Bruce Morrow Behind The Sirius Microphone
(photo courtesy Scott Benjamin)
Musicradio WABC legend Cousin Brucie is now on Sirius
Scott Benjamin caught up with him for an interview:
In some ways the studio on the 36th floor of the McGraw Hill Building in Manhattan seems similar to the one on the Avenue of the Americas of more than 30 years ago.
The show starts with the puppets shouting, "Cousin Brucie!, Cousin Brucie!, Cousin Brucie!"
Granted, Brian DeNicola, the engineer and co-producer, wasn't even born when Brucie was engaging in interplay over the air with longtime engineer Saul Rochman at Musicradio77 WABC.
However, just as was the case at WABC, Brian is situated in the studio, not behind a glass as is the case at many radio stations.
Brucie and Brian engage in occasional friendly banter on the air, just as it was 40 years ago when Saul would deliver the punch lines during a live commercial for Proper PH - the acne medication.
And just as was the case in the 1960s and 1970s, there is a small entourage in the studio, which on Dec. 20, 2006 included former Musicradio77 WABC assistant program director Jeff Berman.
Yet, things are also very different.
Brucie used to be heard in an estimated 39 states and even some foreign countries as WABC's 50,000 watt signal bounced around.
However, now he is heard across the United States through satellites that transmit long distances at all times of the day and night.
After nearly a year and a half at Sirius, he says that he's having more fun than ever in a career that spans to the 1950s when Alan Freed was inventing rock & roll and Brucie was listening to his every move while working with him at 1010 WINS in New York City.
"I'm not going to put down the great adventure that I've been on at the other stations, but this is the most thrilling time," Brucie said shortly after launching another installment of his Wednesday Night With The Cuz.
"The handcuffs are off," he added regarding his ability to program his shows instead of having to select from a limited play list.
"At CBS-FM, I think it got down to a play list of 284 songs," Brucie said regarding his final months at New York City oldies station WCBS-FM, which abruptly switched to the iPod-inspired JACK format June 3, 2005.
"They think that by bringing 20 or 30 people into a room with beer and pretzels that they can do some sort of focus group and figure out what the music should be," he said in a phone interview Jan. 6, 2007 with Musicradio77.com. "20 or 30 people don't represent a mass. People, like myself, are experienced at talking to people on the streets and we know what songs to play."
"I would not keep doing this unless I had complete control," Brucie added. "I know my audience better than a programmer and a computer. People have heard Rock Around The Clock. Now they want the other layers by hearing the other songs that Bill Haley and the Comets did."
"The terrestrial radio conglomerates are fouling up broadcasting," he said of the concentration of radio ownership in the decade since Federal Communications Commission regulations were relaxed. "They are near-sighted in their play lists. The audience is more sophisticated than they think."
Brucie's frustration over short play lists dates to his years at WABC and were noted in his 1987 autobiography in which he discussed how many good songs never got much air play under a system in which at one time the number-one hit had to be played every hour.
WABC became the most successful station in the history of radio. However, Brucie said in a Jan. 12, 2007 phone interview with Musicradio77.com that it would have been just as successful with a larger selection of music.
On the stand in front of his microphone is a series of orange-colored sheets with the list of songs and features for that nights show. He said that he had sheets completed for shows for next three weeks.
Yet there also is a lot of spontaneity. For example, Brucie salutes Cleo, the Sirius dog that travels by satellite.
Brucie never taped his WABC shows. He has several compact discs with air checks from his time at WABC, WNBC and the 23 years that he was at WCBS-FM that fans have sent.
Now through digitization, Sirius records all of his live Wednesday shows, which air from 5 to 9 p.m. eastern time, and the live Saturday night party show, which runs from 8 p.m. to midnight eastern time.
And yes, some of the people who grew up listening to Brucie in between writing high school homework assignments or driving home from the movies are still part of the audience.
In early September, 2005, his second week at Sirius, a listener called in and said, "Holy [expletive], you're still alive. 30 years ago I was driving away from Hoboken [New Jersey] to live in North Dakota and the last reminder of home was when you faded out on the Jersey Turnpike. I got a Sirius radio last Christmas and you're still the way that I remember you.'"
However, there also are many new listeners.
"There has been a phenomenal increase in e-mail," Brucie said. "Its helped me, because I learn about the songs that weren't hits in New York, might have been in Chicago or Seattle. I'm learning so much about the different regions from the e-mail and the phone calls."
Sirius' music channels are commercial free, so there is no opportunity for Brucie to pound on a phone book and ask, "Is This The Place?" - the signature line from his live commercials in the 1960s for the now defunct Gimbels department stores.
"I enjoyed doing live commercials and I think my audience enjoyed listening to them," said Brucie, who sometimes sang the Coca Cola anthem - "Things go better with Coca Cola" -at the beginning of the 30-minute segment that was sponsored in the 1960s by the soda company. "However, there is greater benefit in being able to play more music" on a commercial-free satellite network.
" I found it a bit strange in the first few months hearing Bruce for a few hours without selling me a product," Brucie's close friend and former Musicradio77 WABC air personality Les Marshak stated in a Jan. 8, 2007 e-mail message to Musicradio77.com. "After all, he's always been the champion at delivering live commercials in his own style."
The walls of "Cousin Brucie's Place" are decorated with photographs - some of them recent color shots of him with Mike Love of the Beach Boys or with Lou Christie - others in black & white from the 1960s.
The eras intermix. One moment Jeff Berman is talking with Brucie about a Jefferson Airplane concert that they attended nearly 40 years ago at Hunter College in New York City and the next moment Brucie is speaking about the portable state-of-the-art Sirius radios that have gone on the market in the last year.
"At one point it was the transistor radio," Brucie said in the recent phone interview. "Now, I believe the day will come when the portable radio will be so small that you can plant it behind your ear."
On another topic, The New York Times reported Jan. 1, 2007 that Mel Karmazin, the chief executive officer at Sirius, has promoted the "benefits" of a merger between Sirius and XM, the rival satellite network, for months.
The newspaper reported that Sirius currently has about 6 million subscribers and XM was at between 7.7 to 7.9 million. Additionally, the newspaper stated that many consumers don't hear much difference between them, except that one of them, Sirius, has Howard Stern. Although it stated that many consumers don't know which satellite network "The King of All Media" is on.
"It wouldn't matter to me as long as it's good for business," Brucie said of the possible merger.
He said that one of the advantages of broadcasting on satellite radio is that Sirius is full of young energetic people.
"Many of our executives are young, and they're excited because they see that we're becoming more popular," Brucie said.
"The kids we have working around here are giving me energy," he said
"They look at me the way that I looked at Alan Freed many years ago," Brucie said, making reference to his years at WINS in the late 1950s. "They are learning about live radio the way that I do it."
Some people thought that Brucie's move to Sirius was a mistake.
Would people in other parts of the country understand his zany delivery?
Why not stay in the New York market where he could more directly concentrate on his charities.
Shouldn't he have taken the Saturday Night Oldies Show, which WABC discussed with him during the six days between the format change at WCBS-FM and the announcement of Brucie's move to Sirius?
"It's remarkable how Bruce's audience base has dramatically opened up since he joined Sirius," Les Marshak stated. "So much a part of the New York fabric (as authentic as a Brooklyn bagel or egg cream), now truckers in Nevada or South Dakota seem to be hopping on the Brucie bandwagon. And they "get it".
"I experienced this personally on a recent road trip with my wife to Asheville, North Carolina," he added.." It was early evening on a Saturday. Driving through Tennessee on a lonely interstate, we cranked up channel 6 on Sirius and got Bruce. In Tennessee...What a hoot!! We decided to call him on our cell....got through to his producer and recorded a short blurb from the car. Heard the playback on air in 4 minutes. At that moment I realized that the guy I've listened to for years in NY (and my dearest friend, to boot) has entered the 21st century. I love it! And we love to hear Bruce's enthusiasm for his new shows; which are not really new, but have been re-charged with the freedom to do basically whatever he wants."
Brucie has long had a wide-ranging audience as a result of the bounce in WABC's signal, his syndicated Crusin' America show in the 1980s for CBS radio and his television work over the last 20 years for the Public Broadcast System (PBS).
WCBS-FM was "probably the most loyal audience I had because they were an outgrowth of the years at WABC," he said while a song was playing in the studio at Sirius.
He praised longtime WCBS-FM program director Joe McCoy and others for making most of his 23-year stay there very enjoyable.
"They did a very foolish thing," Brucie said of the abrupt switch to the JACK format. "They took away something that was part of the culture of the city. I don't think that they'll ever recover. There is not a day when someone doesn't say, 'Brucie, we miss that station.' The end of that format and the way it was done was probably my saddest day in broadcasting."
Since arriving at Sirius, his Wednesday night show was moved to an earlier time slot so that he would be heard during drive times from coast to coast.
Brucie said that decision has helped build a larger audience.
For a while he hosted a talk show, but said that he didn't have much fun interviewing the political figures that sometimes appeared. As a result he added an hour a week to his music programming, scrapped the talk show, and, instead, now does some talk show specials for Sirius in which he interviews recording artists.
Brucie said when he first approached PBS in the 1970s, its executives had "a snooty attitude" toward producing rock specials.
He said about 20 years ago, that changed and he has hosted concerts, made studio appeals for funds and even traveled overseas to tape specials for the non-profit network.
Recently he was in London and Liverpool to tape "British Beat," which will air later this year.
"They now understand the audience and understand that it is a great way to get funds," Brucie said of PBS.
On a separate subject, Stirling Publishing contacted him some time ago about writing the story of rock and roll, which will be in the stores this fall.
Brucie said that he and Rich Maloof, the co-author, will tell "why rock happened and how it happened."
"It is not a reference book," he said. "It is written in my voice through the experiences that I have had in the development of music."
"I had more stories than I initially thought that I had," he said. "The book also will have a lot of illustrations."
However, his primary focus is on the satellite in the sky.
"We have the universe, so we have to present the universe," Brucie said of his shows at Sirius.
Cousin Brucie Behind the Sirius Microphone at "Cousin Brucie's Place"
Bruce and former Musicradio WABC Assistant PD Jeff Berman
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