Fryin’ Up Tunes on The Iron Skillet
This week’s DJ is another Northern Californian, more specifically from the heart of Silicon Valley, Joe Hnilo. I have this vision of a bunch of Google or Apple nerds tapping their toes to some bluegrass while they invent the next digital gadget.
Where and when did you start in radio?
I started my radio career and program in 2013 at KZSU at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. It’s the only radio station I have ever broadcast on. My program, The Iron Skillet, airs on Saturdays from noon to 2:30 pm on KZSU, 90.1 FM.
How do you describe your show?
I call it “The finest in traditional and contemporary country, bluegrass, and honky-tonk music, with frequent detours to roots rock and Celtic music.”
Do you have theme shows or sets or spotlight certain artists?
I always construct the first set to deliver fast bluegrass songs to get the listeners’ souls stirred. Sad to say, most of my special shows have focused on recently deceased greats like Merle Haggard and Ralph Stanley. But on occasion I will do a special birthday program. I did one recently on Willie Nelson.
How many new and older releases do you play?
I play a lot of both old stuff and new releases. Heck, I even play bluegrass gospel like Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.
What was the first artist that got you into roots music?
Hmmm, if I had to pick one artist it would have to be Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, his early recordings. There were three albums that affected me initially, all of them bluegrass. One was a collection of 20 songs from the Stanley Brothers. Another was Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys’ all-instrumental album Uncle Pen. And the third was Don’t Give Up Your Day Job by Country Gazette.
What artists define Americana music for you?
I would say that Jim Lauderdale is the singer/songwriter who personifies Americana music for me because he plays solo, and in both authentic bluegrass and full country ensemble settings, and he is an incredibly talented and prolific songwriter. But I take a pretty broad cut of artists I consider Americana: In no particular order, Dale Watson, John Hiatt, Dave Alvin, Don Walser, Chuck Mead, Brandy Clark, Sam Bush, Yvette Landry, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the Steeldrivers, Rhonda Vincent, Dale Ann Bradley, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Junior Brown, Seldom Scene, Tim O’Brien, Shawn Colvin, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Junior Sisk, Guy Clark, the list goes on and on. I even consider Nick Lowe to be an Americana artist.
How do you define what Americana music is?
I consider it the junction of folk, country, and bluegrass music, simple acoustic or lightly amplified music that tells stories about human struggle.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
Well, Nashville and Austin certainly seem healthy enough. KZSU receives approximately 15 new releases I’d categorize as Americana music weekly.
What recent albums are you excited about?
I am currently excited about and playing new releases from the Gibson Brothers, Junior Sisk and Ramblers Choice, Sam Bush, Front Country, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, and Rodney Crowell.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies you wish to share?
I am an amateur home winemaker, I make a barrel of (mostly) red wine each fall. It yields about 25 12-bottle cases of wine. I learned how to make wine from a night class I took in the late 1980s at Santa Rosa Junior College.
How do you want to be remembered?
A good husband, father, and stepfather, and a good brother and son.