The wheels inside radio jock Brent Farris' head whirled and his eyes shone like those of a kid imagining Toyland as he pondered a question he'll pose to listeners on a near-future morning.
That query: "Are you left- or right-nostriled?"
What sort of adult person would admit to entertaining such a question much less consider asking it out loud on what is by far Sonoma County's most popular radio station?
People close to Farris swear he is an original: 6 feet and 4 inches of restless curiosity, hot-wired imagination, boundless heart and innate broadcasting talent.
"All I can tell you," said his mother, Jean Farris of Clearlake, "is that Brent started talking at 6 months -- full sentences -- and he hasn't stopped since."
At 51, Farris just marked his 25th year as the morning guy at independent Santa Rosa FM station KZST. His tenure is remarkable in itself; a quarter century at one station is an eternity in the fickle, ever-changing business of commercial radio.
And Sonoma County is a small radio market, ranked in order of size at No. 128 in the nation, in the company of Youngstown, Ohio; Portsmouth, N.H.; and the Oxnard-Ventura area of Southern California. Farris did not have to stay here all these years.
"He could be in absolutely any market he'd want to," said Kenwood's Marcy Smothers, a friend and fan who credits Farris' mentoring for getting her into radio. Smothers, the wife of comic Tommy Smothers, had a talk show on KSRO and now works on a syndicated show with Sonoma County's TV chef, Guy Fieri.
"A lot of people will use the word 'genius' to describe Brent, and it fits," Smothers said. "He is a genius with people. He's a genius with promotion. He's a genius with comedy, and he's a genius with broadcasting."
Farris, who has too much aw-shucks in him to address allegations of genius, acknowledged he has received other job offers, including a big-bucks courting years ago by a station in Chicago.
He said veteran Bay Area broadcaster Bobby Ocean helped him see he'd be crazy to uproot himself and his wife, Diane, and two kids from heavenly Sonoma County to go chase bigger bucks in Chicago and then somewhere else, and somewhere else after that.
"Money is meaningless, it truly is meaningless," said Farris, a man convinced that it's a miracle to be paid anything at all for talking on the radio and making people laugh.
His humor, verve, sponge-like mind, promotional brilliance and endlessly entertaining perspective on life have won him an enormous following.
Listenership surveys by Arbitron found that this past spring, KZST's market share in Sonoma County was more than double that of any other local radio station -- and three or even four times that of some competing stations.
And no one disputes that the force of Farris' personality and his prominence in the community are largely responsible for the popularity of KZST, whose adult contemporary programming runs heavily to syrupy pop ballads and constant self-promotion.
"I really think Brent is the king of radio here in Sonoma County," said station owner Gordon Zlot.
That said, Zlot observed that Farris went through a series of morning-show co-hosts before Debbie Abrams joined him, and they stuck.
"Well, Brent can drive you nuts," Zlot said. He said Farris' mind just pumps out ideas for promotions and programs and campaigns, some of them fairly weird.