NEW YORK – Don Imus raised nearly $1 million in the first five hours of his annual radio charity fundraiser Thursday, but it was only by voice -- MSNBC pulled the plug on his talk show's television simulcast amid the uproar over his racial slur.
"This may be our last Radiothon, so we need to raise about $100 million," Imus said at the start of the event, which has raised more than $40 million since 1990.
Imus acknowledged again that his remarks a week ago about the Rutgers women's basketball team had been "really stupid."
"There's a difference between premeditated murder and the gun going off," but the end result is the same, he said: "Somebody's still dead."
Several major advertisers dropped the show, and pressure from politicians and the public has mounted since the radio host referred to the Rutgers basketball players as "nappy-headed hos" shortly after they lost the NCAA women's national championship game.
MSNBC dropped its simulcast of the "Imus in the Morning" radio program and aired news instead on Thursday, though Imus still broadcast the show from an MSNBC studio.
Imus' ultimate fate depends on the CBS Corp., which owns both the radio station WFAN-AM that is the host's broadcast home, and the syndicator Westwood One, which distributes "Imus in the Morning" to stations across the country.
CBS Radio, which has suspended Imus for two weeks without pay beginning next week, said it would "continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely."
The 18th annual Radiothon began Thursday and runs through Friday. It was one of the reasons the start of his suspension from CBS was delayed.
Tony Gonzalez, supervisor of the Radiothon phone bank, said volunteers were getting about 200 more pledges per hour than they did last year, and most callers were expressing support for Imus.
By midday, $967,793 had been pledged, according to a display board at the Hard Rock Cafe, where the Radiothon was moved Thursday morning. Last year's Radiothon raised a total of $2.9 million for three charities -- Tomorrows Children's Fund, CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch.
"We haven't had much of a negative at all," Gonzalez said. "Most of them are very, very supportive, think it's a terrible situation."
Imus has apologized repeatedly for his comments. He also has said that those who called for his firing without knowing him, his philanthropic work or what his show was about would be making an "ill-informed" choice.
Imus said Thursday said he had apologized enough and plans to meet with members of the Rutgers team. "At some point, I'm not sure when, I'm going to talk to the team. That's all I'm interested in doing."
It emerged Wednesday that a key to pulling the plug on his MSNBC simulcast was an internal mutiny within NBC. About 30 angry NBC News employees, many of them black, met with news division President Steve Capus and said they'd had it with Imus' brand of coarse ethnic humor.
"Within this organization, this had touched a nerve," Capus said Wednesday. "The comment that came through to us, time and time again, was `when is enough going to be enough?' This was the only action we could take."
Bruce Gordon, former head of the NAACP and a director of CBS Corp., told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he hoped CBS would "make the smart decision" by firing Imus.
"He's crossed the line, he's violated our community," Gordon said in a telephone interview. "He needs to face the consequence of that violation."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has sought Imus' firing, said he will meet Thursday with CBS officials. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he planned to meet with both CBS and NBC executives on Thursday with a delegation of civil rights activists and lawmakers to discuss the Imus situation and diversity in broadcasting.
The Rutgers' women's basketball team, meanwhile, appeared Thursday on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" with their coach, C. Vivian Stringer.
At the end of their appearance, Winfrey said: " ... I want to borrow a line from Maya Angelou, who is a personal mentor of mine and I know you all also feel the same way about her. And she has said this many times, and I say this to you, on behalf of myself and every woman that I know, you make me proud to spell my name W-O-M-A-N. You've really handled this beautifully."
A growing list of sponsors -- including American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors Corp. -- had said they were pulling ads from Imus' show indefinitely.
Imus' program is worth a total of about $15 million in annual revenue to CBS Corp., through advertising on WFAN and syndication fees received from MSNBC and Westwood One. It wasn't clear how much of that total came from MSNBC.
Two black on-air personalities at NBC News, reporter Ron Allen and the "Today" show's Al Roker, had already publicly urged Imus' firing on Web log entries.
Allen said he didn't buy the argument that Imus was "edgy" and had hurled slurs at many others. "Personally, I don't think being an `equal opportunity' insulter makes this OK," he said.
Roker said he was tired of cruelty that passes for funny, humor at other people's expense.
"He has to take his punishment and start over," Roker said. "Guess what? He'll get re-hired and will go on like nothing happened. CBS Radio and NBC News need to remove Don Imus from the airwaves. That is what needs to happen. Otherwise, it just looks like profits and ratings rule over decency and justice."
Democrat Barack Obama on Wednesday became the first presidential candidate to call for Imus to be fired. "He didn't just cross the line, he fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America," said Obama, the only black candidate in the race.
Imus' program has been the only thing MSNBC has aired on weekday mornings for the 11 years of the network's existence.
The network loses a morning show personality at a time when his show has been doing very well. Almost as many people had been watching the telecast of his radio show as the highly-produced newscast on CNN -- leading CNN to dump its two morning anchors just last week.
Producing its own morning show will also cost MSNBC money at a time it has been cutting costs, but it doesn't have the threat of an advertiser boycott.