Advertisers Hold the Key To Imus's Future

NBC has bailed on Imus. So have several advertisers. Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson continue to call for him to be fired, from his radio gig.

But with his radio future still on the line, the key to his career might be how many of those remaining advertisers decide to stay on, at least one analyst says.

On Wednesday, one after another of the show's advertisers pulled their support.

"Advertisers don't want to be anywhere around a racial controversy," said Eric Dezenhall a crisis management consultant with Dezenhall Resources.

There are still a few holding on and taking the wait-and-see attitude.

Ultimately, NBC's decision to pull an Imus simulcast on MSNBC didn't rest solely with advertisers, media watchers say.

"Within this organization, this had touched a nerve," NBC news division president Steve Capus told the Associated Press. "The comment that came through to us, time and time again, was `when is enough going to be enough?' This was the only action we could take."

The fate of Imus now rests with the CBS Corp., which owns both the radio station WFAN-AM that is the host's broadcast home, and the syndicator Westwood One.

CBS Radio has suspended Imus for two weeks without pay and is waiting to see how this story plays out.

Continued Controversy Could Mean the End

Dezenhall said that if Imus is able to pull in a strong audience when he returns in two weeks, advertisers can flock back to him, keeping the show alive.

Imus, said Dezenhall, has two things going for him: He has made a career "by being obnoxious" and he has strong ratings.

"So there are people who are interested in keeping him on the air," he said. "Where you get into a lot of trouble is when you have someone who isn't that successful, who is easily dispensable."

Over the years, the actions of radio host Howard Stern have cost him advertisers. But, he has also picked up many along the way, keeping a strong source of revenue for the show.

"There have been plenty of TV shows that have gotten in hot water before, but for everybody they lose, they also pick up someone else," noted Dezenhall.

Advertisers Are Evaluating Imus

Some advertisers have very strict policies about what shows they are affiliated with.

Eric Rabe, vice president for media relations at Verizon Communications, said Wednesday: "We don't advertise on Imus and actually we have a policy of not advertising on Imus and have had for some years."

Verizon has a similar policy with Howard Stern. "We'd rather not have our advertising in the show," Rabe said.

Others changed their minds as momentum against Imus grew Wednesday.

Early Wednesday morning, General Motors spokeswoman Ryndee Carney spoke about being an historic advertiser on Imus."We have no plans to change our advertising plans at this point in time," she said.

But by noon, GM had a bit of a turnaround saying in a statement that it was going to suspend advertising "while we continue to monitor the situation."

Others advertisers, such as TD Ameritrade, are "currently evaluating the sponsorship" of the Imus show.

Is It Really the End For Imus?

In the past, as advertisers have abandoned controversial hosts so have stations. But that doesn't mean that they won't resurface later.

Take the case of Washington D.C. shock jock Doug Tracht -- known as The Greaseman.

In 1986, while talking about Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday being made a national holiday, he said that if someone had "shot four more" everybody would get a whole week off. That comment lost him his job, but he later landed a new spot on the airwaves.

In 1999, he was back in the headlines when he played part of a Lauryn Hill hip-hop tune and said, "No wonder people drag them behind trucks" -- alluding to the torture-murder of black Jasper, Texas, resident James Byrd Jr.

That comment also caused him to lose his job, but today he is back on the air.

With Imus, it's still too early to tell what type of financial fallout there will be. But Dezenhall says: "The problem with Imus: he wasn't going after gangster rappers. He was going after women who by most standards are exemplary people."