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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.

Tom Skinner, KZST's general manager, agreed that trying to temper Farris when he's on a creative roll "is like nailing Jell-O to the wall."

But Farris has proved to be so good at dreaming up wild ideas that work, Skinner said, "I've learned over the years to sit and think about it before I say no."

Farris finds that he's a bit too close to his own brain to say how it works.

"I think it's just a whole bunch of images strung together with duct tape," he said. "I like to see stuff other people don't see."

As essential as his mind, voice and talent are to his success as a broadcaster in Sonoma County, much of the affection he's earned comes from what he does off the air. Farris has helped local nonprofit groups take in great sums of money by constantly agreeing to emcee events or act as auctioneer.

"It would be cool to know how many millions of dollars he has helped people to raise," his wife said.

Last Christmas, Farris brought about $85,000 to local families in need by stationing himself at Coddingtown for 24 straight hours and extracting donations from listeners in exchange for playing their requests.

Each year, hundreds of KZST fans eagerly buy up tickets for the opportunity to go somewhere with him on a cruise. He's not your ordinary disc jockey.

Farris said his greatest request of God was that he be allowed to know when or if he was truly happy. Every time the "on-air" sign flashes on and the mike goes live, he said, he knows.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.