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Drive On

Steve Jaxon's 40-year love affair with radio

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When longtime fans are introduced to radio host Steve Jaxon for the first time, they often notice something interesting. Having listened to Jaxon on one of the many radio programs he's hosted over the last four decades—the last seven of those years spent as the award-winning host of The Drive on KSRO 103.5-FM and 1350-AM they tend to make the same observation when finally meeting Jaxon face-to-face: Wow! You don't look like your voice sounds.

"Yeah, I get that one all the time," laughs Jaxon, his recognizably deep-toned rumble rolling out like boulders bouncing off a snare drum. "People love to tell me, 'You don't look anything like your voice!' Some people think I'm younger than I am. Maybe they picture me thinner.

"A lot of people think I'm African American," he adds, grinning. "Paul Mercurio, the writer for The Daily Show, has been doing The Drive as a frequent call-in guest for years, calling in from New York—and for a long time he just assumed that I was a black guy. I love it! Let people have whatever pictures of me they want. That's part of the fun of radio.

"It happens in our ears, with the sound of what you're hearing, but it also happens in our minds and imaginations. You picture these people behind the mic, talking to each other, and what you don't know, your mind fills in for you. That's got to be good for you. Listening to the radio probably delays Alzheimer's.

"And I wouldn't be a bit surprised," Jaxon shrugs, "if that turned out to be true."

It's classic Jaxon. In less time than it takes most people to form a single thought, he's covered the sound of his own voice, analyzed the necessity of imagination while listening to the radio, and even suggested a cure for Alzheimer's. Over coffee this morning, he'll more than once demonstrate this multidirectional skill, launching an array of verbal excursions into conversational territories hitherto uncharted, the kind his listening audience and on-air guests are generally, and always happily, a little bit unprepared for.

"I cracked up Jimmy Carter live on the air once," Jaxon proudly admits. "I'm able to do that, but I'm not sure how. I don't pre-think anything, I just start talking. And what comes out of my mouth, comes out. Even when I'm talking to big-shot people, discussing very serious subjects, I'll still throw something in that makes them laugh.

"It's fun," he continues. "That's what my show is supposed to be. For the guest, for the listeners, and for me, it's just a lot of fun—even where we're talking about subjects that are not all that fun, like Ebola. Somehow, when the mood is right, I can actually make Ebola seem almost amusing."

Taking a global epidemic and turning it into something we can all laugh at—that's just part of what's makes Jaxon one of the most popular and beloved radio voices in Sonoma County, and what has turned The Drive with Steve Jaxon into one of the most listened-to prime-time radio programs in the Bay Area.

The show—usually featuring a dozen or so guests discussing as many separate topics—is a hard-to-describe but highly entertaining mishmash, a blend of local news, celebrity and newsmaker interviews, live musical performances, food and drink segments, standup comics doing their thing from around the country, wacky improvisational comedy, and the occasional diversion into such bizarro topics as Batboy, alien abduction and the secret addictions of Santa Claus.

A slightly wacky thread of eccentricity and WTF giddiness runs through the show. Longtime listeners have come to expect certain things: regular reports from the country's strangest website, The Weekly World News; Jaxon teasing producer Mike DeWald on the air about his sex life and his passion for playing ice hockey; a tendency to nominate regulars to the Drive Hall of Fame, something most baffled recipients say they'd never dreamt of.

And then there's the food. Not only do local restaurateurs come on frequently with samples of their best dishes, inspiring Jaxon to offer improvisational poetry when describing each flavorful offering. Once a week, the award-winning "Wine Wednesday" segment brings in winemakers from all over the region to swirl and sip and engage in in-depth conversation on what separates good wines from great wines. On Thursdays, he does the same thing with beer, unleashing a segment called "Brew Haha."

And holding it all together is Jaxon. Somehow, he always manages to sound amiable and engaged while also seeming a tad surly, a bit cantankerous and always stunningly candid.

'The Steve Jaxon you hear on the air is the real Steve Jaxon," says DeWald, who produces the show and juggles the numerous incoming calls and studio guests with the grace and ease of a circus acrobat. Even while simultaneously answering a call, sending an email and slipping messages to Jaxon, DeWald pays attention to the crazy things coming from his star's seat by the studio window. As big a Steve Jaxon fan as anyone listening at home or in their car, DeWald—from 3pm to 6pm every weekday—can almost always be seen smiling at whatever just happened, if not doubled over in fits of laughter.

"There's no filter, no act with Steve," he says. "Whatever's happening in his life at the time, positive or negative, is reflected on the air. I think there is a rawness and realness to that, and it resonates with people. It builds trust with the audience and makes them feel like they are part of the family."

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