Radio host Don Imus has reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with CBS and is in talks to return to radio, possibly at New York’s WABC-AM, which airs conservative talkers Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
Settlement averts a threatened $120 million lawsuit and sets the stage for the resumption of Imus’ broadcasting career, derailed in April when he referred to the Rutgers U. women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”
CBS dismissed Imus in the wake of the comments and amid a broad advertiser revolt against the show, which aired on CBS’ WFAN-FM and was simulcast on MSNBC as “Imus in the Morning.”
Terms were not disclosed, but sources characterized the settlement as a fraction of Imus’ $40 million annual salary. Imus had reupped with CBS in a five-year contract just before the incident.
Imus’ departure caused scrambles at both CBS’ WFAN-FM and on MSNBC to fill three hours of morning programming. Morning drive is considered primetime to radio advertisers, and his show’s simulcast had been beating CNN in the ratings when it was canceled by MSNBC.
In addition to the settlement, CBS announced Tuesday that WFAN had named former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason and broadcaster Craig Carlton as permanent replacements for Imus.
By naming Esiason and Carlton, WFAN turns to an all-sports format and severs its relationship with MSNBC, which had been in talks with the station to simulcast its new ayem show with former Florida congressman Joe Scarborough.
NBC News execs are still seeking a radio deal for the show, “Morning Joe.” The network is still tinkering with the format and supporting cast, which includes news reader Mika Brzezinski and humorist Willie Geist.
In the wake of his dismissal, Imus’ attorney Martin Garbus had threatened a suit against the Eye, alleging that risque and controversial commentary was part of Imus’ job, was “desired by the company” and “consistent with company policy.”
Settlement includes a non-disparagement clause that prohibits Imus from speaking negatively about CBS.
Radio industry sources predicted that Imus could replace the relatively low-rated “Curtis and Kuby in the Morning” on New York’s WABC. That show is hosted by right-wing Guardian Angels founder Curtis Silwa and left-wing attorney Ron Kuby.
WABC general manager Steve Borneman denied that any talks had taken place.
“I’ve had no conversation with Imus,” he said. “I wish him the best, and we are very happy with our morning team of Curtis and Kuby.”
Sirius Satellite Radio chief and former CBS prexy Mel Karmazin has also said he would entertain employing Imus.
Any Imus comeback would have to overcome some ill will on Madison Avenue and possible resistance among the top authors and politicos who used to frequent “Imus in the Morning.”
But sources predicted the guests would come back. Some have said publicly they thought Imus’ punishment did not fit the crime.