Columns appear in print in the U Entertainment Section of the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Imus Fired

April 15, 2007

By Sandy Wells

Imus: Video Killed the Radio Star (Again)

(photo: Don Imus in his heyday)

The Imus in the Morning Show finally hit a big enough pothole to reveal the ever thinning tread he was riding on. His crude, racist remark about the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team after their loss to Tennessee caused his program to veer off the road, crash and burn last week.

Imus was especially vulnerable because his program was simulcast on the MSNBC cable TV network. This is the same news network that fired Michael Savage for lashing out against gay men. Without cable TV exposure, Imus’ remarks would probably have dodged the political and cultural firestorm. Mainstream TV has far less tolerance for speaking the politically unspeakable phrase than radio. Today, impolitic remarks captured on video can be mercilessly replayed again and again on TV and circulated on web browsers.

Savage kept his radio show, however. On another occasion, Rush Limbaugh was fired from his job as color commentator for ABC’s Monday Night Football for suggesting that quarterback Donovan McNabb got special treatment because he was black. Limbaugh’s radio show survived, too. Why didn’t Imus’?

I suspect our country may be suffering from a subconscious paroxysm of guilt and confusion over the war in Iraq and its racist overtones. Firing Imus is a sacrifice to that God of political correctness, that American need to believe that we are ever overcoming our prejudiced past and can therefore maintain our moral standards.

Imus made his mark in radio the early 70s New York radio as America was mired in another war with racist undertones: Vietnam. Back then, his downbeat, irreverent, white trash persona was a hit on the East Coast. Life magazine did a story touting him as possible successor to Johnny Carson as host of the Tonight Show. Imus’ bits were brazen for their time; making fun of preachers through his alter-ego Reverend Billy Sol Hargis, pretending to be a general calling up Burger King and ordering 2,500 hamburgers to go for his troops, driving the hapless fast food worker to distraction with special orders, spoofing the fast food chain’s claim as the burger place where you could always “have it your way.” Imus put the edge back in AM radio as progressive rock and disco erased AM top 40s radio’ relevance.

Is Imus a racist? Possibly, despite the fact that he once aspired to be an R&B singer, he is. But then, most of us carry some racial issues under the surface. Racist notions can reveal when an individual or society feels fear or stress, as in the case of comedian Michael Richards, or be exposed by careless, off the cuff attempts to be funny, as in the case of Imus.

Back in the 70s, humor became the coin of the realm for the disappointed idealists of the 60s. Dark humor, sarcastic quips, cruel, ridiculing sketches, all helped a nation work through the traumas of the 60s’ assassinations, wars, failed protests and frightening riots.

Decades later, new attitudes are displacing most of the cultural and political attitudes of that time. Humor has ceased to be accepted as it once was, as a release valve for the pent up aggressions of disappointed idealists and reformers of the 60s.

In the late 80s, Imus successfully segued from morning shock jock on top 40 WNBC to the jocular patter on WFAN. While doing a general talk show on the otherwise sports talk station, he started to build a following among the Washingtonian elite; mostly white middle-aged men who as guests of the I-man felt at ease with his goofy asides and a cozy, almost insular, locker room sensibility. They appreciated him all the more as his show became syndicated across the country on more than 60 stations. WFAN was ultimately a guy talk station after all and the white male managerial class loved him.

But younger people don’t get Imus. This is an earnest time, with fierce competition everywhere and a war on terror. Many young people are quietly walking away from the cynicism of the Vietnam generation.

As Talkers magazine editor Michael Harrison told KNX reporter Dick Skelton last week, Imus was just an older guy attempting to sound hip by using African-American slang.

As for CBS Radio, the executives who decided to fire Imus are now faced with replacing a great talent in a business that is having a very hard time imagining its future.

Locally, Imus was carried on KLAC-AM 570 until a few years ago. As of this writing, KCAA-AM 1050 in San Bernardino was planning on replaying “Best of Imus” shows until further notice, according to General Manager, Daren Lane.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Listening In

April 6, 2007

By Sandy Wells

Peter Tilden returns to KABC as late-night host

Popular radio personality Peter Tilden is reviving his act in a new night-time version, starting this Monday on talk station KABC-AM 790. The former KZLA-FM 93.9 country music wake-up man’s new show is billed as “America’s Earliest Morning Show with Peter Tilden.”

Tilden arrived in LA at KLSX-FM 97.1 back in 1988, vaulting from a part-time radio gig in Philadelphia to mornings in the nation’s No. 2 market. He lasted only eight months but he made a strong enough impression to be hired by KABC. Tilden was eventually paired with the late Tracey Miller first in the afternoons and later on the morning show for KMPC (later KTZN). He returned to KABC to join Ken Minyard on the morning show in 1996 before going to KZLA until that station flipped to pop/rhythmic “Movin’ 93.9” KMVN-FM in 2006.

“I’m thrilled to be back at KABC and working with a lot of the great people I’ve worked with before from salespeople and engineers to programming personnel and management,” said Tilden.

KABC says Tilden’s new show will feature interviews, phone calls and topics that listeners might not expect from a traditional evening show in a style that has become synonymous with Tilden throughout his career.

“I am very happy to be able to bring Peter back to KABC Radio, where he is so familiar to our listeners. Peter is a creative person and he has some great ideas for this late night show. I know people are going to make an appointment to hear him every night,” said KABC Operations Director, Erik Braverman.

Tilden’s program will air from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., following the Mark Levin Show which has been expanded to two hours.

Michael Savage returns to AM 830

When KRLA-AM 870’s hired comedian Dennis Miller last month for the 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. slot, it moved conservative political firebrand Michael Savage to a later time slot beginning at 9 p.m. Savage has accordingly taken his program to talk station KLAA-AM 830 where his show can now be heard live from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday afternoon. The “Savage Nation” was introduced to LA several years ago on the same frequency when the call letters were KPLS. KLAA is owned by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team.

K-Jazz’s new management

Long beach public radio station KKJZ-FM 88.1 “K-Jazz” will be officially under the wing of Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasting effective April 21. The ratification of the agreement between the commercial broadcaster and the California State University, Long Beach Foundation was announced by Mt. Wilson President Saul Levine.

“We’re thrilled to be taking on another opportunity to serve a wide audience deserving of high quality programming,” said Levine. “Our goal is to turn KKJZ into the nation’s number one public provider of jazz radio. (But) rest assured that KKJZ will remain a mainstream jazz and blues station.”

Levine, one of LA’s pioneer FM broadcasters, ran a jazz format on KKGO 105.1 FM for 29 years, said, “While staying true to the format’s deep musical heritage, we will endeavor to integrate the latest artists to maintain the relevance and viability of the genre, and to best serve the community.”

Levine will run K-Jazz through his new affiliate, Global Jazz, Inc. He said KKJZ will present the station’s annual Blues Festival in Long Beach this year on September 1 and 2.

Locally, Mt. Wilson FM Broadcasters owns stations K-Mozart AM 1260 and “Go Country” KKGO-FM 105.1/AM 540.

Mark of Mark and Brian Show in film

Mark Thompson of KLOS-FM 95.5’s Mark and Brian Show premiered as an actor in the feature film he wrote, “Mother Ghost” this week at Universal Studio Hollywood. Appearing with noted actors Dana Delaney, Charles Durning, Joe Mantegna, Kevin Pollak, Jere Burns, Garry Marshall, David Keith and James Franco, Thompson has garnered some film festival awards and critical praise. In the movie, Thompson plays a man in a marriage teetering on the brink of collapse following the death of his mother. A radio psychiatrist (played by Pollak) helps Thompson’s character put his life back together.

Star 98.7’s new voice at night

KYSR-FM 98.7 Star 98.7 has completed its full-time talent roster with the addition of Summer James to the 7 p.m. to midnight slot.

James began her radio career at WKZQ-FM in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where she moved up to evening personality and music director. Most recently, she was with rocker KCAL-FM 96.7 in San Bernardino/Riverside.

Her talents have also extended to hosting on-camera Red Carpet events at the Emmy’s and Oscars in addition to various TV programs.

Rick Dees helps Girl Scouts

I had to be impressed when KMVN-FM 93.9 Movin 93.9’s morning man Rick Dees offered to help out any Girl Scouts tuned in who were struggling to meet their Girl Scout cookie quotients in the annual sales ritual. Dees told one lucky scout who got through that he was going to buy $1000 worth of Thin Mints, Do-si-dos, Samoas, Trefoils, etc. from her. The scout was pretty happy, but it took the mother to get on the phone for Dees to hear the response he wanted; joy mixed with disbelief. Dees may have to eat them all himself, if he wants to live up to his image on the new Movin’ 93.9 TV ad, where his derriere is greatly enhanced with computer animation.