NEW YORK -- When it comes to finding a permanent replacement for fired radio personality Don Imus, only one thing appears certain: David Lee Roth is not a candidate.
Two months after Imus's ignominious exit from WFAN-AM (and his syndicated outlets), a variety of fill-ins have rolled through the revolving door at the sports radio station: tennis great John McEnroe, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory, Chicago radio morning man Mike North. Comedian Dennis Miller and radio host Mancow Muller were broached as possible successors, while others improbably suggested that CBS Radio bring Imus back. But the station's parent company is offering no details about its hunt for a new morning man in the nation's biggest radio market, offering only a blanket no comment.
Others have offered more pointed takes on the company's pursuit of a suitable successor. "Their search has been a disaster," wrote Bob Raissman of the New York Daily News, who advocated Imus redux in the fall. "A mish-mosh of miscast talents has paraded into the FAN . . . failing to produce compelling morning radio."
CBS is taking its time in replacing Imus, trying to avoid a repeat of the Roth fiasco of 2006. The ex-Van Halen frontman was hired to replace Howard Stern, but was bounced by CBS after barely three months on the air.
The firing was the first falling domino in CBS' new "Free FM" format, which was jettisoned last month on its New York FM station K-Rock. The failed talk format never gained ratings traction in the Big Apple, and the station returned to a rock format.
One year after Roth's removal, Imus was ousted over his reprehensible comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, creating a giant void. WFAN's afternoon sports talk stars Mike Francesa and Chris "Mad Dog" Russo will continue filling the Imus slot through the end of June, but there's no timetable beyond that.
Michael Harrison, publisher of trade magazine Talkers, said WFAN remains such a strong station that it can select a new morning host at its leisure. "WFAN is a success story, with or without Imus -- a gigantic success," Harrison said. "And that's why they can take their time to get the right morning host."
The bigger problem, he said, was the lack of quality replacements available. Imus was brought to New York from Cleveland in the 1970s, while Stern came north from Washington in the '80s. But Harrison sees no stars lurking these days in the smaller market cities. "This is a sorry commentary on the state of the farm system in talk radio," Harrison said. "There's no clear-cut answer for talent when openings come up."
There are other factors to consider. Will WFAN go with a sports talk show, or continue in the Imus mold with a more broad-based morning program? Do they want a comedian? A conservative? Co hosts?
"You don't want to make the wrong choice," said Tom Taylor of radio-info.com. "It's very important to avoid the wrong choice. You want to find the right guy -- if you want Roger Clemens, get Roger Clemens."