In a bizarre sideshow to the international furor surrounding Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses,” KFI-AM (640) told morning talk show host Geoff Edwards not to report for work Monday, suspending him indefinitely in a feud over another KFI host’s reaction to the controversy.
Edwards’ 9 a.m.-noon talk show was hosted instead by Tom Leykis, the KFI afternoon host whose plans to burn the recordings of former rock star Cat Stevens sparked the turmoil at the station.
Leykis launched the campaign against Stevens last Thursday to protest the singer-songwriter’s professed support of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s order to kill Rushdie because of what the Iranian leader regarded as his novel’s insults to Islam.
On his show Friday, Edwards condemned Leykis for planning to burn artistic material and threatened to resign if a promotional spot for the record-burning was played during his show. He said he would not be “joining forces with those who want to burn anything.”
“If this radio station is supporting that . . . then I’m out of here. I don’t want to work here,” Edwards told his audience.
He also said that he believed that whatever Leykis did on his own show was “up to him,” but that the burning was “fascist.”
Station manager Howard Neal confirmed Monday that KFI programming director George Oliva had approved Leykis’ campaign but said the reason for Edwards’ suspension was that promoting one radio personality’s show during another’s is a long-standing practice that would not be changed to suit one staff member.
“No one is bigger than the radio station and can tell the radio station how it should operate,” Neal said. “This is a case where the station is more important than the talent.”
“It wasn’t that Geoff couldn’t express a contrary viewpoint to Tom’s show, but to tell management they can’t cross-promote is wrong,” Neal said.
On Monday, Neal sent a terse memo to the KFI staff simply announcing the Edwards suspension. Edwards could not be reached for comment.
The “suspension” of a deejay is a time-honored gimmick in radio, often designed to boost ratings by creating a controversial rift between an on-air personality and station management. But Neal heatedly denied Monday that the Edwards suspension is manufactured.
“There has been nothing done at this radio station that is not a real issue,” Neal said. “This is not a gimmick. It is not a promotional thing. We do not play those kind of games. The suspension is real. It is for an indefinite period of time. I can’t give out the specifics on it.”
Leykis had discussed Stevens’ endorsement of the Ayatollah’s position against Rushdie and “The Satanic Verses” on his 3-7 p.m. program Thursday. Stevens, who became a strict Moslem and changed his name to Yusuf Islam, had been quoted as telling Moslem students in Surrey, England, “The Koran makes it clear: If someone defames the prophet, then he must die.”
A caller suggested the record-burning and Leykis seized on it. He urged listeners Thursday to collect their Stevens’ records and tapes and bring them in to the station for a “mass record burning.”
“I’ve been very upset about this whole issue and now here comes this former rock singer from 10 or 15 years ago coming out and endorsing the Ayatollah’s death sentence against an author,” Leykis said. “Somebody has to say something about that.”
But Edwards, who is probably best-known to TV audiences as the easy-going host of the weekly “Big Spin” California lottery program that airs Saturdays on KTTV Channel 11, blasted the record-burning Friday.
“Geoff is opposed to the destruction of artistic work,” said Paula Schuster, who produces his KFI program. “He believes you don’t burn and destroy artistic work . . . because that’s exactly what the Ayatollah is doing: destroying artistic work.”
Leykis said that the majority of the calls he received Friday during his four-hour program supported the album bonfire, and station officials said several dozen records and tapes had been received.
Leykis also played Stevens’ Top 10 hit “Peace Train” with machine-gun fire edited into the soundtrack.
“The peace train has been derailed,” he said.
The date and location of the burning, which will be supervised by the Los Angeles Fire Department, has not been set yet, according to Leykis’ producer, Alan Eisenson, but Leykis promised a fire sometime this week.
Cat Stevens’ manager could not be reached for comment.