November 2, 2007 / 9:10 PM / 12 years ago

Citadel's ABC Radio bets on Imus ratings gold

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Whether U.S. listeners love radio personality Don Imus for his shock value or hate him for his now famous racial slur, ABC Radio is banking on him being able to recapture the affluent audience that advertisers crave.

Radio talk-show host Don Imus speaks with Rev. Al Sharpton during Sharpton's radio show, in New York. Whether U.S. listeners love radio personality Don Imus for his shock value or hate him for his now famous racial slur, ABC Radio is banking on him being able to recapture the affluent audience that advertisers crave. REUTERS/Chip East

ABC Radio Networks, owned by Citadel Broadcasting Corp, announced on Thursday it had signed Imus to host a daily show, six months after he was fired by CBS Radio for referring to a predominantly black women’s basketball team as “nappy headed hos” — a phrase combining an antiquated term for coarse, curly hair with slang for whore.

Imus was vilified at the time by civil rights advocates and social commentators but is making a comeback on the strength of his ratings pull, industry experts said on Friday.

“It’s all about ratings and dollars,” said Dennis McGuire, vice president and regional broadcast director for Carat USA, an agency that buys commercial time for advertisers.

“The announcer on the air can be the biggest jerk in the world, but if he is getting ratings and he has a big audience, the candidates will come.”

Imus, 67, returns to the airwaves on December 3 based out of New York City’s WABC, one of 243 Citadel stations that provide ample opportunity for syndication.

The Wall Street Journal, citing a person familiar with the matter, reported that Imus’s new salary would be $5 million.

Industry trade magazine Talkers estimated Imus had a minimum of 2.25 million weekly listeners while he was with CBS, among the best in the country though well behind the national leader, conservative host Rush Limbaugh with 13.5 million.

“I expect he’ll be bigger than ever. He has had incredible notoriety as a result of the controversy,” said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers.

“Radio is not the clergy. His notoriety works well,” Harrison said. “He has what we call in the business a qualified audience. His audience is affluent and educated, which are qualities that advertisers want.”

Others doubt he will be able to recapture his former ratings power but that he will still draw heavyweight guests.

“Frankly, when he fell from grace, his act was mature. Now it’s tainted,” said Holland Cooke, a news talk specialist with radio programming consultants McVay Media.

“I predict a lot of the coterie that populated the show beforehand will line right up again and welcome him back with gentle zingers.”

The previous show was produced and broadcast by the CBS-owned WFAN radio station in New York, syndicated on some 60 stations and simulcast on MSNBC cable television.

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