Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Grown, If Not Always Mature, Man

Lately there hasn't been much Imus news to report. Therefore, I figure that if no news is good news...then why not print old news? Old news, as in 1993-old?

Over the years, there have been scores of media profiles on Imus In The Morning and Imus in general. Here's a fun one that I found from the excellent Richard Sandomir of the New York Times. Dated September 29, 1993, it explores the listenership, the discourse of the show, and Imus in general...as well as a collapsed lung, a clogged septic tank, and lotion-rubbing.

IN THE STUDIO WITH: Don Imus;It's a Hideous Life, And You Get to Hear All About It

ON a recent morning at 5:45, Don Imus trudges slowly down the hallway of WFAN-AM, the all-sports radio station, toward his dimly lit basement studio like a man headed to a day of torture. His arms are full with a briefcase and a stack of newspapers. Pain from lung surgery on Sept. 3 has sapped the 53-year-old hellion's bilious, irascible wit and energy. Relief from Percoset, a painkiller, has not yet arrived.


After settling in and uttering his first words on "Imus in the Morning," his talk show, shortly after 6, Mr. Imus tells Charles McCord, his newsman for 21 years: "I walked four miles along the water on the Belt Parkway yesterday, underneath the Verrazano Bridge. I wanted to see if I could jog."

"What a dope," says Mr. McCord, who sits to Mr. Imus's right at the studio console and is regularly joined by Mike Breen, a master at using athletes' sound bites to punch up his oddball reporting. On the other side of the studio glass are the producer, Bernard McGuirk, and the engineer, Lou Rufino. The four act as Mr. Imus's perverse Greek chorus of approval, derision and sick humor. They often target Mr. Imus, making light of his drug and alcohol addictions, sex life and complexion.

"The incision came open in a little place, but nothing icky," Mr. Imus says. "I woke up this morning in so much pain I don't know what it meant."

"It means we're happy," Mr. McGuirk says.

It is Mr. Imus's sixth day back at WFAN's studio, in Astoria, Queens, after a six-week hospitalization that was as long and almost as renowned as any of Elizabeth Taylor's. Except for the day of the surgery and a day shortly thereafter, Mr. Imus did not miss work, reporting from his bed on procedures that twice failed to reinflate a collapsed right lung; his nurses; his sainted doctor; his brother, Fred; his catheter, and his yen for cable television.

Three days after Mr. Imus was released, he returned to work, a sedated, pallid man who would rather writhe in Astoria than in his Lower East Side apartment. "This station is really his life," said Joel Hollander, vice president and general manager of WFAN, at 660 on the dial.

From the day 22 years ago when New Yorkers listened to their first sonic attack from Mr. Imus, a former uranium miner from Arizona, on WNBC-AM (he's been at WFAN since 1988), he has been inciting radio mischief, from calling women to ask "Are you naked?" to satirizing evangelism with his money-grubbing Rev. Billy Sol Hargis character.

If he didn't invent shock jockery, he pioneered it, siring WXRK-FM's Howard Stern, among others. "People perceive me as Howard Stern," Mr. Imus, who reportedly earns $2.5 million a year, says off the air, seated in a reclining chair in his cluttered station office. "It's not the case. I'm Howard Stern with a vocabulary. I'm the man he wishes he could be."

A grown if not always mature divorced man with four daughters, Mr. Imus is comfortably ensconced in an advanced yet sophisticated spitball stage of adolescence honed for more than two decades. He is fixated on genitalia (often someone else's), his addictions and the breast-implant surgery of his former assistant.

Mr. Imus winces, rasps and breathes deeply through much of the day's show. Occasional periods of pharmaceutical relief make him look close to entering an altered state. His shaggy, strawberry-blond hair sits matted beneath his headset. A lone right sneaker sits to the right on his studio console, a 1.5-liter bottle of Poland Spring water to his left. When he speaks, he frequently removes gum from his mouth. Once, the wad falls out unaided.

Unaccountably, at 7:19, he displays his surgical scar. First, he finishes a yogurt commercial ("I eat it, it's good"), then unzips his red, blue and green Polo warm-up jacket and pulls off a United States Open tennis tournament T-shirt to reveal a thin, slightly flabby torso with a back-to-chest scar. "The bandage covers the really icky thing," he says. "Underneath, it looks like they took an ax to my back."

While he is fixated on body parts, in recent years, especially since the Persian Gulf war, he has moved on to more serious subjects, taking on Bosnia and Somalia, Presidential politics and homosexuals in the military, with regular call-in guests that have included Governor Lowell P. Weicker of Connecticut; Jeff Greenfield, an ABC News correspondent, and Senator Bill Bradley, Democrat of New Jersey.

Mayor David N. Dinkins is a regular. So are Rudolph W. Giuliani; Tim Russert, the host of "Meet the Press," and Anna Quindlen, the columnist for The New York Times. Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York recommended that his fellow Republican Senator Bob Dole of Kansas joust with Mr. Imus, said Clarkson Hine, Senator Dole's press secretary.

"I'm confident that I know more than enough to talk with them," Mr. Imus says of politicians. "I've created a situation for them to display an aspect of their personality that they don't show to others."

He adds: "I could never have done this show six years ago. I couldn't talk to these people with any coherence. I had a serious drug and drinking problem."

In his political palaver, Mr. Imus is generally respectful and genuinely curious about a political process he obviously has little faith in; yet, he curbs his worst instincts, usually until the politicians are off the air.

When Senator Bradley calls, mainly to discuss the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Imus compliments him on his diet: "You've lost four chins, Senator. You look like a hunk. Excuse me for saying that."

Mr. Imus's four interviews with Bill Clinton -- three before the election, one after, and two of them broadcast live on the "Today" show -- vaulted him out of the dirty-deejay hamper. Mr. Imus credits himself with reviving Mr. Clinton's New York primary campaign and thus assuring his election.

"The I-Man is now a fashioner of kings," Mr. McCord says on the air.

"You don't have to suck up to me," Mr. Imus says. "Everyone else does."

"My man Bubba," as Mr. Imus calls him, may keep a Don Imus bobble-head doll on his Oval Office desk (there are snapshots to prove it), but Mr. Imus has not refrained from calling the President "that pantload in the White House," or simply "Fatso."

Mostly, though, "Imus in the Morning," normally on the air from 5:30 to 10 A.M., is about Mr. Imus and the subjects that interest his audience of mainly men 25 to 54: his six years of abstinence from alcohol, his 11 years away from drugs, his limousine, his gun, his detective friend Bo Dietl, his cholesterol count, his friendship with the country singer and author Kinky Friedman and his adoration of Ms. Quindlen's brains.

There is enough gay, ethnic and sexual material from Mr. Imus and his crew to anger listeners; yet, he has not been targeted for fines or penalties for profanity by the Federal Communications Commission, as Mr. Stern has. He says he is not a racist or a homophobe.

"The show is a foray into my hideous life," he says. There was the case of the 700 condoms found recently by a plumber in the sewer tank of his weekend home in Southport, Conn.

"I've never put a condom in the toilet," said Mr. Imus, who is single.

"Has your lover?" Mr. McGuirk said.

"They had to come from somewhere," Mr. McCord insisted.

"Not me," Mr. Imus said. "But I can't convince you of that. I don't use condoms. I don't have sex with people I think have AIDS. They came from the people I bought the house from. Nice people but wack jobs."

At WFAN, he is the cash cow, and his arrival in 1988 more than likely saved the station from death. Of WFAN's projected 1993 revenues of $35 million, Mr. Imus's show is expected to account for one-third. Mr. Imus regularly declares his power to mint money from his own deranged juvenility: "When WFAN went all sports, it couldn't suck enough!" he screamed on the show in July. "It was losing five or six million dollars. Now we're the No. 2 grossing station in America!"

Over the last few months, the show has been syndicated to stations in Boston; Tampa, Fla.; Providence, R.I.; Albany; Cleveland; Washington; Aiken, S.C.; Kalamazoo, Mich., and Scranton, Pa., which has raised questions about whether his local act will work elsewhere.

"It's a new concept, even for him," Mr. Hollander said. "It'll take a while to shake out."

Mr. Imus's lung problems have brought him mixed messages of compassion. Mr. Hollander was a regular hospital presence, and Mr. McGuirk urged his boss to start smoking again. Senator Bradley expressed his concern, while others wondered if death was near, or if his illness wrinkled his craggy corpus.

Mr. McCord, a mother hen to Mr. Imus, regularly inquiring about how his radio partner cares for himself, made this touching on-air offer last week: "How's the wound? Can I rub some salve on you, baby? Most people would want to rub salt in your wound. Not me."

The great sucking-up sound of sycophancy came to rest upon Don Imus. And it was good.

3 comments:

Al said...

Imus is the same guy he was 40 years ago...'cept now he's older and has more money!

Imus is such a REAL, American treasure....it is still mind-boggling how badly he was treated back in April.

Bruce said...

Al,

I wouldn't worry about those people at WFAN or MSNBC. They are truly the incompetent ones. And now that the Kia Vaughn of Rutgers fame has mysteriously dropped her suit, the I-Man and at least McCord will be back on the air very soon.

Don Imus is a fighter. And will not give up until they pull the lungs out of his dead carcass.

CollegeGirl said...

Al, I'm still in shock regarding that week in April. I always thought that Don Imus was bulletproof. It still feels like a really, really horrible dream.

Bruce - while I feel bad for WFAN, since in the end they wanted him back and lobbied to do so, I really have lost all respect for MSNBC. I used to think they were the best news out there, too. But I've sworn off watching them since April 12.

Me, I can't wait until Imus comes back from the dead...it's going to be AMAZING...