Cousin Bruce in the WABC Studios
Cousin Brucie said that between two shows each week at WCBS-FM, regular appearances on PBS rock & roll programs and his charity radio and telethons, he is "as busy as I've ever been, and I could be busier if I wanted to be."
"The happiest moment for me still is when the red light goes on," he said during a wide-ranging phone interview Jan. 12, 2005 with musicradio77.com. "I still get as excited as I did in the early days.
"What I like about radio is its immediacy," said Brucie, who was at WABC from 1961 to 1974. "You can get an immediate reaction from the audience.
"When I'm on the radio I'm at 150 million watts, and when I'm doing a live appearance I'm at 850 million watts," added the legendary air personality who is known for his rapid delivery, zany ad-libs and trademark 'Yeeee.' "Being in front of a live audience takes on a different dimension.
"What I've always tried to do is talk with the audience," he said in explaining his popularity during a career that dates to the 1950's. "Too many people these days try to talk at people.
"These days it seems too many people on the radio want to get angry about women, about religion, about AIDS," Brucie continued. "I don't like that. There's enough garbage in the world, you don't need to have more garbage coming out of a radio.
"Actually, I don't like censorship," he said. "If there is a responsible professional on the air, then I don't think that corporations should step in an restrict content.
"However, lately, the FCC has reawakened, which is good because there are too many people taking advantage of our freedom of speech," Brucie added. "We're also seeing it on the Internet, where people are taking advantage of their freedoms and there are even instances where my voice appears without my permission."
Brucie said that a wide range of people have felt comfortable with his on-air persona.
"I was a household commodity who had the parental seal of approval," he said of his years at WABC when he attracted many teen-age listeners. "The parents thought I was safe because I reminded their kids to do their homework.
"To some that might seem square," Brucie added. "But I like that image."
He said the late Alan Freed of WINS, who is considered the grandfather of Top 40 radio, was a role model.
"I grew up with Alan Freed, and he was the first guy I heard that sounded like the records," said Brucie. "You knew that he was having a good time."
Brucie probably talks about his spouse more than any air personality in the Big Apple.
He and his wife, Jodie, celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in December 2004.
"I've always thought of my audience as an extended family," explained Brucie, who does a yearbook show on Wednesday night and a party show on Saturday night at WCBS-FM, where he has worked since 1982. "So I will talk about my wife and my cats. It's very important for them to know that I'm a real person."
He wrote in his 1987 autobiography - Cousin Brucie: My Life in Rock n' Roll Radio -that Jodie accepts him as Bruce Morrow not just the on-air Cousin Brucie.
"Jodie has never been impressed by celebrity, including my own," Brucie said. "We can go out and hobnob with some VIP's and she's not impressed because they're rich or famous, because she is interested in people and whether they care about each other."
Now, more than 30 years after he did his last show at WABC, Brucie said people still talk about his appearances at Palisades Park in New Jersey, the Tuesday night survey show and the nightly segment that was sponsored by Coca Cola.
"Obviously the station had a big impact on a lot of people who grew up in the 60's and '70's, but the amount of attention all these years later is astonishing," he said.
Brucie added that no one could have predicted the success of WABC, which at one point had 8 million listeners each week, when he arrived at the station in 1961, just a short time after it adopted a top 40 format.
"We knew that we could become a success, but in those days to some people ABC stood for 'Always Be Cheap,' " he said. "What we didn't realize then was how much rock & roll was going to become part of American culture.
"We never realized the power of this form of art," Brucie added. "The music almost became secondary because it really became part of our lives, a cultural experience. The reason we didn't realize it, was that something like this had never happened before."
He said people even in their 20s today enjoy listening to the music of the first 25 years of the rock & roll era.
"I find that people who weren't even on the planet in the 60's and '70's enjoy the music because it is so basic," Brucie said. "The more recent music, particularly starting in the 1990's, is too complex.
"What also has helped build interest in the earlier years of rock & roll is that the movies have used a lot of that music it because so many people can relate to it easily," he added. "The music today is technically good, but it doesn't have the heart and soul of some of the music from the late 1950's through the 1970's."
Brucie said his favorite artists includes the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darrin, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, the Platters, the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton and the Four Seasons.
He said that Elvis Presley's rise to stardom came at a critical juncture in the early days of rock & roll.
"If it wasn't for Elvis the two of us probably would be talking on the phone right now," Brucie said during the interview. "He set the standard. He gave rock & roll a new platform."
On a separate topic, he said that Frankie Valli - the lead singer of the Four Seasons, who hailed from New Jersey - called him at WABC one night in 1962 and said, " 'Bruce, I have a present for you.' "
The gift was The Cousin Brucie Theme Song, which Brucie has used ever since.
"It's become my anthem," he said.
Brucie said the popularity of the Tuesday night survey show, which counted down the top 20 songs of the week, was largely due to peoples' interest in something that follows in logical sequence.
"We like cubbyholes and 99.9 percent of the time we want things to be neat," he explained. "We're not comfortable with A-Q-D, it has to be A-B-C, in that order."
In the late 1960's Coca Cola sponsored the 9:25 to 9:55 p.m. segment of his WABC show, which included commercials performed by such groups as the Supremes, the Fifth Dimension and the Box Tops.
Listeners sent in post cards to enter a contest to win a package of four blinking Coca Cola lights that came in blue, red, yellow and green. In 1968 the station stopped the contest and the response was so great that within weeks it resumed it.
"When you're young, if one person has it, then other people want it," Brucie said regarding the popularity of the lights. "It was that way when as a kid I wanted my Lone Ranger ring because everyone else had one."
He doesn't regret his decision to leave WABC in August 1974 to join WNBC, which was becoming a rival to Musicradio77, which had dominated the market since the late 1960's.
As musicradio77.com wrote last August, marking the 30th anniversary of Brucie's last show, his decision has generated considerable discussion through the years.
"WABC was really getting on my nerves," he said during the interview. "The people at WABC didn't care about the tradition that had been built my me, and Dan [Ingram], and Ron [Lundy], and Harry [Harrison] and Chuck [Leonard].
"The guys who made up the All-Americans at WABC were probably one of the most professional groups of people ever in radio," he said. "They knew the business and they knew the boundaries."
Brucie said he became "livid" when longtime program director Rick Sklar told him he wanted to restructure his contract so that he would get a $5,000 bonus if the ratings went up a point but would lose $5,000 if they want down a point.
Brucie noted in his autobiography that FM stations were becoming more popular and it was highly doubtful that his show, which at one time had commanded a 25 percent share of the New York City audience, or any of the others at WABC would increase its ratings.
"They did the same thing with Dan and Ron and the other guys," Brucie recalled. "With the way things were going, I knew that I had to get out of there.
"This is what often happens when something becomes very successful," he continued. "The big businessmen come in and they don't have the feel or the intellect to understand what made this successful in the first place. I think Rick Sklar got very nervous because of what was happening in the corporate structure. He couldn't see beyond the hill.
"The music format was very constricted," Brucie added. "It was hard to add new music. The music meetings were a sham with very few songs that were considered and we often had to air radio versions of the songs because Rick didn't want anything that was more than two and a half minutes long.
"I think if we had had a wider music selection and a more free-wheeling atmosphere, the ratings would have been even higher," he said.
Brucie experienced some turbulence during his three years at WNBC, including being moved from evenings to mid-day for about a year starting in 1975.
After leaving WNBC in August 1977, Brucie and Bob Sillerman bought what became a small chain of radio stations.
He said he wasn't as comfortable being an executive.
"I enjoyed programming my stations, but I hate paper work and I've never been a pencil pusher," Bruce said. "I also didn't like taking a young disc jockey into a conference room and saying that you tried to pull one over on me.
"I did enjoy trying to teach people," he said. "I try to encourage them to dream and take a chance. That's how you improve, as long as you're willing to make a correction as soon as you realize that you've made a mistake."
On another topic, he said, "It still hurts me" that "Lucky Chucky" - longtime WABC air personality Chuck Leonard - whose late night show followed Brucie's, died last August.
"He was always very polite and always a gentleman," Brucie recalled of Chuck, who was noted for his smooth, personable delivery. "He also was a guy who loved his ladies and loved his parties."
Former WABC program director Glenn Morgan has stated that Chuck would "open every show with the vitality and excitement of the Manhattan night life he so loved."
Brucie recalled that a group of staff members were holding a meeting in a hotel room in the summer 1965, when Rick Sklar spoke about his plan to hire Chuck and Brucie then called Chuck while he was on the air at WWRL to ask him about working at WABC.
Chuck said in a 2002 interview with musicradio77.com that he didn't take the call seriously, since he didn't know whom Cousin Brucie was, and then didn't show up for an appointment with Sklar.
However, after being encouraged by other members of the New York media to consider the position, he eventually accepted a job at WABC, where he did the late evening show and a longer Sunday show for 14 years.
He came on the air when Brucie couldn't continue during his final show in Aug. 1974, and then did the evening show for the month before George Michael debuted in that slot at WABC.
Chuck finished his career as an air personality on the Soul Revue stream at the Sirius satellite network.
Brucie, who has subscriptions to Sirius and XM, the other satellite network, said they will start to have a huge impact in about five years.
"I think radio is ripe for another service, but the satellite stations will not take the place of commercial radio," Bruce said.
"What XM and Sirius have to do is give people something that they're not getting from the non-satellite stations. You just can't play taped shows with long tracks of records," he added. "The satellite networks need to do more live shows, because right now they sound very canned.
"But I think there will be a natural progression to where there is more personality and they will provide programming that isn't often available elsewhere," Brucie continued. "HBO was laughed at when it first came out," he said of the subscriber cable television network. "But when it started presenting material that you couldn't get elsewhere, it became a success."
Regarding his own career, he said that WCBS-FM's Joe McCoy "has probably had more influence" than any program director that he has ever worked for.
"Joe understands the music and the audience," Brucie said of McCoy, who worked with him in 1976 and 1977 at WNBC. "He's open to suggestions. He doesn't point fingers and he doesn't call to complain while you're on the air. He even has gotten me to listen to myself."
Brucie said that Joe was a fan of his as he was growing up. He said Joe has recalled that he asked him for an autograph while Brucie was making a call from a pay phone a Palisades Park in the early 1960's and Brucie put down the receiver and signed the autograph.
Brucie said when he's not on the air, he often is taking photographs.
"If I had my druthers, I would take my camera and travel around the world," he said. "I'm as comfortable with my cameras as I am with being on the radio. It gives me an opportunity to relax and enjoy myself."
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