X-Ray Burns, WFMU sidekick on Glen Jones’ radio program, is dead

Fans of free-form radio station WFMU are mourning the passing of X.Ray Burns, the raspy-voiced, irreverent sidekick to Glen Jones’ radio program who filled Sunday afternoons with music and impromptu daydreams for 30 years.

Burns, whose real name was Kenneth Green, died Sunday after a battle with cancer, and Jones was already deep into their three-hour show when the Jersey City broadcast studio learned of his passing. Near the top of the show, Jones had told listeners for the first time that Burns was gravely ill; now he had to tell them he was dead.

After filming The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” Jones broke the sad news.

“I’ve been lying to you for the last hour and twenty minutes,” Jones said, his voice about to crack. “Five minutes before the first mic break, X.Ray Burns, Ken Green, passed away. This is no joke. I know this show sometimes feels like a pro wrestling show. When Burns fills in for me and vice versa, we say things like Glen Jones is dead, but it’s very real.

“We are all in shock,” WFMU station manager Ken Freedman said. “There was no one else like him. And there will never be anyone like him again.

Glen Jones’ radio program featuring X.Ray Burns runs from noon to 3 p.m. every Sunday and is one of WFMU’s most popular shows – even though the broadcast takes place at a time when everyone has apparently something better to do.

“I’ve listened to this show religiously for the past 10 years, and I’m pretty damn sure I was near the radio without distractions every Sunday at 1 p.m.,” said Brooklyn resident Jon Bocksel, formerly of Randolph. “Yeah yeah, I know the show starts at noon, but the real action always started at 1 and 2:30 p.m. respectively. Bagpipes, classic, all with New Jersey wit and sarcasm on top, nothing like it. The radio will never be the same.”

“It was like you had to listen to the two drinking buddies having a chat in a bar,” Jersey City resident Eric Fusco said.

Like many WFMU listeners, Fusco knew Burns was ill, but hoped he would recover. He was listening to the show on Sunday when the Joneses made the announcement.

“My knees buckled and I had to sit down,” Fusco, 52, said. “I knew he had cancer, but I always thought he would pull through. I thought he would live forever.”

By day, Burns was a real estate appraiser in Kearny, the gritty old industrial town that rises above the banks of the murky Passaic River where he has spent his entire life. He was gruff, often fatalistic, and often world-weary, but his sense of humor was purely blue-collar and always seemed fresh.

“I could have had it all, Jones!” was a frequent refrain heard just about every Sunday afternoon.

And then there was this pearl of wisdom, which can be found on the Facebook page dedicated to Burns, Sh*t X Ray Burns Says:

“If you don’t have anyone to sell your genius to, you’re out of luck.”

For their legion of listeners, it was X.Ray Burns and “Jonesy”, two Kearny kids who never really grew up. They both attended Kearny High School in the late 1970s, but didn’t meet until 1980 — fittingly, at a city funeral home.

Like Jagger and Richards, Jones and Burns had chemistry. Jones described himself as “more of an outsider” while Burns was more of the cool guy.

“I was the underdog, and he seemed to have a long with all types, sportsmen, burnouts, everyone,” Jones said Monday. “He was kind of a new wave, had the beauty of Roger Moore.”

“We’ve always had real chemistry together,” Jones said.

This chemistry caught on the airwaves when Jones, a recording nerd, landed a radio show on WFMU in 1986. The two began working together on sound collages for the show; Burns joined Jones as an on-air sidekick in 1988.

Apart from a few suspensions when the on-air party went out of bounds, Glen Jones’ radio program has maintained the madness for 30 years.

Michele Colomer, deputy chief executive of WFMU, previously co-hosted “Shut Up Weirdo,” her own two-person talk show on Friday nights. This is a common format on WFMU which includes Ken Freedman’s own “Seven Second Delay”.

“I think a lot of people have taken their influence [Jones and Burns] because it was a partnership,” she said. “Most WFMU talk shows have two people and they have to have a certain chemistry for that to translate to radio. It’s something they did effortlessly.

Colomer added that Burns and Jones shared a rebellious radio persona that fit well with the free-format station.

“They also had no care in the world,” she added. “He [Burns] just lived his life the way he wanted with no excuses. It’s interesting because his politics weren’t the same as a lot of people at the station. But he had all kinds of friends and different people were attracted to him.”

Unlike most WFMU figures, Burns’ politics were right-wing. He was a Republican as well as an animal lover. Along with his wife, Sharon, the couple raised three dogs, Eisenhower, Nixon and Kissinger, all named after Republicans.

It wasn’t until November that things started to change, and Burns began to miss Sunday shows. The traditional Kill the Holidays party, that annual rite of passage from Christmas to winter in which Burns dressed up as Santa Clown in tribute to his favorite band, the Insane Clown Posse, did not take place this year.

Burns did his last show two weeks ago. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Freedman said his voice had changed, but he was still funny and upbeat.

Jones said he went on the air on Sunday knowing his sidekick was seriously ill and decided to break the news to the public. But then Burns died on the show and he had to make another decision: whether to tell the listeners.

He decided to share the news, but let the music do the most talking. He started the set with “Love on the Rocks” by Neil Diamond, then later, “I Shall Be Released” by Joe Cocker, “The 12th of Never” by Johnny Mathis and “We’ve Got Tonight” by Bob Seger .

“I wanted them to be love songs, because I really liked the guy,” Jones said. He said the Glen Jones radio program will continue.

“But of course it won’t be the same,” he said.

A private funeral will be held on Friday.

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