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Radio Personality Drives His Point Home With a Steamroller

March 09, 1989|CLAUDIA PUIG | Times Staff Writer

Moments after playing Cat Stevens' "Peace Train" on the air, KFI-AM talk show host Tom Leykis followed through on his promised "symbolic protest" Wednesday by donning a hard hat and driving a steamroller over a pile of about 200 records, tapes and compact discs by the former recording star.

Leykis' destruction of the materials was intended as a protest against Stevens' endorsements of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death sentence against "Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie.

Stevens, who in 1979 became a Muslim convert and changed his name to Yousuf Islam, has been quoted as telling students in Surrey, England: "The Koran makes it clear: If someone defames the Prophet, then he must die."

Leykis told listeners as he climbed aboard a steamroller: "I hope to send a message back to Cat Stevens; I hope to send a message to the Ayatollah: We do not endorse murder. We endorse the right of the American people to read, think and say whatever they want to."

Just after 3 p.m., Leykis maneuvered the steamroller bearing a sign reading "Leykis' Peace Train" and crushed the small pile.

"We're getting some good crushing action," the disc jockey yelled. "Here they go!"

As Leykis drove over the materials, a handful of protesters shouted, "It's Art, Don't Do It" and "Crush Khomeini, Not Records."

It was all over in about five minutes. But Leykis spent another half an hour posing for photographers and answering reporters' questions.

Although Leykis had asked listeners to turn in their Stevens' records, the public was not invited to the record destruction, which was held at an "undisclosed site" in Compton. Leykis, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest, said listeners were not allowed to attend because the crushing was held on private property and there could be "liability problems."

'Little Bit Wayward'

"Cat Stevens isn't the problem," said one of the protesters, Franklin Sterns of Los Angeles, a member of the Jewish Defense League. "He's just a little bit wayward now. . . . Khomeini is the problem."

Irv Rubin, national chairman of the JDL, called the destruction "just a hype for KFI. . . . The methodology is stupid, it smacks of fascism."

Leykis did not deny that the protest was intended to garner publicity.

"I'm not ashamed of promoting KFI," he said. "To me, Cat Stevens getting the message makes it all worthwhile."

The disc jockey countered attacks that his destruction of artistic materials is akin to censorship: "It's not the same as censorship at all. We don't say they should take the records off the shelves. . . . You can buy a Cat Stevens record today and I endorse your right to do so."

Culminated in Resignation

Controversy erupted two weeks ago at KFI after Leykis announced his plans to destroy the records. It culminated in the resignation of morning talk show host Geoff Edwards, who had criticized the proposed destruction on the air, calling it "fascist" and threatening to quit if promotions for the event were aired during his show.

On Wednesday, Edwards' co-host, Dan Avey, and the producer and assistant producer of the morning talk show were fired.

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