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Imus returns, says Rutgers furor was 'life-changing'

NEW YORK -- Don Imus returned to the airwaves Monday eight
months after he was fired for a racist and sexist remark about the
Rutgers women's basketball team, introducing a new cast that
included two black comedians.

During the show, Imus again apologized to the Rutgers basketball players and called the
ensuing furor a "life-changing experience."

"I will never say anything in my lifetime that will make any of
these young women at Rutgers regret or feel foolish that they
accepted my apology and forgave me," he said. "And no one else
will say anything else on my program that will make anyone think
that I didn't deserve a second chance."

Imus' lineup of guests featured two presidential hopefuls,
Democrat Chris Dodd and Republican John McCain. As he did several
times in the days after the episode, Imus condemned his
controversial remark last spring and said he had learned his
lesson.

"I didn't see any point in going on some sort of 'Larry King'
tour to offer a bunch of lame excuses for making an essentially
reprehensible remark about innocent people who did not deserve to
be made fun of," he said Monday during his debut on WABC-AM.

His debut Monday completed a comeback that seemed improbable at
the height of the uproar last spring over his calling the players
"nappy-headed hos." CBS Radio fired him on April 12, pulling the
plug on his "Imus In the Morning" program that had aired on more
than 70 stations and the MSNBC cable network.

McCain, who called into the show, answered questions about gays
in the military [he said he would continue the "don't ask, don't
tell" policy unless military leaders said it wasn't working], the
recent surge in Iraq [he said it was doing the job], and the 2008
presidential election.

"Thanks for having me on," McCain said upon signing off.
"Welcome back, old friend."

An hour before the 6 a.m. show began, more than a dozen fans --
all of them white -- waited outside the Town Hall theater for the
sold-out show. The $100 tickets benefited the Imus Ranch for Kids
With Cancer.

Shortly after the program began, Imus introduced his new cast,
including two black comedians, Karith Foster and Tony Powell.
Returning was Bernard McGuirk, the producer who instigated the
Rutgers comment and was fired as well.

On the air, Imus said that every time he would get upset about
getting fired, "I would remind myself that if I hadn't said what I
said, then we wouldn't be having this discussion."

He talked about when he and his wife, Deirdre, met with the
team, their coach and some of the players' parents and
grandparents, for four hours the night he was fired from CBS Radio.
The team members accepted Imus' apology that evening.

"I was there to save my life. I had already lost my job," he
said. "They said they would never forget and I said I would never
forget."

He talked about his experience over the past 20 years as a
recovering alcoholic and drug addict and said that participating in
recovery programs had given him the opportunity to be "a better
person ... to have a better life."

While saying he had learned his lesson, he added -- to applause
from the live audience -- "The program is not going to change."

His guests also included historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and
political analysts James Carville and Mary Matalin.

While Imus pledged to use his new show to talk about race
relations, he added: "Other than that, not much has changed. Dick
Cheney is still a war criminal, Hillary Clinton is still Satan and
I'm back on the radio."

Much of the show was devoted to presidential politics.

Imus said McCain was "still my choice," and McCain responded
by saying that the shock jock's support meant more to him than the
polls, which show him in the single digits, lagging far behind
frontrunners Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.

Later, Imus chatted with Connecticut Sen. Dodd, who called into
the show from Iowa, where he is languishing in the polls.

"Drive time radio has been boring, so welcome home," Dodd
said. He also asked Imus to consider coming to Iowa to endorse his
long-shot campaign.

"Hillary's got Barbara Streisand endorsing her out here and let
me tell you ... More people out here look and sound a lot more like
you than they do Babs. So if I can get you out here ... we're home
free, I think."

Imus' resurrection is just the latest in his four-decade career.
The veteran shock jock has emerged intact in the past after
assorted firings, bad publicity and a disastrous appearance at a
Washington dinner before President Clinton.

Just three months after he was fired, the Rev. Al Sharpton, one
of the strongest voices calling for his firing, said Imus had a
right to make a living and could return to radio. Sharpton planned
a news conference later Monday.

The prospect of Imus' return had outraged critics including the
National Association of Black Journalists and the National
Organization for Women.

Just before his dismissal, Imus signed a five-year, $40 million
contract with CBS. He threatened a $120 million lawsuit after he
was fired, but he settled in August for an undisclosed amount of
money.

In addition to being aired on the Citadel Broadcasting-owned
station, WABC, the new program will air on 4 other Citadel stations
and 17 other stations owned by other companies, said Phil Boyce,
program director of WABC. Other stations are expected to sign up to
carry Imus in the coming weeks, Boyce said.

The show also will be simulcast on cable's RFD-TV, owned by the
Rural Media Group Inc. RFD reaches nearly 30 million homes, but
with Imus on board the 24-hour cable network hopes to boost that
number to 50 million over the next two years.

WABC is already home to several syndicated hosts: Rush Limbaugh,
Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.