Don Imus, a fixture on New York radio since he joined the city’s WNBC from Cleveland 46 years ago, will step down from his “Imus in the Morning Program” on Cumulus Media’s WABC and Westwood One on March 29, according to a message tweeted out by the show yesterday.
Imus was the prototype for the modern-day “shock jock,” offering an array of characters and forming a fierce rivalry with fellow WNBC broadcaster Howard Stern when the two were on the same staff. Imus dominated mornings at the station, while Stern was the up-and-comer doing afternoons, a situation Stern chronicled in his book and film, “Private Parts.”
The 77-year-old has been on the New York airwaves consistently since his arrival in the city in December 1971, with the exception of a two-year return to Cleveland in the late 1970s. He was rehired for mornings by WNBC in September ’79, which is when he joined Stern for a highly publicized team, often appearing on one another’s shows. That initial friendship soon evolved into a bitter on-air rivalry.
He remained at NBC when it was sold to Emmis Broadcasting and became WFAN, debuting its sports format in 1988, with his morning show going into national syndication in 1993. After his infamous racist “nappy-headed” comment about the Rutgers women’s basketball team in 2007, he was fired by WFAN and hired at WABC in December 2007. His MSNBC simulcast was also canceled at the time, with the young duo of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski taking his place.
Known for his outsized cowboy hat and an array of in-studio characters, including the radio evangelist Billy Sol Hargis, the Riverside, Calif.-born Imus frequently ran into trouble for his outspoken criticism of the Bill Clinton administration in the ‘90s, and fought a public battle with alcoholism.
WABC has not announced a replacement for Imus, but his longtime producer Bernard McGiurk and colleague Sid Rosenberg currently man the 10 a.m.-noon slot immediately following his show.
The news comes in the wake of Cumulus Media’s financial woes, which forced it to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganize its nearly $2.4 billion in debt in November.