"A time to be born, and a time to die; ..." (from Ecclesiastes 3:2)
I heard the news last night (December 27, 2019) that retired radio personality Don Imus had died at a College Station, Texas hospital earlier in the day. I may be taking a risk in admitting this, but I was a regular listener to the Imus in the Morning radio show for many years and a fan of Don Imus and his cast of characters who joined him every weekday morning. I remember the first time I listened to Imus in the Morning. It was in the late summer of 1999. Boston's "Smooth Jazz 96.9" at that time was in the transitional phase of completely changing its format and call letters to becoming a 24/7 FM Talk station. (And, seven years ago, they changed formats again, this time becoming a music station that caters to the taste of young adults.) The very first talk program 96.9 introduced was Imus in the Morning (which originated at WFAN in New York City and was syndicated to stations all over the country). On that late summer day, I was driving my daughter Amy to a medical procedure at Faulker Hospital in Boston's Jamaica Plain section. I'm not sure why I turned it on, but I became a pretty regular listener over the next eight years.
Don Imus, like many radio personalities had a certain schtick. He usually dressed like a cowboy. (I know that because the show could also be watched on C-SPAN television.) He was surly and rude; always sounding annoyed and irritated. There was a lot of banter with several other guys on the program. You couldn't listen to Imus without hearing the word "awful" used by him (and by his colleagues) a couple dozen times each morning. That new restaurant Imus tried was "awful". That Giants football game was "awful". The State of the Union address was "awful". A popular Top 40 hit song was "awful". You get the point. Another word commonly used by the Imus gang, and always stated slowly, was "Nobody". Who liked that concert last night? "Nobody". Who liked the front page story in the New York News? "Nobody". Who watches Public Television? "Nobody". Again, you get the point. So, why did so many people listen, and why was Imus in the Morning almost addictive?
One reason is: Variety. It wasn't just a group of macho middle-aged (and old) men chatting and fooling around and acting like a bunch of kids in a Junior High cafeteria. There were great guest interviews. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was a regular on the program, and her interviews were actually quite "highbrow" and cerebral at times. During such interviews, it was obvious that Don Imus was really very intelligent and well-read. Senator John McCain was also a regular guest on Imus in the Morning, and his interviews were as good as anything you'd see on 60 Minutes. I've even heard former President George H.W. Bush on the show! Don Imus loved country music and played quite a bit of country music on the program. I was introduced to a number of country artists and groups and their songs, and to my surprise, I started liking and listening to a lot of that music! Don Imus had causes he cared about. He was very passionate about helping kids with cancer and their families as well as helping families who'd gone through the horror of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
I enjoyed Charles McCord, the newsman on the show. Charles is a born-again Christian, and is originally from Springfield, Missouri. Many of you know I went to Bible College in Springfield, Missouri and my daughter Amy not only graduated from Evangel University there, but she and my son-in-law David and their kids lived there for a number of years. So, I always felt I had a lot in common with Charles. He took a lot of teasing and comments about his Christian faith, Bible study, etc. But Charles, for better or for worse, did not "turn the other cheek". They really razzed him on occasions, and he gave it right back to them! As crazy as this may sound, I think Charles may have unwittingly been an inspiration and encouragement to a lot of Christian men who listened. They were often going into work environments where loving and serving Jesus Christ and reading your Bible were considered foolish, not manly, and something to be ridiculed. I suspect there were guys who gained courage to stand up for Christ in their work environment by listening to Charles McCord on Imus in the Morning.
Don Imus and Imus in the Morning went through quite a crisis in 2007. Imus was fired for making horribly racist comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. In fact, sidekick Bernie had made the remarks, but Imus enthusiastically laughed and repeated his words. I was listening at the time, and I immediately turned the radio off! It was disgusting. I was not surprised he was fired. But about nine months later, as I recall, the show returned, this time originating from New York's WABC and featured on a smaller network of stations around the country. Locally at that time it was on AM 790 from Rhode Island. The audio reception wasn't quite as good but I'd still tune in from time-to-time.
Don Imus was truly an enigma. It may well shock you that one of his favorite people in all the world was Evangelist Billy Graham! He often mentioned Billy Graham and always spoke well of him. Shortly after Billy Graham's death in February 2018, Don Imus devoted a whole broadcast to memorializing him.
Don Imus had a brother Fred Imus who passed away a number of years ago. In my early days of listening, Fred would call the show and he and Don would chat. I have often told this joke that Fred told Don one morning: A pair of jumper cables walked into a bar and sat down. The bartender said to the jumper cables, "I don't mind you being in here, but just don't try to start something!"
I hope nobody thinks I'm "trying to start something" here. I just wanted to share these thoughts about Don Imus and Imus in the Morning, and I offer my condolences to Don's widow Deidre, his family, and all his friends.
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