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Imus Audience Slips in New York. But He Still Packs a Punch

Posted by: David Kiley on April 26, 2005

On April 8, former General Electric chairman Jack Welch and his wife, Suzy, sat for a 15-minute interview with morning talk-radio host Don Imus about the couple’s new book, “Winning.” For weeks before, Imus and his cast frequently teased Welch and the former Suzy Wetlaufer, spinning ribald innuendo about the day the two met at Manhattan’s 21 Club, a lunch date that sparked a romance that led to Welch’s divorce. Bawdy characterizations of Suzy Welch continued even that day, just before the interview and after. “Suzy has been around more times than a fan-belt,” Imus repeatedly joked. Asked why they did the interview anyway, Welch told me simply, “We have a book to sell and Imus is great for selling books.”

It’s more than books Jack. Welch, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, Senators John McCain, Chris Dodd, Richard Santorum, and so on, seem remarkably, at times, willing to be part of the Imus gang on every morning from 6AM to 10AM on radio in 50 major markets, plus the MSNBC simulcast. The recent Arbitron ratings, if you find them reliable (and many don’t) show Imus listeners were down 25% in the first quarter. But up in others.

Book sellers, Senators, Congressmen, media personalities and even clergy are always after the same audience as Imus’s advertisers: affluent, educated and influential men, many of whom not only buy books, but count as swing voters. Imus’s show, while politically charged, skews neither right nor left, which makes it a refreshing switch from the wing-nut harangue of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or the Air America Crew. “I don’t know anyone in Washington who doesn’t listen to Imus or watch him on TV,” says CBS News and Face The Nation anchor Bob Schieffer, a frequent guest, who politely admitted to me the show has become a more valued outlet for many DC elite than either of his programs. “I get more feedback off my spots on Imus than from my own shows,” laughs Schieffer.

Imus has been at war with The Wall Street Journal for several weeks since a page-one story ran spotlighting an inquiry into his ranch for afflicted children by New York State Attorney General Elliott Spitzer. The inquiry was dropped the day the WSJ was closing its story. And Imus feels the paper owes him an apology for making him look like a crook, suggesting he and his wife use the ranch for personal business without proper reimbursement to the charity. He’s hired attorney to the rich and powerful David Boies to negotiate with the paper. Boies told me he doesn’t expect a retraction, but he is looking for more of a public concession than the paper’s next-day small item reporting that Spitzer dropped the probe.

Imus’s influence is transcending the size of his audience. Imus In The Morning, reaches about 3.25 million radio listeners a week, according to industry trade journal Talkers Magazine (plus another 335,000 an hour on TV). His radio audience is about a quarter of Limbaugh's weekly following and less than half of Stern's. But blue-chip and family-oriented advertisers like Chrysler, Bigelow Tea and The New York Stock Exchange are prepared to pay top dollar to flog their brands on Imus; his show commands advertising rates of $1,333-$1,500 per thousand listeners versus about $1,000 for Limbaugh and Stern, according to industry sources.

Imus and crew get away with truly ribald characterizations of public people. Besides Suzy Welch’s rough treatment, Senator Barbara Boxer is a “skank,” Ouch. Hillary Clinton, decribed as “Satan” on the show, gets better treatment from Hannity than Imus. At least Hannity keeps it cleaner. And poor Anderson Cooper of CNN has been getting it at both ends from the Imus crew. Somehow the presence of solid, serious citizens like NBC’s Tim Russert and David Gregory, not to mention McCain, Rabbi Mark Gellman and Catholic priest Father Tom Hartman (the God Squad) cleanses the show of political incorrectness. Still, even Republican strategist Mary Matalin says the characterizations of women on the show can be “icky.” But says he gets away with it. “Because while he can say horrific things about women, he’s sappily devoted to his wife,” she says.

And how does Imus himself explain his brand, and outsized appeal among serious people despite his drift to adolescent name calling of his guests before and after they appear on his show. "I don't know,” he says. “It’s just a cheap, uninspired, cheap way to be funny.” And, it seems, bullet-proof.

Reader Comments

sean elliot

April 27, 2005 10:36 PM

I am a devoted IMUS listener/watcher. Unfortunately work gets in the way of enjoying this program in canada(unable to reach it up here) Does anyone know of a internet link or any ways that your neighbours up here can enjoy this great show and at the same time pay our rent?


May 12, 2005 3:11 AM

He sounds like a Republican whore, to use his sort of language.

rosemary matter

June 15, 2005 6:34 PM

Don Imus is the biggest hater of women in general
I have ever heard on a major network.

His attacks on various women, both those that work for MSNBC and espically Katie Couric, would mean dismissal on any network that had any sense of decency. Dad that MSNBC is not one of these.

And if you think he can be forgiven for because "He so adores his wife" is a load of manure.


September 18, 2005 7:11 PM

Imus has been recycling the same stuff in New Youk City since 1970. He has been pronounced dead more times than anyone I have ever heard of. Hes still going and going. Whens he gonna die already???

Rick from Bryceville

October 20, 2005 2:23 PM

Imus is a brilliant interviewer with tons of tongue in cheek sarcasm which sometimes is funny & sometimes not. I Tivo his show while I ride my bike so as not to miss his probing interviews. Life's too short for all the negative remarks that just show how insecure many people are. I want the truth in Politics & he gets real close to it. It beats most of the puffy diatribe that airs on most morning shows! Pary on Don, Chuck & Bernie!

barbara brown

November 15, 2005 8:13 AM

When Andrea Mitchell next appears on television in a question format (i.e. Imus in the Morning) please ask her about the $10,000 she received from the Carlyle Group. I saw it in the newspaper presented on her husband's tax info.

Aaron Hendricks

October 16, 2006 8:25 AM

You get him streaming on live and he is still great. He is the best. I love Imus. He gives a great insight on things and how they need to be. It is reality. People can be affraid of the truth. I would rather watch his show calling names and carrying on, while doing his job, than watching farting crack addicts on Sterns show

Sharon Syson

November 17, 2006 1:28 PM

Our entire family enjoys your morning show, I even have my 80 yr. old mother-in-law watching.
I think you would enjoy listening to the 'Bombshell Stomp' by the group Bombshel.
It's country, it's redneck, it's funny!

Thank you for our morning entertainment!

john collins

December 15, 2006 2:57 PM

How many times has Imus been married and how many children does he have? What are the ages of the children?

Leonard Weiner

February 19, 2007 9:54 AM

Do you have an enail address to reach the Imust broadcast
I have written an article on the Toxic Employee we might have some fund with!!!
Dr. W.

Elaine Gail

April 9, 2007 10:38 AM

Imus apologized for his inane comments and more than once. I'll take him over Sharpton everday of the week. Imus shouldn't lower himself by going on Shapton's program.

J L Wall

April 10, 2007 4:24 PM

I am a 62 year old white female and have rarely felt such anger and disgust as I have felt this week toward Don Imus and his ilk. He must go . He must be held accountable for his atrocious behavior. There is no excuse – there is no forgiveness. Get rid of him.

Judy Kay Wall

Norman, OK


April 10, 2007 9:27 PM

We can joke about everything except Afro-Americans and Muslims Why is that? O right, they have suffered more than everyone else. Come on guys, loosen up


April 11, 2007 10:51 AM

Imus is to the Left of Michael Moore but he should not bow down to someone out to distroy him like Mr. Sharpton is intent on doing. He may rant he doesn't need the job but his false ego says he does.


April 11, 2007 9:05 PM

I think Don Imus says alot of outrageous things, but he like Sharpton and all his extortionist bunch has his right to freedon of speech.

Golden Domer

April 12, 2007 1:05 AM

You cannot joke about minorities or speak hate against any group because it is against the laws. White men will always get into more trouble because they are the majority and have the most power in this country to they will loose more because they have more to loose. Being that they are the majority they also have the power to oppress as we still see in today's America. You must have the numbers an power to oppress. No other population can be accused of oppressing because the number and power just does not exist amongst other groups. People in power or in position of influence should know that jokes are not just jokes anymore. You said it now take the beating like a man, don't cry and don't make excuses.



April 15, 2007 5:02 PM

I am a fan of Don Imus!It is a shame the way the media has done him. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are not worthy to breathe the same air as Imus. I am eagerly awaiting his next show!


April 15, 2007 8:51 PM

Hey Domer,

Just what section of the penal code deals with jokes? I must have missed that one.


The Realist

April 16, 2007 1:29 PM

Let's be serious, no matter what this orginal column states Imus had no audience. He was No. 18 in New York when he got the bounce. He made money for CBS and MSNBC because the only people that listened to him were Beltway Boys who are so myopic about what's going on in Washington that they know nothing about the average audience. He didn't play in the heartland, in the South or in the west! The only reason the comments he made got play was because of YouTube!!! Otherwise, nobody would have known about it because nobody listens to that dinosaur! Face it, the reason he lost is jobs is because Joe Q. Public saw and listened to his remarks on YouTube. Otherwise, he'd still be a nobody doing no talent bits for old men in Washington. Giving him this much attention only gives a forum to somebody with nothing to say except the word "ho's"!!! He just received his biggest audience since the scandal!


January 7, 2008 7:57 PM

I used to listen to WABC morning, but Imus I cannot take. I do not care that he insults everybody. That does not bother me in a liitle bit. It is the red neck act that only dopes with I.Q of 43 and lower can find entertaining.


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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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