The Show Goes On: Imus Returns

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007; 6:34 PM

NEW YORK, Dec. 3 -- A contrite Don Imus returned to the airwaves with a rock's star welcome today, eight months after the veteran radio and TV broadcaster lost his job for making a racist and sexist slur.

An audience of several hundred streamed into a midtown theater before 6 a.m. to catch Imus's first show since the controversy, giving him multiple standing ovations during his four-hour program. An air of celebration prevailed; even Imus' sidekicks were greeted with raucous cheers from a crowd that was overwhelmingly white, middle-aged and male.

Imus, decked out in his familiar cowboy hat, duster jacket, jeans and boots, wasted little time before addressing the issue that got him fired from his CBS radio and MSNBC TV gigs and that made him a national symbol of intolerance: his reference to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed ho's" on his show last spring.

In his first public statement since the episode, Imus called the Rutgers comment "reprehensible." He vowed, "I will never say anything in my life that will make those young women regret or feel foolish that they forgave me, and no one will say anything on my program that will make anyone feel I don't deserve a second chance."

Imus's show today was cautious, even stilted at times. The normally freewheeling host mostly played straight man to a series of guests and an expanded panel sidekicks, which included two African Americans: comics Karith Foster and Tony Powell, who were featured only briefly.

The most irreverent that Imus got was when he declared at one point, "Dick Cheney is still a war criminal, Hillary Clinton is still Satan, and I'm back on the radio!" Otherwise, it was pretty much business as usual. Imus reintroduced his longtime news reader, Charles McCord, and producer Bernard McGuirk, who triggered Imus's slur in April by describing the Rutgers' players as "hard-core ho's."

In a testament to Imus' drawing power among adult men, several advertisers (Bigelow Tea, Sirius Radio, NetJet) that had sponsored his show before have returned. Imus was also joined by some of the same newsmakers who used to banter with him before he lost his job. "Good to have you back, my friend," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who called Imus from New Hampshire, where he is campaigning for the Republican presidential primary.

Imus's program now originates from WABC-AM in New York City and is heard on 17 other stations across the country. It hasn't been picked up yet in Washington, but WTNT AM-730, which carried Imus's old program before its cancellation, has said it intends to begin airing the show in January. The show also is carried on RFD-TV, a cable and satellite TV channel.

There were no protesters outside Imus's temporary broadcast home, the Town Hall Theater just off Times Square. The lone voice of dissent belonged to writer and self-described "freelance moralist" Philip Nobile, who passed out leaflets urging Imus to take a pledge renouncing his "lucrative bigotry" and to invite critics who will "counter the constant fawning of my regular political and media courtiers."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company