Leykis 101 Grad Party
Tom signing Hot Tub Amy's rack
Sunday, August 13, 2000,
Shock jock Tom Leykis strikes a receptive chord in
men - and brings in plenty of static, too
by Mark Rahner
Seattle Times staff reporter
Information in this article, originally published Aug. 13, was corrected
Aug. 16. The frequency for KQBZ-FM ("The Buzz") is 100.7.
What must it be like to be Tom Leykis?
If you are Tom Leykis, the brutally strident radio shock jock,
you've never been bigger. Your show on KQBZ-FM (100.7 "The Buzz") is
top-rated in drive time among adults 18 to 54. And you're untouchable among men.
Soon you'll premiere your documentary, "Blow Me Up, Tom," here.
If you are Tom Leykis, your ties to Seattle are many: You
frequently riff on Seattle issues to listeners on the 70 stations nationwide
that air your show. You revealed the identities of an accused child molester in
Sea-Tac recently, and of Mary Kay LeTourneau's underage lover before that. You
needle Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Susan Paynter, offering to donate
$40,000 to charity if she'll let you sign her "rack." And you also
single out Seattle men as the biggest wimps in the world.
"They look like the men I see in L.A. when 'The Phantom of the Opera'
will play the Pantages Theatre," Leykis says during a long dinner at his
favorite Seattle restaurant, the Metropolitan Grill. "At the intermission
you'll see all these guys standing around - the straight guys will be
standing around, all downing these $8 Johnny Walker Blacks, wishing the whole
thing would be over, like they have a gun to their heads. That's how guys look
here all the time."
Leykis, 43, is heavyset and dressed in his usual black clothes and black
Raybans - keeping the sunglasses on indoors. In person, he can be charming -
offering a bite of his filet mignon and frequently punctuating remarks with
diabolical laughter. He's also beyond forthcoming. There seems to be no question
he won't answer directly, and no access he won't give. Everything about his
attitude suggests: I don't care. Bring it on.
If you are Tom Leykis, your name is a Rorschach test. This is
because of your stated "public service": to help men get their balls
back and to show women how men really think - and doing so in a way that would
have made tennis player Bobby Riggs look like a sensitivity guru. For hordes of
young men, the Rorschach is in the shape of a hero; for many women it's a pig.
Both tickle you equally, and you often devote entire programs to taking calls
only from women who hate you. By the same token, as a staunch atheist, you also
entertain calls from the religious.
Plenty of women want Leykis to sign their breasts without any $40,000
enticement. During his annual broadcast from the Bite of Seattle on July 21, a
steady stream of women lined up to go onstage and bare themselves for a signing
while hundreds of whooping, chanting fans gaped in Seattle Center's Snoqualmie
Room. Outside, many hundreds more lined up to get in, and began signing each
other before police dispersed the burgeoning Mardi Gras.
The particular appeal of having Leykis apply his Sharpie to one's mammaries
is sometimes as ineffable and emotional-contagion-driven as flashing at Mardi
Gras for party beads.
"I just want to get signed, I don't know," said a visibly nervous
Staci Weigand, 21, of Renton, waiting in line for the privilege in the
But for the woman standing next to her, it was a self-esteem booster.
"I've always been pretty closed up, and looked down when people talked to
me," said Christine, 18, who declined to give her last name. "This
kind of opens me up."
Whether you consider him liberating or oppressive, Leykis has tapped into
something, and it's snowballing. That same day, he learned his ratings in Los
Angeles - his current home - had surpassed Rush Limbaugh's for the first time.
He has inked a deal for a TV show. The 50-minute video documentary, "Blow
Me Up, Tom" - named for an explosive sound effect callers request - is
amateurishly made, but documents his freakish popularity.
Has Leykis tapped into an anti-PC Zeitgeist of simmering male resentment? Or
is it just garden-variety anger-and-sex radio?
"This is the first group of adult males who grew up in a single-parent
household. They don't know how to be guys," Leykis says during the Met
He has studied the wine list there like a proofreader. Although his on-air
persona seems like a six-pack, heavy-metal kind of guy, Leykis is a wine
connoisseur and a jazz buff. His four-story stucco house in the Hollywood Hills
contains a wine cellar, and he's been known to bring his own bottle to
restaurants that aren't up to snuff.
Leykis started his radio career at 14 by winning a contest for an hour on the
air one early weekend morning in New York. He had a "terse" and
"complicated" relationship with his parents - especially his father, a
newspaper layout man and two-fisted union activist who steadfastly opposed the
boy's radio dreams.
When Leykis graduated from high school at 16 and enrolled in broadcasting at
Fordham University, he stayed with his grandmother, in his dad's old bedroom.
There, he found one of his dad's old books - from the Columbia School of
Broadcasting. Leykis never mentioned it to him. But before his father died five
years ago, Leykis was syndicated and said he had "the pleasure of telling
him he backed the wrong horse."
"The Professor" of "Leykis 101" infamy - whose
qualifications include "translating women into English" and being a
"master debater" - was born about three years ago. The unwitting
midwife: call screener and associate producer Mike Dooley.
"Mike was telling me how he was spending all his money on dates with
women. He was going out to restaurants, renting limos, taking them out for
drinks - and they weren't putting out. . . . I said, 'It's because you're
spending all that money. You should be spending nothing,"' he recalls.
As Leykis increasingly focused his on-air shtick on that subject, his
audience swelled. He also whipped up listeners with diatribes on a loophole in
Washington state law that has resulted in some men, who marry single mothers and
divorce them, being forced by courts to pay child support for kids that aren't
"Once we got on that bandwagon, baby, they were calling from all over
the country. That's when I started telling men in Washington state: 'Don't date
single mothers.' It was that, and also because I said: You'll never be the No. 1
person in her life. If you end up wanting a relationship, you'll be trying to
talk over your relationship over a Happy Meal."
State Rep. Renee Radcliff (R-Mukilteo) confirms the legal loophole, and
pledges to have Leykis present to receive the pen if her bill to close it ever
gets the governor's signature.
As for what's really behind Leykis' popularity, University of Washington
sociologist Pepper Schwartz says it's both the Zeitgeist and the anger
that always finds a radio audience.
"I think there is a lot of anger there for men, and he's articulated it
better, and that has something to do with his ability to drill an issue,"
she says. "He takes a strong point of view, and he's shocking and he goes
against the common norms of conduct. People are delighted to see someone step
out of a PC way of interacting, even if it's brutal or explicit - or in some way
just like mooning."
But Schwartz, a relationship expert and Lifetime Network personality, gives
Leykis credit. "Unlike some people up there (in talk radio) who are just
kind of rednecks, he's intelligent. So while he's being outrageous, he's also
Also unlike Limbaugh and his ilk, Leykis says his personal politics are
"small L" libertarian - he says on every show that he's no
"right-wing wacko or convicted felon." Pro-choice, anti-gun control,
pro-affirmative action. But, he throws in, "I wouldn't go to a black or
Hispanic doctor in a state where there was affirmative action. And I have
steadfastly avoided going to any meetings to discuss diversity or sexual
The books Leykis stokes his brain with are mostly political and financial,
like "The Millionaire Next Door." Leykis says he religiously tithes to
mutual funds, and is wealthy enough never to work again. So why does he?
"It's fun," he answers.
A media expert says the young men who find Leykis fun are advertising's most
sought-after demographic. But Leykis doesn't so much represent a surge of male
empowerment as merely an across-the-board increase in programming that targets
all sorts of specific audiences, whether men or gardeners, says UW
communications professor Gerald Baldasty. Even if radio is a niche medium,
Baldasty's colleague, Don Pember, acknowledges, "This kind of talk radio -
whether it's Rush, John Carlson or Dr. Laura - has a religious following. You
don't listen to him to have him change your mind, but to reinforce what you
already believe. He's also like Dr. Laura in that she says things people would
like to tell their friends but would never think of telling them."
And Leykis relishes his work as a walking id: "I say the stuff
that guys can't say. They're thinking it, but they can't say it. All the guys
want to talk about the fat chick in the office or the lesbian in the office, or
the woman who files sexual-harassment complaints in the office even though
nobody would sexually harass her in a million years."
At a recent Leykis listener party at the Ballard Firehouse, Boeing engineer
Curt Costas, 37, said, "He's exactly right about women. If I would have
listened to him four years ago - when this chick used me for my money and used
me to take her on a trip to California - I would have told her to get out.
But," Costas added, "if you're looking for a relationship, you
shouldn't listen to him."
Leykis' influence, predictably, is nothing short of odious to some.
"I just have to deal with the Tom Leykis fallout," said one Seattle
woman. The fallout "includes embittered, immature men who don't recognize
over-the-top, ratings-driven bravado and take his message very much to heart. I
work with someone who listens to Leykis constantly."
Asking not to be named, to avoid awkwardness at work, she said, "The guy
is wretched to me and pretty much every other woman here in the office, and I
cannot help but feel that it is Leykis who has helped whip him up into this
Was Leykis always a Sam Peckinpah alpha male?
He readily admits he's made all the mistakes he inveighs against, before
settling into his current marriage - his fourth.
Leykis' marriage to Los Angeles TV reporter Christina Gonzalez ended when he
allegedly discovered she was cheating on him, by finding various receipts. On
the rebound, he had a one-year marriage to a Seattle listener. Leykis vilified
Gonzalez on the air, but said he has since reached "an understanding"
with her, and had an amicable split with the Seattle woman.
"I believe he really loved Christina. I think that's what really broke
his heart," says Bart Graves, a Phoenix radio journalist and longtime
friend of Leykis.
Leykis met his current wife, Susan, 40, at an L.A. Kings hockey game, and
their nearly nine-year marriage is his longest. They like to watch baseball and
hockey together at home. Leykis says she can match him toe-to-toe in any
Friends say Leykis has always preferred women who put their own career goals
aside to focus on his. Susan, a shy woman is still getting used to the attention
- which includes women flashing her husband in restaurants - is a former
marketing representative who now works as Leykis' personal assistant.
So what's it like being married to "The Professor"?
"That's kind of a hard question to answer in a succinct manner. It's
always interesting," she says.
"He's very easygoing at home. People say, 'Does he scream and yell all
the time at home? Is he always picking arguments?' I think he gets it all out on
the air. He's an entertainer, and I think people lose sight of that."
Still, Susan admits, "There were times when I'd get upset about
something (he'd say on the air), call him during a break and ask, 'How could you
say that?' But I realized for peace and harmony to reign in the household, it's
entertainment. I don't take it seriously."
What might surprise listeners about Leykis, she says, is that he likes to
spend quality time with his pet guinea pig. "They have a conversation every
morning. He's completely enthralled with Tom."
A pet is the closest he's likely to come to having a child. After sharing a
small bedroom with a brother and two sisters - from whom he's now estranged -
Leykis says bluntly, "I put in my time with kids."
Leykis treats his core group of male friends - who jokingly call themselves
his "enablers" - as family, according to Graves.
They became friends 15 years ago, when Leykis would do a remote broadcast at
a Ford dealership and five people would show up - four of them dealers. "He
did a very different show then, an extremely liberal show in a very conservative
town." Later, when Leykis became syndicated, Graves says he reinvented
himself. "This persona he's created is doing very well. It is a
Off the air, Leykis isn't as confrontational with women, Graves says.
"He'll do a slow burn a long time before he gets on someone."
"But people want to know, 'Do you believe what you say?' That's what
they all want to know," Leykis says in the restaurant. "And the answer
is, surprisingly to most people: yes. I believe what I say."
His critics' most frequent accusation: He's a misogynist - a woman-hater.
"I hear it all the time," Leykis says. "But I do not
hate women. I am honest about the differences between men and women."
If you are Tom Leykis, men literally want to lay hands on you and
buy you drinks. (You laugh off a joke that your favorite cocktail, a Lemon Drop,
ain't too manly.) Everywhere you go, men want to tell you what women have done
to them and how you have helped them.
After the dinner - a few weeks before the Bite of Seattle - Leykis was
standing on a corner without his entourage when a cab driver hauling passengers
in the opposite direction stopped abruptly and hollered the show's familiar
greeting at him: "Hellooooo, Tom!" Forgetting about the passengers in
the back, the driver insisted on taking Leykis anywhere he was going.
"We didn't know America before we started listening to him," said
cab driver Jerome Adams, 47, originally from India. "It's a great
If you are Tom Leykis, you are wary of becoming a caricature. You
say you plan to avoid that by continuing to evolve your material into some new
direction. But none of that is clear yet. At the moment, being Tom Leykis is one
hell of a lot of fun. You'll be mobbed like a rock star at each stop in a pub
crawl after the Bite of Seattle broadcast.
As your limo pulls away from the Snoqualmie Room, it's surrounded by roaring
fans, and one scowling woman giving you an obscene gesture.
"Isn't it amazing?" Leykis says. "It's like a cult. And we
backed into this! This is all stuff I believe. I just didn't know how powerful
it all was."
Mark Rahner's telephone number is 206-464-8259.
2000 The Seattle Times Company