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Big Apple Begins Bidding War for Don Imus

Tuesday, 21 August 2007 12:00 AM

A bidding war is underway for shock-jock Don Imus now that his lawsuit against CBS has been settled, industry observers tell NewsMax.

Radio-industry insiders tell NewsMax that the I-Man is talking with ABC about a morning-drive slot on flagship New York City station WABC.

Michael Harrison, publisher of industry bible Talkers magazine, says ABC is "denying it, but not too loudly."

"Everything comes down to human terms; guys sitting down in a room trying to figure out a deal. That's probably what's happening at this time," Harrison tells NewsMax, adding, "He would be a great fit for ABC."

"He's got many options but he is going to obviously want to think about the largest platform for himself, and obviously that would be here in New York City," adds Mike Boyle, senior editor of Radio & Records.

WABC currently leads the city's morning-drive pack with the "Curtis and Kuby" show. Second in the market is Imus' old home WFAN, which just announced the permanent morning pairing of former NFL great Boomer Esiason with "The Jersey Guy" Craig Carton. Bringing up the rear is Buckley Broadcasting's WOR, featuring "The Morning Show with Joe and Donna" — Donna being former New York City first lady Donna Hanover.

WABC would make an ideal national syndication platform for Imus, Boyle tells NewsMax.

"We're going into the political season and it's really heating up. This would be the perfect time for Imus and the perfect vehicle. He's going to bring in national names to the show."

But at least one industry analyst is bucking the conventional wisdom that picks WABC.

Brian Maloney, longtime reporter and industry observer, tells NewsMax that WOR is looking at dumping Hanover and Joe Bartlett to clear the way for Imus. "I'm hearing from a very high-level radio source, whose name you would recognize, that he has a pretty good shot at doing mornings at WOR," Maloney says.

WABC's "Curtis and Kuby," he says, is simply too strong in its slot to chuck for an expensive, known quantity that is likely to make advertisers nervous, at least initially. "WABC, I think, is a pipe dream."

Both Maloney and The New York Times, relying on different unnamed sources, peg Imus' current asking price at $8 million — a cost that Harrison and others believe would put him beyond WOR's reach. But Maloney is confident that number will come down.

"The team right now at WOR costs them chicken feed," he tells NewsMax. "They could be paying $350,000 for both of them. If Imus gets desperate, he'll cut his price; cut it in half or two-thirds. He just got a big payday [from CBS].

"Hanover is doing nothing ratings wise," he adds. "It's a throwaway." Imus, he says, doesn't have a lot of other options in New York. "If I were Buckley I would look at that and say 'we're holding all the cards.'"

Fueling that, Maloney tells NewsMax, is the civil slander suit just filed by Rutgers basketball player Kia Vaughn. "It might be a bargaining chip [for Buckley]," he says. "It keeps the story out there as a reminder of what happened and how easily it might all fall apart again. It gives leverage to bring that salary down."

So what would a new "Imus in the Morning" look like?

The New York Times reports that former Imus producer Bernard McGuirk, who initiated the verbal exchange that ultimately cost Imus his job, will not be a part of the I-Man's return. But longtime Imus sidekick newsman Charles McCord likely will. McCord was the lone member of the Imus troika who did not get fired in April. He remains an employee of WFAN and CBS, and has not made himself available for comment.

One thing to expect, industry insiders tell NewsMax, is an ever-so-slightly kinder and gentler Imus.

"He certainly — and I'm not the first to say this — will have a bulls-eye on his back," Boyle says. "He's going to have to mind his Ps and Qs. The Rev. [Al] Sharpton has already put it out that he'll be watching."

Talkers' Harrison agrees. "He will never use the term 'nappy-headed hoe' again.

"If there's one thing he should change, he should stop bullying the vulnerable and the powerless. That's the thing that Imus did over the years; that was his Achilles' heel. And it came back to haunt him.

"Don't make fun of people's appearance and their weaknesses," he says, "and don't go after people who don't deserve it."

Maloney echoes that.

"He's always been a bully," Maloney tells NewsMax. "People in the business hate him. He's pretty much without friends. He's probably the most hated person in the business.

"I don't think he can go back and be the same old Imus," Maloney says. "He'll be a little bit easier behind the scenes and mellower on the air. I don't see how it can be any other way."

And don't expect to see Imus back on MSNBC, Maloney says.

"That's a tougher nut to crack. They're still arguing back and forth on just what happened. MSNBC seems very happy with Joe Scarborough. Imus will be back on radio, but I don't see a lot of TV."

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A bidding war is underway for shock-jock Don Imus now that his lawsuit against CBS has been settled, industry observers tell NewsMax. Radio-industry insiders tell NewsMax that the I-Man is talking with ABC about a morning-drive slot on flagship New York City station...
Tuesday, 21 August 2007 12:00 AM
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