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Don Imus

Don Imus

In 1966, Imus enrolled at the Don Martin School of Radio and Television Arts and Sciences, in Hollywood, after seeing a newspaper advertisement; he was thrown out for being "uncooperative", but studied enough to obtain a broadcasting license from the FCC. Upon winning a talent contest at Johnny Otis’s night club, he worked as a singer-songwriter, with Otis serving as his manager.  After hearing a morning radio DJ at KUTY, in Palmdale California, Imus went to the station and successfully persuaded the owner to hire him. He signed on the air on June 2, 1968. While at KUTY, Imus debuted his on-air character Billy Sol Hargis, a radio evangelist inspired by and named for preacher Billy James Hargis and businessman Billie Sol Estis. Imus was an instant success at the station; in two months, he had become number one in ratings for his time slot, and earned a Billboard Award for Air Personality of the Year in a medium-sized market.

Imus then had a brief tenure at KIOY, in Stockton, California from which he was fired, due to an incident that some sources attributed to his Eldridge Cleaver look-a-like contest, and others, to him saying "hell" on the air. Imus moved to KXOA, in Sacramento California, which became known for his prank call to a local McDonald's restaurant as a National Guard official ordering 1,200 burgers for troops. The segment influenced a later FCC ruling that required all radio DJs to identify themselves when they make phone calls on the air. In 1970, Imus left KXOA for WGAR in for a $50,000 salary.  In 1971, he won his second Billboard Award, this time in the major radio market category.

On December 2, 1971, less than three years into his radio career, Imus started his morning show at WNBC in New York City, with a $100,000 per year salary. On his second day, he overslept and missed the show. Imus was involved in various projects during his time at WNBC. In March 1973, he began a stand-up comedy and stage act called Imus in the Evening; his first shows were held at The Bitter End in New York City. By the early 1980s, he was earning as much as $10,000 a performance. Imus retired his stand-up in December 1985. He released three albums containing radio segments and songs: 1200 Hamburgers to Go (1972), One Sacred Chicken to Go (1973), and This Honky's Nuts (1974). The latter features material from his stand-up comedy at Jimmy's Club in Manhattan.

Imus started to drink heavily during this period which soon affected his working life. He started to miss work and became increasingly unmanageable. He missed 100 days of work in 1973. In August 1977, WNBC decided to reformat the station and let go of their on-air staff. Imus described himself as "awful" and "a jerk" during this time, and struggled to find a suitable job in New York City that satisfied his salary demands. He returned to Cleveland and began an afternoon drive show on WHK in 1978. He found the experience humiliating, but took the job in order to earn money and "get my act together". During this time, Imus recorded episodes of IMUS, plus..., a late night talk show on WNEW-TV.

On September 2, 1979, Imus returned to the air in mornings at WNBC.  By this time, Imus had started to use cocaine until he quit in 1983. He continued to drink, and his on- and off-air behavior became erratic; he turned up for work without shoes and slept on park benches with large amounts of money in his pocket. By 1981, Imus and secured a deal with Paramount Pictures that involved the development of three screenplays, including work on Joy of Sex. In April 1981, Imus renewed his contract with WNBC with a five-year deal worth $500,000 a year with bonuses if he surpassed ratings targets. Following the addition of Howard Stern in afternoons in 1982, Imus and Stern began a longtime feud though both were paired on WNBC print and television advertisements.

In July 1981, Imus released his first book, God's Other Son, a novel about the life of his on-air character Billy Sol Hargis that he wrote with McCord. It was republished in 1994 and spent seven weeks on The New York Times best seller list. By October 1981, Imus was the most popular radio DJ in the US, reaching 220,000 regular listeners and number one in 12 of 13 demographic categories Other regular Imus characters included the supposed general manager "Geraldo Santana Banana", and "Moby Worm", a monstrous creature who devoured local schools (which was reported on the show's "breaking news updates").[

Imus was also the utility announcer for Geraldo Rivera’s monthly TV series Good Night America, which aired as a recurring segment of ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment program (1973-1976), and he was one of the inaugural video jocks for the launch of VH-1, sister cable channel to MTV, in 1985

On October 7, 1988, after WNBC was sold to Emmis Broadcasting, the station permanently signed off the air to have WFAN, an all-sports station, move to the station's signal. All of the station's staff was let go except Imus and his radio show team, who stayed to become WFAN's morning show.

In 1989, Imus signed a five-year deal to continue his show on WFAN. In April 1989, Imus was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. Later in 1989, Imus accepted an invitation to become an honorary assistant coach for a basketball game between the Fordham Rams and La Salle Explorers the following January.

The show began syndication in June 1993 when it was simulcast on WEEI in Boston, followed by four other stations around the country. They began simulcasting on MSMBC in 1996.

Imus was instrumental in raising over $60 million for the Center for the Intrepid, a Texas rehabilitation facility for soldiers wounded in the Iraq War. The largest technological center of its kind in the country, it is designed to treat disabled veterans and help them with their transition back into the community. Imus has also taken on the cause of the living conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, visiting wounded veterans at the hospital to boost morale.

The program was heard on WABC starting on December 3, 2007. On January 22, 2018, Imus announced that the show would air its final episode on March 29, 2018.

“I know in my heart there’s been nobody ever better on the radio than me. I mean that. I’m telling you how it is. Nobody ever did this-nobody-but it wasn’t me who did this. I’m gonna miss you.”


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