By Bob Andelman
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If syndicated right-wing radio talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North are as powerful and influential as they seem to think, why isn’t Bob Dole the president of the United States?
That’s what Tom Leykis wants to know.
Leykis, 40, is a lonely liberal voice on most radio dials in the United States, railing against the perception that the only point of view radio listeners are interested in these days is a conservative one. “There’s two kinds of shows,” he jokes. “There’s Rush and there’s people who want to be like Rush.
“When Newt Gingrich swept into power two years ago, a lot of station managers were convinced the country was going conservative,” he says. “Radio is a copycat medium, so there were stations that wouldn’t take anything that wasn’t conservative.”
Not anymore. “The Tom Leykis Show” has grown from one station two years ago to 225, a rate of growth Leykis claims outpaces Limbaugh’s early development. Even more satisfying for him, however, it indicates the public still has an appetite for more than one screaming, outrageous radio flavor.
“This,” he shouts at the start of each night’s program, “is the talk show that is not hosted by a right-wing wacko or a convicted felon. NO!”
TOM LEYKIS audio excerpt: “The only way radio people think you can be successful anymore is if you’re notorious. Sometimes I say to myself, ‘Maybe I should have been convicted of a crime.’.”
Anybody listening to Leykis’ show will instantly recognize that this is a man with genuinely strong opinions who isn’t afraid to spill out what he thinks whether anyone agrees or not. And there is no confusing Leykis with Limbaugh, as his stance on a few simple issues confirms:
• Abortion: “I am pro-choice. Always have been.”
• Balanced budget amendment: “I’m opposed to simply saying we’re going to balance it by any date. That just encourages them to find loopholes.”
• School prayer: “Opposed. Resolutely.”
• Contract with America: “It’s a contract on America. It was a fraud. The reason Bill Clinton won is people found out it was a fraud.”
That said, Leykis says it would be a mistake to assume he’s a Democrat. He’s not. He doesn’t belong to any political party. “I do not have an objective of getting Democrats elected, (whereas) Rush Limbaugh is a toady of the Republican Party. They fax him an agenda.”
Leykis, who spent 15 years doing local talk radio in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami and Albany, N.Y., before getting the syndication boost, is simpatico with Limbaugh’s lifelong career as a radio guy. But he can’t say the same for “guys who’ve been trading arms for hostages in the Pentagon,” or Michael Reagan, “who is in radio because of who his father is.”
“I think it shows how little respect people in radio have for the craft of broadcasting,” Leykis laments. “The only way radio people think you can be successful anymore is if you’re notorious. Sometimes I say to myself, ‘Maybe I should have been convicted of a crime.’ ”
For Leykis, radio is a way of life, not a way station. He got started the way many teenagers do, writing a letter to local disc jockeys and asking to watch them work. One of the local disc jockeys broadcasting in Leykis’ neighborhood was Don Imus, whose New York City-based program is syndicated by the same company, Westwood One, which now distributes Leykis’ show.
“I wrote letters to three different DJs,” he recalls. “Don Imus was the only one who sent me a handwritten response, inviting me to watch him work. I got there at 5:30 a.m. and stayed all morning.”
What he saw — and photographed in great detail — wasn’t the magic he imagined while listening at home in his bedroom.
“It was a job,” the 15-year-old Leykis observed. “His preparation was incredible. He had a book of scripts. And Imus didn’t seem like he was having a good time. I was shocked. But it was an important lesson. This is a job, not an ego trip. You punch in, you do your job.
“I’m not here to change the world, Leykis says. “I’m here to sell advertising — that’s my agenda.”
Bob Andelman is the host and producer of Mr. Media® Interviews. He is also the author or co-author of 12 books, including Mind Over Business with Ken Baum, The Consulate with Thomas R. Stutler, The Profiler with Pat Brown, Built From Scratch with the founders of The Home Depot, The Profit Zone with Adrian Slywotzky, Mean Business with Albert J. Dunlap, and Will Eisner: A Spirited Life. Click here to see Bob Andelman’s Amazon Central author page. He is a member in good standing of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (member page).