THAT PREVAILING northeast wind you felt yesterday was the massive yawn that marked Don Imus' return to the airwaves.

In a response befitting his importance, there was nary a discouraging word from anyone of note yesterday when Imus returned to his 6-10 a.m. drive-time slot on WABC-AM in New York. Imus, who talked himself into an eight-month hiatus, opened his new stint with an act of contrition, and this time it sounds as if "act" was not the operative word.

"I didn't see any point in going on some sort of Larry King tour to offer a bunch of lame excuses for an essentially reprehensible remark about innocent people who did not deserve to be made fun of," Imus was quoted as telling his audience yesterday.

He said there were moments when the media firestorm made him feel like he was being raked over the coals unfairly. But then, he said, "I would remind myself that if I hadn't said what I said, then we wouldn't be having this discussion."

There would have been a very different discussion about the Rutgers women's basketball team, too. We would have been talking about how these female student athletes distinguished themselves on the court and off.

We may have been able to talk about them as if they were people and not objects of derision for this aged cowboy wannabe to try to draw a laugh from.

We would not have had that ridiculous discussion about whether Imus' constitutional rights had been abridged when the people who hired him exercised their constitutional right to dropkick his tired butt.

What happened to Imus is exactly what will and should happen to anyone in that position who abuses his privilege. Nobody has a "right" to be on the radio.

Don Imus was not on the air because of any provision in the Constitution. He was there because his sponsors thought they could sell more soap with him than without him. When they thought he was a liability, they let him go.

That's why I never called for him to be fired, as "reprehensible" as his remarks were. I knew then that the market would prevail, and it did.

It has again. Some sponsors are willing to take a shot in the hopes that he will do them more good than harm. That's the American way.

Al Sharpton, who had promised a comment on Imus' return today, has always been ambivalent. At one point, he called for Imus to be fired. Then, later, he said Imus deserved a chance to earn a living.

A number of African-American organizations expressed displeasure last month when WABC confirmed that Imus would be returning. But there has been almost no official response since he came back.

He got what he deserved, and even though his most-loyal fans may still want to whine about it, he has moved on. So have most of the rest of us.

Moving day for me was the night that Imus and his wife spent hours with the Rutgers women and their families apologizing for what he had said. They later said that they had accepted his apology.

I would never have received him that night.

I would have let him stew in his juices and suffer for at least as long as they had suffered from the ridicule he held them up to.

But they were the injured parties, and I have to respect their choice.

"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," Imus said yesterday.

So, that being said, let me add my welcome.

Any of you who have nothing better to listen to than Don Imus, you're welcome to him. *

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith