Tom Leykis signs off after a long career in Southern California radio

Tom Leykis has been working since he was 14. I first heard him when he joined the all-new, all-talk KFI (640 AM) in 1988; Leykis was among the first group of hosts when the station dropped music, and was firmly established as the “liberal voice” of the station by the time syndicated conservative talker Rush Limbaugh arrived.

In many ways, it is humorous that he was considered the liberal voice of the station. Certainly, he was — and is — on the liberal side. But while he did discuss political issues, his show was never totally about politics. Of course, especially at the time, neither was Limbaugh’s. So the two complemented each other well.

In fact, I actually don’t remember any political issues he discussed (though he was known to stir up controversy from time to time). What I do remember is a show he dedicated to the Burger King down the street from the station running out of french fries … and other times when he opened himself up such that his personal life — both the good and the bad — was on full display to all of his listeners. In sum, it was more general talk than anything else, often fun, sometimes serious, always entertaining, and for all ages. I listened with my college friend Andrew Holt; my mom listened on the way home from work.

The details escape me, but Leykis left the station in 1992. Two years later, he found himself on KMPC (now KSPN 710 AM) as one of the star attractions of the new 710 Talk. I remember the first broadcast day when the staffers were calling fake traffic conditions into the news services, trying to get KFI to report “problems on the 710” in reference to the new competitor’s frequency.

Talk didn’t last long at KMPC, so in 1997 Leykis was part of the FM talk format on KLSX (now KNX-FM, 97.1). Here is where his show made a 180-degree turn away from politics and general issues. Scratch that – it was more of a 1620-degree turn (for my Geometry A experts); the new show was absolutely nothing like the old. It centered on relationships and dating, basically how men can get dates, have biblical relations, and not get married. Ironic somewhat, as Leykis had himself been married — and divorced — more than once. And yet his on-air persona was nothing like the off-air person. I always found Leykis to be thoughtful, a student of radio history, and an expert on the industry’s movers and shakers.

Thus, when KLSX dropped talk in 2009, he had such a solid contract it allowed him to continue to be paid by the station for not working. He wasn’t allowed to talk about his experiences at the station nor give his opinion as to what they did … he held that for after his contract finally expired and he started his own podcast roughly three years later.

In April 2012 he launched The New Normal Network and put his Tom Leykis Show on the net. In his mind, radio was dying, and the internet was the only place to go. The show continued in the vein of the KLSX program, with premium content streamed only to subscribers. Things were going well.

Then, in early May of this year, he says he woke up and thought about his life … about the fact that he had been working since age 14 … that his 68th birthday would be coming up this August. And he realized it was time to quit. So he did. The last new show was streamed on May 15th.

Leykis reflected on the decision to end the program. “A long time ago, I realized I did not want to be like some of the hosts I heard in the past — begging for callers, stretching for topics,” he told me. “I wanted to go out on my terms when I wanted. So I did.”

There are few hosts able to change with the times as well as Leykis. He did radio as long as he could, and entered streaming media when few had done it while still making money. Through it all, he stayed true to his convictions and entertained his audience until the very last day. I hold my glass high as a toast to a true pioneer … and a real survivor.

Congratulations on your retirement, Mr. Leykis. You deserve the time to relax.


I’ve received many emails over the years. Most are supportive, many are suggestions, a few calling me out on an opinion they disagreed with. But I’ve never gotten one exactly like this.

“About five or so years ago, I started a blog based on my life experiences, an autobiography of sorts. Recently, an article you wrote in my local paper called, ‘Right format could be talk radio’s second wind’ inspired me to write a post of my own for my blog.”

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He was asking permission to reference the column, which of course I immediately provided. But the blog is a testament to the importance of radio – the human touch that carries through the airwaves and bonds us all. Radio is far more than the sum of its parts … and it is imperative to save it for our own good.

Read the blog at

Richard Wagoner is a San Pedro freelance columnist covering radio in Southern California. Email

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