MONDAY, 08 DECEMBER, 2003
Imus vs. Stern - THE COMMENTARY
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - The battle between radio's top shock jocks - Don Imus and Howard Stern - was reignited last week when Stern called into Imus's program. Both exchanged insults and both refused to back down. The clash made the lead item in the New York Post's Page Six on Friday, and radio junkies couldn't help themselves with all the chatter that something historic happened, and that though all about old gossip and old rivalries, something big was about to go down.
Don Imus and Howard Stern are both giants in their respective business and both have sufficiently well-endowed egos. Both have successful programs originating from New York City, as well as national followings thanks to wide syndication across the United States. Stern, a generation younger than Imus, was just coming out of college when Don Imus was king of the morning zoos. He was hosting Eldridge Cleaver look-alike contests whilst Stern was just barely getting through puberty. Beating Imus was Stern's goal. And thanks to a declining Don Imus, done in by doing too much cocaine and soaking up way too much vodka, Stern had managed to overtake the I-Man, effectively proclaiming himself the 'King of All Media'.
Radio's titanic egos started off humbly. Imus tried his hand at music, but realised he would be better off being a disc jockey, so that he could spin his own records. Stern came into the radio biz, because his father was in it, and he needed something to do after graduating from university. Imus was ruling the airwaves in Cleveland, when the big lights and mikes of New York City came a calling. Imus was off to WNBC, which was the top station in the Big Apple in the 1970s. And while Imus was at the apex of his success, Howard Stern was bumming around a station in Washington, trying to get the attention of WNBC. He got noticed and just after getting canned in D.C., he was on WNBC, doing afternoons, while Imus was on in the mornings. (Soupy Sales was doing the mid-day shift, bridging the two bad boys.)
However successful he was on the air, off the air, Don Imus was a mess. One year he missed over a hundred days of work, thanks to the destruction had from snorting way too much coke, smoking way too many unfiltered Marlboros, and soaking more than his fair share of Stoly. He was on his way to radio immortality, but he was testing his own mortality at the same time. Soon enough he was off to rehab and Stern was off to the FM dial, where he began stealing much of Imus's audience. The rivalry probably began when Stern was first brought around to meet the infamous Don Imus. Dramatised in Stern's movie, Private Parts, he was greeted with a hearty, "Fuck you." Stern never liked the guy and has set himself up to trying to best the I-Man ever since. Both are bad boys of the airwaves, and when they fight, it's worth listening to.
Don Imus and Howard Stern, though disc jockeys don't need to play records anymore. Both have crafted successful programs built around their caustic personalities. They sign on, ramble about this, that and the other, and they're widely listened to. Though Stern outdraws Imus, Imus has the demographics that radio execs crave. Ever since he pulled himself out of the drunk tank, the Imus in the Morning program has retained its radio zoo antics, whilst becoming more serious. Don Imus became a political power broker in the 1990s, interviewing Bill Clinton one morning, helping him get elected the next, and then calling him a rapist and fat pant load the third. Imus is big amongst the elites along the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, who listen to Imus, while claiming they all listen to National Public Radio. Imus's program has become a smarter version of Stern's, where dressing down a politician's pomposity, like that of Joe Lieberman or John McCain or John Kerry is the order of the day, rather than Stern's dressing down of Playboy bunnies or porn stars.
It is therefore interesting that though Stern is probably more well-known than Imus, why Stern still fuels an incredible animosity towards the I-Man. Both are now syndicated by the same outfit, Westwood One, which is owned by Infinity, which is part of CBS. Both call Mel Karmazin boss and both make absurd amounts of money, making this latest tussle seem insane.
It's become news, so some reportage is in order. It began a week or so ago, when Imus found out that some fellow patron at the local Gold's Gym that he works out at, was found out to be phoning into the Stern program, doing 'reports' on the progress of Imus's workouts. This annoyed Imus, who began to rail that Stern was and will always be the I-Man's "bitch". Last month when Karmazin was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame, Imus made the trip to Chicago to make the presentation, which is odd considering Imus didn't even attend his own ceremony when he was inducted over a decade ago. Nonetheless, Imus thinks that he is maven Mel's favourite. Stern says he doesn't care, saying Imus has become a management suck.
Imus fired back, saying that all along he predicted that Stern would dump his "hideous" wife, which was a good move according to the I-Man, and that he has now become the horrendous bimbo and party boy that Stern so often ridiculed. He's got that house in the Hamptons, and that bimbo swimsuit model girlfriend, which Imus claims is sickening.
Stern hears about Imus's flailing and starts in about what a terrible father Don Imus was to his daughters, and what a terrible husband he was, leaving them when he became a success in the radio business. Stern began comparing the looks of the women Imus has been attached to, calling them dogs compared to his ex-wife and his current squeeze, Beth Ostrosky.
The school yard taunting and gutter-fest crawling came to a head on Thursday, when on Imus's program, producer Bernard McGuirk called in impersonating basketball player Jayson Williams. 'Williams' claimed to have worked out with Ostrosky, and claimed to have had sex with her. 'Williams' went on to describe Stern as an "ugly, hook-nosed, punk-assed bitch," who couldn't satisfy Ostrosky unless she had intercourse with his nose. Stern got wind of the humorous skit and called into Imus's program demanding an apology. Stern, aggrieved over the attack on his girlfriend, threatened to reveal some story about Imus's daughter, Donna, and her involvement with his former producer Linden Abel.
Imus: "What's up?"
Stern: "Hey, stupid, you there?"
Imus: (laughs) "That's me."
Stern: "Yeah, that's you for sure. Hey, stupid bitch, you want me to talk about your daughter and what on between her and Linden?"
Stern: "And Al Rosenberg, you want to talk?"
Stern: "Who's whose bitch?"
Imus: "Why don't you just keep your mouth shut, okay, punk?"
Stern: "Let's talk about your daughter . . ."
Imus: "Yeah, bring it on, bitch."
At which point Imus cuts to a commercial, and Stern was left listening to a country song bumper and the "Imus in the Morning" tag, while calling Imus a pussy.
I listen to Don Imus every morning, and considering it was a faux-Jayson Williams who called in an hour earlier, I didn't think it was Howard Stern, until I checked on some Stern fan sites that in fact Imus was on the phone with Stern. After returning from commercial, Imus thought that it was "just so easy to get [Stern so] upset," that "whiney little bitch." On Stern's program, Stern, alongside sidekick Robin Quivers, producer Gary Dell'Abate and Chaunce Hayden, were decrying the cowboy who refused to step up. Stern vowed to shut Imus down for good. And while Imus was "crapping in his Depends," Stern said he would sink Imus and suggest to his paramour, Ms. Ostrosky, that she see lawyer and sue Imus. Stern threatened that he'd reveal what he knows and stated he was a maniac not worth pissing off.
Imus is not sitting down blithely, though he failed to mention the incident on his program on Friday; at least during the three hours it was simulcast on MSNBC, which I catch daily. On Thursday, he said it was pathetic of Stern, whose ratings are at least double that of Imus's, to call into his program. After listening to portions of Stern's program of last Thursday, I can honestly say it is a little sad for the self-styled 'King of All Media' to have to wait on the line while Charles McCord reads the news, and then be shut down when Imus cuts him off and goes to commercial. For his part, Imus said Thursday: "What happened earlier this morning was somebody claiming to be Jayson Williams called up, suggesting they worked out with Howard's girlfriend - and it was pretty ugly. But you know, I can continue. Just shut up about me and move on. Get some new material, because I'm not going to sit here like a baby seal and get clubbed. And I will make it as ugly as you want to make it."
If you're a betting man, bet that this will get interesting. Though Imus was silent on Friday, Stern was noisily saying he would expose the I-Man, what with the fact he knows a lot considering he "once worked with him." Go back to the transcript above, and see that Imus was calling Stern out to talk about his daughter and Linden Abel.
Both Don Imus and Howard Stern are kings of the realm they dwell in. Both think they're better than the other. Though Stern's got more fans, Imus still has that rebellious streak even though he's tight with all kinds of powerful people, from Michael Lynne and Jeffrey Katzenberg in the movie business, to Dick Grasso late of Wall Street, to publishing powerhouse Esther Newberg, whom Imus affectionately nicknamed, Lobster Newberg. Sure Oprah Winfrey can sell books, but she can only sell certain books. If Imus humps a book, log onto Barnes and Noble or Amazon and see how sales spike after an I-mention.
In this latest battle between radio's titanic titans, put your money on Imus. Stern fans ought to realise, you can't be 12 forever.
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