalities to identify themselves when telephoning listeners. In Cleveland, his style earned legions of fans, and also critics who urged a boycott of his show.
In 1971, Imus made a big move to WNBC in New York City, where he started Imus in the Morning, and continued his brand of “insult humor.” No one was exempt from his ridicule, including the station’s management and his own sponsors. Though at the top of his game on-air, Imus battled addictions to alcohol and drugs, and became unreliable and difficult to work with. He was fired in 1977 for his conduct.
Imus made his first stab at recovery, returned to Cleveland to clean up his act, and was subsequently brought back to New York in 1979, only to return to his addictions. His morning show thrived nonetheless for a few years, but competition from FM stations threatened. Imus’ health continually declined and in 1987, he finally sought treatment.
In 1987, WFAN all-sports radio bought WNBC, but opted to retain Imus’ show upon his return from a treatment program. When the show initially dropped in the ratings, Imus decided to eliminate music from his show and go all-talk. With his penchant for frank and unpretentious social and political commentary, along with his usual gags and pranks, Imus earned new fans and once again became a hit.
Critics admired (and some were disgusted by) his ability to simultaneously “get away with” coarse and seemingly irreverent banter, and also attract respectable and serious politicians and other guests to appear on his show. Not only that, but, as one reviewer noted, he was able to elicit relaxed and uncommonly forthcoming answers from his otherwise guarded guests.
Imus’ cast of everyday characters includes news reporter Charles McCord, producer Bernard McGuirk, sports reporter Mike Breen, and his brother Fred, a frequent call-in guest commentator. His 1981 book God’s Other Son was re-issued in 1994 and his radio show was picked up for simulcast cable television’s MSNBC in 1996. Imus has also published a collection of photographs and commentary, Two Guys, Four Corners.
A biting and, some say, unacceptably insulting speech at the Radio-Television Correspondents Association dinner in Washington D.C. in 1996, earned Imus new fans and dissenters alike. He was particularly harsh on President Clinton and the First Lady, both of who were in attendance. Imus’ defense was that he refuses to be a hypocrite.
And Don Imus is still not one to hold back on and off the air. His habit of making cutting, off-the-cuff statements has landed him in hot water in many times, and he has even faced several lawsuits, including one in 2004 regarding his negative comments about a doctor.
But his derogatory remarks about the Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team members in 2007 may be the final straw for the veteran radio personality. He made a sexist and racist comment about the predominantly African American team.
A few days after the derogatory statement was broadcast, Don Imus told his listeners that he wanted “to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning regarding the Rutgers women’s basketball team. It was completely inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry.” He also appeared on the Reverend Al Sharpton’s syndicated radio program in another effort to apologize for his comment. But these efforts did not quiet the outrage over his remark in the African American community with such public figures as Barack Obama speaking out about the situation.
This outrageous outburst brought Imus’ radio career to a temporary end, after more than thirty years on the air. MSNBC announced on April 11 that it would no longer air a simulcast of his program on the cable news network. Initially CBS Radio suspended Imus for two weeks, but later decided to fire him.
On August 14, Imus reached a settlement with CBS over his multimillion-dollar contract. Terms were not disclosed, although it reportedly forbids him from speaking negatively about his former employer.
On the same day, Imus and CBS were sued for slander and defamation of character by Rutgers team member Kia Vaughn, claiming the radio personality’s sexist and racist comments about the team damaged her reputation.
Despite being in the middle of a media maelstrom, Don Imus moved forward with his commitment to charity work. He hosted the 18th annual WFAN Radiothon on April 12, 2007, but later that same day CBS Radio announced that it was going to fire Imus.
Imus returned to the airwaves December 3, 2007, eight months after it looked like a racist and sexist remark would end his broadcasting career. He called his remarks in April “reprehensible” and said the women were “innocent people” who didn’t deserve to be made fun of. He also vowed that his program would not change. Imus’ return, anticipated for months, outraged critics. But Citadel Broadcasting CEO Farid Suleman recently defended Imus, telling The New York Times: “He didn’t break the law. He’s more than paid the price for what he did.”
But during an on-air conversation June 23, 2008, Imus sparked another race debate when told about the arrests of suspended Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones. Imus asked, “What color is he?” When Imus was told that Jones is African-American, he responded, “There you go. Now we know.” The next day, Imus said that he was just trying to “make a sarcastic point”, but Jones said he was upset by the comments and that Imus “obviously” has problems with African-Americans.
Imus is now on Newstalk 1160 WCFO.