I cried. Big old alligator tears. A few songs into the Hot Burrito Show, a Sunday afternoon mainstay for scores of Lexingtonians, former Lexingtonians and others who somehow or another heard about this great radio show broadcast by WRFL from the University of Kentucky campus, John Fogle mentioned that the Hot Burrito Show would air its final program at the end of August.
Like a number of other listeners who cherished our Sunday afternoon twang, alt-country, and Americana music, I scrambled for my phone and called the station as soon as John played the next song. Nothing but a busy signal. Tried again with the same result. The Burritoid nation was blitzing the station with calls to learn whether we had heard correctly. Turning to social media, I began seeing the posts expressing grief and sadness that the show was coming to an end, that Sunday afternoons would never be the same, that one of the best radio programs to ever hit the air would be no more.
For many it felt like a dear friend had announced a terminal disease with a scant month to live.
The remaining shows were to be cherished, celebrated through a veil of tears – both of sorrow at what would soon end, and of joy at the music that had been shared for twenty-five years.
The Hot Burrito Show had weathered many changes, disc jockeys who had shared the microphone with Rob Franklin prior to John Fogle had moved on as their lives and careers took them outside the Bluegrass and far from WRFL’s reach. The show had nearly been cancelled in 2004, but an outcry from dedicated listeners had kept the program in its usual slot even though it was reduced from a three hour slot to two. But those two hours were pure gold.
Needless to say listeners tuned in to the Hot Burrito Show noon to 2 PM for the following three weeks while some visited the WRFL studios bearing gifts, warm wishes, and fond farewells.
I recently had the pleasure of sharing a beer and conversation with Rob and John at Break Room in the Pepper Distillery campus after they had both had a week to decompress from all of the emotional farewells and fond wishes.
As an avid Burritoid, a term coined by John shortly after he began co-hosting the show, it was surprising to learn that the Hot Burrito grew out of the White Lightning Show hosted by Steve Holland, a former professor of economics at UK.
Just prior to Steve leaving around 1990, Rob showed up with a crate full of records and a love for music. The name was changed, and the Hot Burrito Show hit the Lexington airwaves, or at least the airwaves inside “the Circle,” the area bounded by New Circle Road, which was about as far as WRFL’s broadcast reached.
Some notable DJ’s shared the microphone with Rob, including Matt Renfro, Bobby Ray, and Michael Campbell. When Michael retired from the show, John likes to tell folks he “won the coveted co-host position over 50+ applicants by playing up the fact that George Jones’ bass player brought me a PBR from the tour bus back when I was the soundman for a honky-tonk in Richmond, Kentucky.” Rob adds, “I had a few people interested but John was my first pick and the only guy for the job! John has a great appreciation for folk, bluegrass and of course-sludge rawk! Nice counterpoint to my affection for country, soul, R&B and pub rock.” They were partners for the next eleven years.
Rob and John have a great rapport, and both are quick to say they’ve never argued or had any bitterness towards one another even though their tastes in music vary dramatically. Rob leans heavily towards Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, and NRBQ while John openly professes his love for Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who, and Shaver. In addition, while Rob went with the flow and felt comfortable with the microphone, John obsessed with preparing the music he played and labored over the details so that he kept to a firm plan and set list. In the end, though, they both appreciate one another and have had a great partnership.
Rob and John both hail from Kentucky and grew up listening to country music of the 60’s and 70’s, but at points in their young lives left country music behind and primarily listened to rock until they returned to familiar sounds of home.
One of the linchpins of the Hot Burrito Show has been the music of Gram Parsons, a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Byrds. The show’s tagline, identifying the genre of music played, is a Gram Parson’s quote, “cosmic American music.” Two of Parsons’s most well know songs are titled “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2” for reasons unknown to either John or Rob, but the name clearly evokes a style of music that combines country, rock, soul, and even gospel, much like a burrito includes a variety of ingredients that once combined create a delicious meal. On any given Sunday, listeners might hear anything from Billy Joe Shaver to old REM to Drive-By Truckers to Nick Lowe and all points in between, almost always with the most requested artist John Prine in the mix. Rob’s song list for the last show and John’s song list for his last solo show represent what once captivated dedicated listeners.
Over the years they say they have had great fun, taking requests from “Larry on the Deck” and a host of regular listeners like me, jamming to Shaver, hosting artists like Hayes Carll in studio, and eating pies fans brought to them.
When they turned the tables and asked whose music I liked, I rattled off a couple of mainstay country and Americana or alt-country artists, to which they nodded affirmation, but when I mentioned Jimbo Mathus, they both laughed and said, “You’re the Jimbo Mathus guy!” They also knew me as the Slobberbone guy, the “Bloody Mary Morning” guy, and the “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music” guy. For many listeners calling in a request, talking with Rob and/or John, and hearing their favorite songs played validated tastes in music and built a sense of communion.
During one of their shows years ago, a caller requested that they play a track off of a Sunday Valley album. When they told the caller they didn’t have the album, Sunday Valley’s bass player drove to the studio and gave them a copy. They played the request. At the time few had heard of Sturgill Simpson, the front man for Sunday Valley. The Americana Music Association just awarded him as Best Artist.
Without a doubt the living, breathing DJ’s like Rob and John who love music and appreciate other music fans earned the Hot Burrito Show a loyal following who placed Rob on a “Best DJ of Lexington” list when their broadcast was basically limited to downtown Lexington.
Now that they have left the airwaves they say they look forward to continuing to listen to local bands, especially the likes of Warren Byrom, Chris Sullivan, Bear Medicine, and Rebel Without a Cause, as well as tuning in to WRFL’s Honky Tonk Happy Hour, Asleep at the Wheel, Neverland Ballroom, and the Pacobilly Hour (WRFL Broadcast Schedule). They also sing the praises of Steve Holland’s Rolling with the Flow on uwave.fm saying that he is the one that started it all and never ceases to satisfy. In fact, Steve has enlisted Rob to be his new music consultant.
In many ways dedicated listeners of the Hot Burrito Show regret that Sundays now seem a little less like Sunday and miss the music that brought joy into their lives, but like me, and like John and Rob, they will seek out “cosmic American music” whether old or new and wish John and Rob the best. Now that the curtains have closed, I’d like to dedicate “Plastic Silver Nine Volt Heart” to Rob and John and all of the other Hot Burrito Show DJ’s for being our friends on the air.