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Story:Reclaiming the Past

A meteoric rise hastened by Easter

      So Saavedra put together a demo tape with a buddy and sent it off to a Christian radio station. He paid for his first week of air time before getting picked up.
Four years later, Saavedra had a number of radio shows, including his own coast to coast program, a fan base, and a sense of boredom he couldn’t shake. The rebel needed to come out and play.

      He wanted to praise God, but he also wanted to debate, to make people think before the end. “I wanted to get into peoples’ faces,” he says. Working in Christian radio was like preaching to the choir. “I was sick of old ladies telling me how smart I was,” he says, adding, “I’m not saying they’re missing me to any degree.”

      After four years on air in Christian radio he took an internship at secular KFI 640, the highest rated AM radio station in Los Angeles, logging tapes and watching radio hosts like Bill Handle, who would become his mentor and close friend


The “Jesus Christ Show” began as a one-time event. The rest is history.

      The socially libertarian-conservative radio station “couldn’t be less impressed” with his Christian radio background, Handle says of Saavedra’s meek beginnings. Handle’s first memory   Saavedra is as an intern, when Saavedra was scheduled to deliver bagels to his house before he left for the station. “He was late – couldn’t even bring the bagels on time,”  Handle remembers.

      But within two years at KFI, Saavedra had clawed his way back on the air with  the “Neil Saavedra show,”  which featured a daily “Hour of God,”  followed by the politically satirical  “Tim and Neil Show, ”  which ran until 2001.

      It was while hosting the “Tim and Neil Show” in 1998,  that Saavedra was handed a strange request. Play Jesus on the radio. 

      It was approaching Easter, and a program director thought it would be fun for Jesus come on Handel’s show to be interviewed. Saavedra, with a vast knowledge of scripture, was the natural choice.

      The concept would be ‘ if Jesus Christ was here today, what would he say.'

      Much to KFI’s surprise, the audience ate it up.

      Callers flooded the station demanding the segment be re-aired. “It was somewhat shocking,” said Handel, who was expecting a backlash.

      Saavedra’s became one of the number one most requested clip in the station’s history.
They kept asking him back.

      But while Saavedra was enjoying his forays as Jesus, his personal life would soon spiral downward after his father died and his fledging marriage to a girlfriend of nine years ended after she cheated on him. “That will really mess you up good,” he says.

      Soon he was beginning to feel stifled at work. By 2000, the rebel, always unsatisfied, was again creeping to the surface. He was sick of spouting opinions every day and felt like he had gone just about as far as he could with “Tim and Neil.” He decided it was time for a dramatic change. In 2001, he left “Tim and Neil,” and “the Jesus Christ Show” started airing every Sunday morning.

      While the change renewed his passion for radio, playing Jesus Christ didn’t always seem like a great idea. If fact, Saavedra thought it was a good way to go straight to hell. “I wrestled with it quite a bit.”

      Even now, thinking about the job can make him feel uncomfortable.

       “Sometimes I get a little creeped out by the show. It’s icky.”

      Common sense would dictate other people would think it’s icky too. He acknowledges that some people probably think the show is blasphemous – if not a complete joke-- before they actually listen to it.

       But Saavedra says has never been the subject of protests by religious organizations, or even gotten much negative feedback about the show’s premise.

      That’s partially because few people outside of Los Angeles know about the show, said Jason Christy, Evengelical leader, and publisher of conservative “The Church Report.”  Christy said Christian leaders are “thrilled” anytime a Christian show can reach out to the community on air in a  secular station, especially “some place like” Los Angeles. “I applaud him for that,” Christy said.

      But he also thinks the show is dangerous. For any man, especially one without formal theological training, to take on the role of Jesus is "a problem, it’s a real big problem,” he says.

      “Depending on what denomination a caller is…. the answers aren’t going to be biblically accurate,” Christy says, “and people are going to believe you.”

 

 

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