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Radio host Don Imus in talks with Fox Business Network

The struggling cable channel, looking to boost viewership, is negotiating to simulcast Imus' syndicated early-morning radio show.

August 11, 2009|Matea Gold

Fox Business Network, looking to boost viewership after nearly two years of struggling to win over audiences, is in talks with controversial radio host Don Imus about carrying his morning show on the cable channel.

The provocative and popular personality is in final negotiations with the financial news channel, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The plan is to simulcast his syndicated early-morning radio show, which means it would air from 3 to 6 a.m. on the West Coast. No deal is in place yet between the two parties, but if the talks conclude as anticipated, the arrangement could start sometime in September.

Imus' show is currently broadcast by RFD-TV, a cable network aimed at farmers. It's been carried by the rural channel since December 2007, almost eight months after Imus was booted off MSNBC and CBS Radio for derogatory comments about African American players on the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

A spokesman for Imus declined to comment on the talks.

Irena Briganti, a spokeswoman for Fox Business, said, "We talk to interesting and engaging talent all the time."

The wooing of the plain-spoken radio host underscores the upstart cable network's efforts to cast itself as the populist answer to business news. When Fox Business launched in October 2007, network executives said they were programming for Main Street as well as Wall Street -- a clear reference to the markets-oriented approach of CNBC. It remains to be seen how the often-crass style of Imus, a craggy cowboy who has a ranch in New Mexico, will mesh with the channel's flashy New York aesthetic.

But there's no question that the move would add some firepower to Fox Business' morning lineup. Imus' show would replace current programming, which includes "Fox Business Morning," hosted by Connell McShane and Jenna Lee, and "Money for Breakfast," anchored by Alexis Glick and Eric Bolling. Nielsen Media Research does not release public ratings for Fox Business, which is available in about 50 million homes. CNBC reaches almost twice as many households.

The move would also underscore the public rehabilitation of Imus, whose on-air description of the Rutgers women's basketball players as "some nappy-headed hos" in 2007 triggered widespread condemnation. The sharp-tongued host apologized for his remarks, calling them "insensitive and ill-conceived." But that did not stem the tide of criticism from activists such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and national women's groups. Advertisers such as General Motors and American Express pulled their spots off his MSNBC show. After the cable network yanked his simulcast, CBS Radio canceled his program.

Imus eventually secured a termination settlement with CBS and found a new home on WABC-AM in New York. Many of the politicians and journalists who were guests on his old show returned. Recently, he has devoted time on the air to discussing his prostate cancer, which was diagnosed in March.

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matea.gold@latimes.com

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