If Imus Comes Back, Some Advertisers Are Likely to Follow

Buyers Mixed About Possible Return, but Say Sponsors Could Give Him Another Chance

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Don Imus might be returning to the airwaves -- and advertisers may not be far behind.
The media-buying community had mixed reactions to the notion of a return to the airwaves by controversial radio talk-show host Don Imus.
The media-buying community had mixed reactions to the notion of a return to the airwaves by controversial radio talk-show host Don Imus. Credit: Monika Graff

Media reports were buzzing today that the radio host, fired by CBS and MSNBC from his "Imus in the Morning" show in April after he made controversial comments regarding members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team, might be negotiating with WABC-AM. A spokeswoman said she had no comment regarding the reported discussions when contacted by Ad Age.

A $40 million deal?
The report surfaced with the news that Mr. Imus has settled the terms of the five-year contract he signed with CBS Radio just prior to his dismissal from the company. The Associated Press put a dollar figure of the deal at $40 million, but a CBS spokesperson said in a statement that "the terms of the settlement are confidential and will not be disclosed."

The media-buying community had mixed reactions to the notion of a return. Marketers including Procter & Gamble Co., General Motors Corp., American Express and Staples were among the first to pull out of the show following racial remarks made by the talk show host.

Natalie Swed Stone, who heads up radio buying for OMD and who has had clients advertise on Mr. Imus' previous incarnations, said she "couldn't see why" advertisers would not want to put their money behind the host's newest show. Mr. Imus has apologized several times for his remarks and advertisers could conclude that he has been punished enough.

She said Mr. Imus' show could be a decent moneymaker for his next radio station. Ad Age estimated in April that revenues for "Imus in the Morning" brought in $15 million to $22 million for CBS's WFAN-AM in New York alone, with an additional $2.5 million on his MSNBC simulcast.

'Curiosity seekers'
Matthew Warnecke, VP-local and national radio for MediaCom, said Mr. Imus had a loyal audience on CBS that would likely follow him to his next venture. But advertisers probably won't be signing up for any new shows "in the short term," he said. "Certainly there will be curiosity seekers tuning in to see if he will trip up again or not."

Ms. Swed Stone said she was "not surprised" by the WABC rumors. "It was just a matter of time before somebody took advantage of the situation," she said. "There's a lot of moving parts in radio right now, with different parties and players moving around, so this might be the opportunity for both" Imus and WABC.
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