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Don Imus Hits the Ratings Skids

Don Imus (search), who dominated New York radio in the pre-Howard Stern era, has hit the ratings skids.

For the first time, Imus came dangerously close to dropping out of the Top 20 in Arbitron quarterly ratings released Monday.

Now tied for No. 17, Imus was in the top 10 in New York radio just five years ago.

But radio's original bad boy lost a stunning 25 percent of his audience between last fall and winter — his lowest ratings yet and about half the listeners he had 10 years ago.

"One [ratings survey] does not a trend make," said Imus' boss, WFAN (search) programmer Mark Chernoff, "and our radiothon [for children's charities] just raised $3 million — that's a lot of money and a lot of influence.

"The kind of guests Imus interviews shows he's one of the most influential people on radio and, of course, TV as well," Chernoff said, referring to Imus' MSNBC simulcast.

Imus frequently boasts — correctly — that his show is a big reason WFAN ranks among the nation's top-billing radio stations. As long as that keeps up, his job is secure.

"He's never had gigantic numbers, but he's always had gigantic buzz," says Talkers magazine publisher Michael Harrison.

"Much of what you hear reflects Imus' mood and his interests," Harrison said.

"His ratings can come back with gusto at any time, depending on how he feels."

Elsewhere in the winter radio ratings:

* Howard Stern (search) shed 10 percent of his fans and is back to No. 2, behind Spanish-language MEGA (WSKQ).

* Conservative talker WABC plunged after the election but still beats liberal challenger WLIB 3-to-1.

* Night-owl personalities Michael Savage (search) and Lionel (on WOR) and Janeane Garofalo (search) (on WLIB) seem to have swiped listeners from WABC's Laura Ingraham (search)-John Batchelor combo.

* All-news WINS rebounded, rival WCBS-AM sagged again, and Mayor Bloomberg's news/talk WBBR cracked the Top 30 — at 30th.

* Ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz didn't hey-hey or oh-oh WCBS-FM, whose wakeup ratings stayed put.

* In-the-headlines Hot 97 widened the lead in its shootout with Power 105.

* Trouble-plagued WNEW-FM remains trouble-plagued.

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