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Jesus Will Return...
After These Messages.
A radio talk show host poses as Jesus,
and wins a loyal, sometimes critical, audience.
By Cortney Fielding
esus was a carpenter.
Now, apparently, he works for Clear Channel. While once he roamed the desert spreading his father’s word, today, the son of God stays put inside a Burbank office complex, where he plays host to his own call-in radio show. Let the people come to him for a change.
Every Sunday from 6-9 a.m., Jesus comforts the afflicted, engages atheists in theology debates and doles out free advice to the lovelorn like some holy savior-Dr. Joyce Brothers hybrid.
And with close to 130,000 listeners so early in the morning, he is number one in his time period.
No, it’s not a joke.
The voice behind “the Jesus Christ Show” is Neil Saavedra, a 36-year-old, tattooed Mexican-American punk rock ex-Catholic who spends his earthly time as the marketing director for KFI-AM 640, the Los Angeles talk radio station that airs his show, designing promotional billboards for Dr. Laura and home-town Libertarian-bent news personalities, John and Ken.
Tall, trim, fashionably dressed with a shaved head, manicured goatee and bulky metal jewelry adorning his body, he's been characterized as everything from “sexy” in the press to “someone who looks like he could absolutely kill you at any moment,” by co-workers. Bottom line- he doesn’t really look the part.
Saavedra’s candor is just as unlikely as his appearance. While he plays the son of God three hours a week, he's remarkably down to earth the remaining 165. Listen to him talk about past flirtations with godlessness and hear him riff about a nine-year relationship that culminated in a less-than-one-year marriage, and one wonders what makes this guy think he has the right to be the Easter bunny, let alone Jesus.
Off-air, he is the first to admit he’s just as human and confused as the next guy – he’s even dating an atheist.
But on air, his charismatic, no-baloney, compassionate Jesus is attracting a fan base far broader than what he once had as a host on Christian radio – from which he defected out of boredom in the 1990s.
Saavedra’s Jesus is outspoken, and his positions aren’t always in line with conservative Christians. They don’t always jive with liberals, either. He despises the way gays are treated in the Church (although he believes homosexuality is a sin akin to overindulgence in food or drink), and isn’t afraid to voice either opinions.
While his show attracts the traditional, older, church-going Christian radio audience, it also reaches those who feel disconnected from the church, young adults, gays, atheists, and even the occasional Rabbi. They’re all tuning in.
No. 1 in his time slot, Saavedra is a charismatic, no-baloney, compassionate Jesus –
and he admits he’s just as confused as the next guy.
It’s 5:58A.M., on a Sunday morning. Saavedra, wearing a distressed suede button-down shirt and boot cut jeans, is sealed tight inside KFI’s state of the art soundproof production booth with his elbows on the table, hands covering his eyes as he rocks back and forth to Jewish rapper Matisyahu’s “King without a Crown.” Music is how he gets in the Jesus zone.
Laying next to him is the same stack of books he brings into the studio every week. Among them are his study Bible, its black imitation-leather cover well worn, “The compact dictionary of doctorial words : Easy to understand definitions of theology words for all who study” and the “The Jewish book of why.”
He recites a silent prayer as a pre-recorded voice goes out over the airwaves.
“Two thousand years ago, he walked this earth -teaching, guiding, loving and preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice… “what if today you could talk to him, laugh with him, cry with him, not Just through prayer, but through the radio.. You’re listening to the Jesus Christ Show..”
“And now here’s our host, Jesus Christ.”
After a musical introduction he’s on. For the next three hours. Neil only exists on commercial breaks.