by James Watkins
Long before the iPhone, there was the iMan. Don Imus wasn’t a shock jock. I hate that term. Truth and honesty isn’t shocking, it’s just that honest talking is abnormal in the radio industry. We are taught to be “announcers,” or at least it has become that way. Imus broke the mold because he was, in many ways, beholden to no one and it freed him to entertain and be thought-provoking at the same time. These are the two sides of Don Imus. He could be childish, and childlike inquisitive, and he loved to find peoples’ soft spot, because that is where people become real, like Don Imus.
Imus and Stern represent a form of talk radio that took root in the 80’s. It was talk radio that was hilariously funny and also deeply personal. CBS tried to replicate a Free FM, but it ended up being T&A Talk, which flopped miserably (accept for giving Adam Corolla a spectacular future). It is only 9/11 that made Talk Radio into a political party.
I lost my morning gig to Imus in 1995. But I was instantly hooked on his show, even as I had gone from being the morning co-host to the board op and news guy for the syndicated show on my station. Imus got me into talk radio and I have stayed there for 25 years.
Imus also taught me that to be good, you have to get work your craft. I was on his show one time (early in my career) and he ripped me, like he used to do with so many people. His sense of timing was incredible and he knew how to work his team. The laughter was real – both in studio and in my car.
Don didn’t like bullshit, he was an early force against political correctness, and what happened to him with MSNBC was a tragedy. He really was one of the first to fall to the PC crowd. The ‘nappy-headed ho’ comment wasn’t even his, it was Bernie’s, and it wasn’t even Bernie (McGuirk), it was a character of Bernie’s. Much worse and more offensive things had been said on Imus in the Morning, but this was supposedly racist when SJW needed to bring someone down. Imus never really recovered. The times were-a-changin.
After losing his gig on MSNBC (which opened the door for him to go to the much better network Fox Business Channel, now home to Maria Bartiromo, and one-time side kick Dagen McDowell), Imus became less offensive and more guarded, and it showed. His crew, while talented, was modified to become inclusive, and the political correctness killed the tenor and tone of the show. When Charles McCord left, Imus lost his right arm. Chuck and Imus had that rare kind of chemistry that comes with life experience, and it showed.
I watched Imus for five years on MSNBC and on Fox. I listened to his show on the radio and he never bored me. I give him credit for shaping my political opinion. There are few people who can interview a politician today with the same finesse and objectivity.
We were left with Morning Joe on MSNBC and Syd and Bernie, both one-time primary players on the Imus in the Morning program, taking over WABC.
It’s also worth mentioning that, like Johnny Carson, many people got their careers kicked up a notch by becoming regulars on Don’s show, which says something about the impact of show and its host. Among them, Laura Ingraham, Mike Barnicle, Dagen McDowell, Bill Giest, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Amy Robach, David Gregory, Contessa Brewer, Tucker Carlson, Bo Dietl, Maureen Dowd, Delbert McClinton, and so many, many others.
There is much more that can be said, and much of already has been said, but from a guy who was just starting his career, my two biggest influences were Imus and Rush, possible Stern if I had to pick three career influences. I would have liked to have his take on Trump. Now that would be interesting.
Simply put, funny is what you are born with, and these days, radio could sure use alot more funny.