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Radio host Don Imus and his former employer CBS Radio reached a legal settlement Tuesday that could be worth $10 million, and industry talk quickly turned to Imus’ next likely radio job.
Two of Imus’ former business partners could look to sign him, with market chatter Tuesday focusing on Sirius Satellite Radio and WABC-AM, a station here operated by Citadel Broadcasting, as the biggest bets to land the radio icon.
Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin ran a former iteration of CBS Radio and its parent CBS Corp. in the late 1990s. Citadel chairman and CEO Farid Suleman is Karmazin’s former CFO and later president and CEO of CBS’ radio operation, which then was called Infinity Broadcasting.
Officials for Sirius and Citadel weren’t available for comment Tuesday.
However, Karmazin said last week in a Fox News Channel interview that Imus brings in a lot of money and that the host’s firing wouldn’t stop the executive from working with Imus again.
Meanwhile, XM Satellite Radio, which is planning to merge with Sirius, apparently has shown no interest in Imus.
“We have had no discussions with Imus or his representatives and have no plans to,” a spokesman said.
A CBS spokesman Tuesday confirmed the settlement that pre-empts a $120 million breach-of-contract lawsuit Imus threatened to bring against the company after getting fired in April for his comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, whose players he had described as “nappy-headed hos.”
The two sides didn’t detail the size of the settlement, but legal experts estimated that Imus could recieve a payment in the $10 million range.
The Drudge Report Web site spoke of $20 million midday Tuesday, but the CBS spokesman said that figure was incorrect.
“Don Imus and CBS Radio have mutually agreed to settle claims that each had against the other regarding the Imus radio program on CBS,” the company said. “The terms of the settlement are confidential and will not be disclosed.”
Imus’ lawyer wasn’t available for comment.
Also on Tuesday, CBS Radio’s New York sports station WFAN-AM, which had carried the “Imus in the Morning” show, announced its formal replacement, saying that former NFL quarterback and veteran CBS Sports broadcaster Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton will host “Boomer and Carton in the Morning” weekdays from 6-10 a.m. Their debut broadcast is set for Sept. 4.
WFAN had produced the Imus show and also syndicated it to about 60 other radio stations nationwide.
The news also raised questions about a replacement show at MSNBC, which had simulcast “Imus in the Morning” for years in its morning daypart.
MSNBC began by testing a number of personalities in the former Imus slot before recently hitting a groove with established MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. Although it’s likely that Scarborough could get the nod, an official decision hasn’t been made.
Barry Peek, an entertainment labor/employment attorney at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, said the Imus-CBS settlement provides relief for both sides.
“Imus wants and needs to be on the air,” he said. “CBS, which has seen ratings and revenue declines since his departure, needs to move on. They have given Imus his freedom and will not have to face paying him $120 million not to work.”
Mark Chernoff, vp programming/operations manager at WFAN, said the new sports talk format should be a draw for listeners and advertisers.
“This pairing allows us to have the best of both worlds,” he said of Esiason and Carton. “In Boomer, we have one of the best-known New York sports personalities who speaks from real-life experience. And Craig’s broadcasting abilities have enabled him to draw an audience bigger than that of any other afternoon FM talk show host today.”
Also Tuesday, a member of the Rutgers team sued Imus and CBS, claiming that Imus’ comments about the team damaged her reputation.
Kia Vaughn’s lawsuit, believed to be the first by a player in the case, says Imus and his former co-host Bernard McGuirk, along with CBS Corp. and CBS Radio, are legally responsible for damage done to her character and reputation. There is no dollar amount listed in the suit.
Paul J. Gough in New York, Paul Bond in Los Angeles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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