Bob Sherman, 69, radio station executive who hired Imus, Stern

After Bob Sherman (left) brought Imus back to the morning drive-time slot, ratings and advertising revenues rebounded. After Bob Sherman (left) brought Imus back to the morning drive-time slot, ratings and advertising revenues rebounded. (New York Times)
By Dennis Hevesi
New York Times / August 27, 2011

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NEW YORK - Bob Sherman, who as executive vice president of the New York radio station WNBC in the late 1970s and early ’80s played a role in fomenting the irreverent, boisterous, and sometimes profane “shock jock’’ genre by hiring Howard Stern and rehiring Don Imus, died Aug. 14 in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. He was 69.

The cause was cancer, his son Tate said.

WNBC was slumping in the ratings when Mr. Sherman was appointed executive vice president in 1979. One of his first moves was to bring back Imus, who had been fired two years earlier for what the station deemed a lack of professionalism and who was working in Cleveland. With Imus back in the morning drive-time slot, ratings and advertising revenues rebounded.

By summer 1982, Mr. Sherman and WNBC’s general manager, Dom Fioravanti, had hired Stern, who, as New York magazine said in 1985, was “flapping his gums weekday mornings in Washington, D.C., provoking tempers, grabbing headlines, and quadrupling his audience.’’

Soon after, WNBC was promoting the two in print and television ads, often with the slogan “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.’’

“By hiring Imus and Stern, Sherman laid the foundation for shock-jock radio,’’ Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media, said in an interview.

Imus’s show featured fictional, satirical characters like the Rev. Billy Sol Hargus, a profane religious zealot, while Stern “made himself the lead character in his sex-obsessed universe,’’ Simon said. “There’s no doubt that they transformed what was considered taste in radio, and others soon followed.’’

In an affectionate article about Mr. Sherman on The Long Island Press’s website, his friend and former business partner Jerry Della Femina wrote: “Bob never tired of telling the hilarious story of when Imus stumbled into the Greenwich Village lair of the Hells Angels and challenged the Hells Angels to a fight. In this way Bob Sherman and Don Imus were a perfect match in those days. Don was fearless and liked to start fights, and Bob - a strong, big, tough ex-military policeman - was there to finish them.’’

Mr. Sherman was, in a way, born into the radio business. His father, Paul, was heard for many years on WINS in New York, first as a disc jockey and later, when the station switched to a news format, an announcer and reporter.

Robert Barry Sherman was born in Jersey City. His family eventually moved to Great Neck, N.Y., and Bob began selling advertising for his father’s station and attending nearby Adelphi University, graduating in 1963.

A series of advertising sales jobs over the next decade led to his hiring as general sales manager at WCAU in Philadelphia, and, in 1974, to his promotion to station manager. Five years later, he was hired by WNBC.

Mr. Sherman left WNBC in 1982 to cofound the advertising agency Della Femina, Travisano, Sherman & Olken. He later helped start two radio networks that serve small markets, was an executive at AOL-Time Warner, and, in 2003, became chairman of the Double O Radio network.

Besides his son Tate, Mr. Sherman, who lived in Chappaqua, N.Y., leaves his wife of 28 years, the former Amanda Tomalin; two other sons, Luke and Scott; and three daughters, Jessica, Tess, and Nell.

When WNBC hired Stern in 1982, the station knew what it was getting into, Mr. Sherman told New York magazine.

His new bosses, he recalled, told Stern to steer away from sex and religion. But his first month on the air, the article noted, Stern “did a bit called ‘Virgin Mary Kong,’ about God’s new video game in which a bunch of guys kept chasing the Holy Mother around a singles bar.’’