The current person to whom this meaningless moniker has been attached is radio host Don Imus. Imus, for those not living in America and/or those who really don't care, is currently in all sorts of trouble over an inappropriate on-air remark involving the term "nappy-headed hos." Because he made an offensive comment towards black womens' basketball players, he's now being protested and contested and suspended and upended. And in every writeup on this story, every development, every mention made of him by plastic talking tee-vee heads, he's referred to as "Controversial Shock Jock Don Imus."
Don Imus is not a shock jock. Let me tell you what Don Imus is.
Don Imus is a cranky old fart. He is an crusty, opinionated, bitter social commentator with his own set of moral guidelines and very little in the vocal restraint category. He is but a shadow of his former radio self, when he was the powerhouse darling of New York's WNBC in the 70s and 80s and even Howard Stern held him in fearful respect. For some reason, whatever reason, probably atrophy, he's been allowed to continue speaking on the air with his baritone clipped form of speech, even when faced with his own impending irrelevancy.
Imus has made a career of running his mouth off, holding forth any opinions he wishes to hell with the consequences, and shrugging off most recriminations. He's been conditioned over four decades to say what he knows will bring in indignant callers whose confrontational dialogues will make for Good Radio. And frankly, he's probably glad for the brouhaha right now, because I am absolutely sure that 99% of those who were offended by his remark weren't listening to him when he said it live on the air but you can be sure as hell they were listening afterwards. Controversy equals ears glued to the radio, you know that. Even when one media outlet yanks your coverage and you lose a few sponsors. Besides, when was the last time you saw a news story on the man?
"Shock Jock", on the other hand, is a term which is supposed to refer to Madcow And J-Dog In The Morning. The Monster Boys and their Lesbian Lunch Fiesta. Tony and Greg's Drive-Time Drive-By. Rude, crude, and full of attitude, as said in a guttural voice with a mean bunch of power chords behind it. Ready to say anything, do anything, force interns to eat anything for a laugh. Soundboards at the ready to punctuate any point with just the right soundbite from Scarface or a toilet flushing. They're often paired with a woman jock for the "Oh come on, you guys" contrast, the superego to their id, the third of the "Two Dicks And A Chick" radio formula, appealing to the lowest common denominator since Stern started poking fun at his hourly news reporter.
Imus? Well, the man who once prank-called a McDonald's, pretended he was the commander of a nearby military base and wanted to order "a thousand cheeseburgers to go", well, Imus has risen above Shock Jock status, whether you want to believe it or not. A man whose show was once simulcast on C-SPAN can hardly be considered such. Sure, he's a blowhard, and he'll say things to get people riled up, but the last time I checked, he never held an on-air endurance contest where folks kept drinking water but held out taking a bathroom break in order to win a Nintendo Wii. But now, seeing as how "Shock Jock" is apparently being used to denote any radio personality who has said, on-air, something that people have found offensive enough to indignantly pipe up and complain about, we'll have to label Rush Limbaugh, David Brudnoy, Rachel Maddow, Art Bell, Al Franken, Dr. Laura -- heck, even the Voice of the New England Patriots, Gil Santos, we'll have to call them all Shock Jocks.
But for right now, let's focus on finding another phrase for Imus. To help with your creative process, I'm pretty sure we'll soon be seeing "Outgoing" or "Retired" attached to whatever he's called, so try using those as seeds. And for a long-term goal, let's try so very hard to phase "shock jock" out of our collective media vocabulary, as its useless shorthand has become almost as useless as one who thinks ragging on a women's basketball team is a great way to drum up publicity.