NEW YORK – A little more than six months ago, Don Imus' career seemed doomed. The shock jock had been fired over a racist and sexist remark that ignited an uproar over the limits of taste and tolerance.
But the cantankerous Imus has clambered back from the professional brink before, and the Rasputin of radio is poised to do it again.
Citadel Broadcasting Corp. announced Thursday that Imus would return to radio Dec. 3., confirming long-rumored reports that he was coming back to morning drive time on WABC-AM, based in New York — the same city where he was banished from the airwaves last spring.
"We are ecstatic to bring Don Imus back to morning radio," said WABC President and General Manager Steve Borneman. "Don's unique brand of humor, knowledge of the issues and ability to attract big-name guests is unparalleled. He is rested, fired up and ready to do great radio."
CBS Radio fired Imus on April 12 amid a firestorm of controversy over his "nappy-headed hos" remark about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
Imus will return with his longtime newsman, Charles McCord, and other members of his morning team, Citadel said in announcing the move. It did not specifically mention Bernard McGuirk, the producer who instigated Imus on the Rutgers comment and was fired as well.
No financial details were made public in the four-paragraph announcement of Imus' return. Imus' attorney, Martin Garbus, confirmed the deal but did not elaborate on the details.
There was also no word on syndication or any television deal for the Imus show. His "Imus In the Morning" program aired on more than 70 stations and the MSNBC cable network.
Imus will replace the morning team of Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby on the Citadel Broadcasting-owned station. The pair had hosted the WABC drive-time show for nearly eight years, and Kuby said he was told Thursday afternoon not to show up for work on Friday.
"I've had a fantastic, great run," Kuby said. "Our show has enjoyed the best audience — intelligent, compassionate, decent and kind. The new owners don't want that kind of show."
Las Vegas-based Citadel bought WABC and other ABC radio stations from Walt Disney Co. last year.
Imus' resurrection is hardly unprecedented in his four-decade career. The veteran radio personality has emerged intact in the past after assorted firings, bad publicity, a high-profile drug and alcohol addiction and a disastrous appearance at a Washington dinner before President Clinton.
Then the acid-tongued broadcasting icon was fired after his remark about the Rutgers team caused a national furor and calls by civil rights leaders and broadcast journalists for him to resign.
But just three months later, the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of the strongest voices calling for the shock jock's firing, said Imus had a right to make a living and could return to radio.
Citadel Broadcasting CEO Farid Suleman also defended Imus, telling The New York Times in a recent interview, "He didn't break the law. He's more than paid the price for what he did."
Sharpton said Thursday that Citadel needs to meet with advertisers and black groups to explain how the company plans to prevent the radio host's return to "his former vile and biased behavior."
"Mr. Imus has the right to make a living, but we have the right to make sure he does not come back to disrupt our living," Sharpton said. "Particularly since these are commitments he made personally."
The prospect of Imus' widely anticipated return has outraged critics including the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Organization for Women, who said the idea of Imus returning to the airwaves months after he was fired is nearly as insulting as the crude comments that took him off the air.
Just before his dismissal, Imus signed a five-year, $40 million contract with CBS. He threatened a $120 million lawsuit after he was fired, but he settled in August for an undisclosed amount of money.
Suleman's WABC-AM is already home to several syndicated hosts: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. Imus' national presence would trump the local Arbitron ratings, where his WFAN-AM show consistently drew fewer listeners than Sliwa and Kuby's show.
"Having Don Imus join the WABC galaxy of stars is certainly an amazing addition to our station and for our company, but most importantly, the real winners are morning radio listeners everywhere," Borneman said.
Citadel owns more than 240 radio stations around the country. The company used to air Howard Stern's syndicated show on some stations, but yanked him in 2005 as he prepared to make a move to Sirius satellite radio.