Calling Cousin Brucie

Source: MyBergen.com

Cousin Brucie
Source: MyBergen.com

When I was a kid it was pretty exciting to call into a radio station and speak with the DJ. I didn’t really care about getting on the air so much as just being able to talk briefly with that man who played the tunes. I thought those guys had the coolest jobs possible.

I would try to call in to make song requests. I would also compete in the station’s contests for prizes, which was usually a newly-released album or concert tickets of a band that would be soon be playing in town.

In those days of rotary phones it was considered a skill to be able to dial the numbers quickly in order to win a prize. The redial button had yet to be invented, and one had to have limber but accurate fingers to repeatedly dial and beat the other callers.

The concert ticket prizes I instinctively knew would be a problem. There was no way my parents were ever going to allow me to attend a rock show on my own or with a friend. There was also very little chance that they would have considered having an older sister go with me either. In their minds, I would end up being forever corrupted in the frenetic commotion of that loud and fornicate-inducing environment. At the same time, I was also keenly aware that none of my sisters would have been caught dead actually being seen at a rock concert with their little brother anyway. No matter how I looked at it, there was little chance that I was going to a rock concert until such time that I was able to grow a beard. I would just have to wait.

To save myself from what I knew would be a crushing disappointment, I would usually just compete in the album call-in contest instead. It would involve having to get a parent to drive me to the radio station to fetch it, but a certain amount of whining and pleading I knew would eventually get them to agree. This luckily happened a handful of times.

All of this took place back when radio stations were mainly a local entity. The FCC had not yet loosened the rules for corporations to own vast numbers of stations and networks, which later created a homogenized kind of broadcast sameness in every town in America. Back then there were local stations which were unique to where you lived, and staffed by on-air personalities who by and large were also from the area.

The Detroit rock stations back in the late sixties and early seventies were legendary. WKNR (“Keener 13”) competed with the ABC-owned WXYZ and also the 50,000 watt behemoth, the Windsor, Canada station CKLW (“The Big 8”). While we instinctively knew that cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Cleveland also had great stations, it nonetheless remains a long-held belief in every Motor City boomer that Detroit’s rock stations during that era were the absolute best. These are great memories.

Source: Plannine's Classic Top 30

WKNR Music Guide
Source: Plannine’s Classic Top 30

Fast forward more decades than I care to really think about, the older and wiser me realizes, of course, that other towns had outstanding radio stations too. On a pretty regular basis during the evenings now, we listen to Sirius XM’s famed Cousin Brucie from New York City. Brucie (real name: Bruce Morrow) has been playing tunes on the radio since 1959 for a variety of New York stations. At 80 years old he is perhaps the dean of American disk jockeys now that Wolfman Jack, Dick Clark, and Casey Kasem are no longer with us.

For years I would laugh along with Howard Stern’s somewhat derisive references to Brucie. But after listening to just a few of his shows on Sirius, I quickly got hooked in by the man’s infectious charm and affection for all of his loyal listeners. He loves rock and roll, and he clearly adores his national audience on satellite radio.

One recent evening I thought it might be fun to channel my younger self and call in to speak to Cousin Brucie and make a song request. Using the redial button on our land line, it was almost too easy getting through in less than ten minutes. I couldn’t help but feel I was cheating some kind of karmic flashback.

Brucie has a staff who screen his callers, and within seconds of their answering the phone I was asked for my name, my city, and what song I’d like to have played. I requested “On The Way Home” by the Buffalo Springfield. Unfortunately I was quickly told that my only choice for the Springfield would have to be “For What It’s Worth.”

Seriously?  Wow…. I can just see fellow Sirius “free form radio” disk jockey Jim Ladd rolling his eyes at that restriction. Oh well, this is Brucie’s show and not Jim’s. I’m going to have to play by his rules. Somehow “For What It’s Worth” seemed appropriate anyway.

Jim Ladd Source: Wikipedia

Jim Ladd
Source: Wikipedia

I was put on hold for probably 15 minutes before a second staff member came back on the line and told me that there were too many live callers that evening, and would I be interested in simply taping my request for Brucie to play?

Rats. I didn’t care about being on the radio, I just wanted to say “hey” to Cousin Brucie and congratulate him on a great career in radio. But like a good soldier I went ahead and recorded my request. I said my name, gave my city, and requested my song. I was told that I could hear it later that evening around 10:00pm.

Nostalgia is pretty evocative when you get right down to it. If offered up in the right way, it has a warm and inviting feel of carefree associations and sentimental attachments. I for one admit to seeing through rose hues now and then. So in the same spirit all those years earlier, I went ahead and recorded my request for Brucie. It wasn’t exactly how I did it back in my proverbial day, but it was close enough to make an older boy smile.

It was 8:30 when I hung up the phone. I told Gorgeous that we’d need to make sure to listen in at 10:00 to hear my request.

However, at 10:00pm we were in the middle of watching the first episode of the new season of Grantchester.¹ Somehow it didn’t seem important to stop everything and listen to my recorded request. So we skipped it. I’ll never know if Brucie acknowledged me, commented on my city here in Florida, or perhaps offered some anecdotal information on the Buffalo Springfield. Like so much in life, I moved on to the next thing. Brucie lost out to a British drama on PBS.

I probably won’t ever call back and try again. I’ll still listen to Brucie on the occasional evening, of course, but maybe it’s best to just enjoy letting others make their requests instead. Sometimes the best experiences are the memories we keep and hold dear anyway.

Until next time….

¹ My thanks to fellow blogger Tanya at Rapid Cyclist who is kind enough to never spoil the plots of these British shows for those of us who get them later on this side of the pond.

 

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13 thoughts on “Calling Cousin Brucie

  1. I grew up in Windsor, Ontario and loved CKLW (and Gary Burbank, Brother Bill Gable, Pat Holiday ….. + other radio personalities of the day). I also called in with hopes of being able to give my song request, or win the occasional contest (the latter never did happen). Thanks for the great trip down memory lane!
    Donna
    http://www.retirementreflections.com

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Being from Long Island, I was far removed from Detroit radio – at least until I went off to college in Bowling Green, Ohio. Nevertheless, Cousin Brucie is well known to me.

    That said, thanks for cranking up the nostalgia machine, Marty. After reading your piece I then watched For What Its Worth (Buffalo Springfied) and then Stephen Sills – Love the One You’re With.

    For the record, on Vinyl tonight they trotted out a Bob Marley look alike as well as a John Lennon double. Also for the record – I never called in a to radio DJ show.And nostalgia was quite prominebt today. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Mike, from Long Island to Bowling Green — that must have been quite culture shock. I went to Eastern Michigan, another Mid-American conference school.

      On clear nights I used to be able to get WINS and WABC on the radio in my dad’s Plymouth. New York radio was always so foreign-sounding to me with the local ads for stores in the different NY boroughs. Radio just ain’t the same anymore.

      Like

  3. You wouldn’t know any of the DJs I listened too back in the day in San Diego, but they were like royalty. I remember meeting one in person once and being so disappointed with both his looks (I pictured him very differently) and his personality (he was kind of a jerk). Best to maintain our fantasies sometimes. We have Grantchester on tape so no spoilers without warning.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah the memories. During the summers in high school my friends and I would be playing a transistor radio whenever we could, no matter what we were doing. Music is so important during those years. Never won a radio contest either.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A great story!
    When we lived in Geneva, the radio station was small with few listeners. My son used to call all the time. Including the memorable night of my 15th wedding anniversary, when my son called in and requested a song, which we heard when we got home.

    GAY NIGHT!

    The first lines are “I met the best girl of my life …” and that was all Jacob needed. Boy did I take some ribbing at work the next day!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was a fantastic read. Thanks for the link. I won “Machine Head” by Deep Purple on a radio station call-in. It was the biggest station in Cleveland at the time. It felt like I won the lottery. I wasn’t old enough to drive and nobody would bring me downtown to collect it. I was heartbroken.

    I, too, love Stern’s Cousin Brucie impression. But I think Stern has grown to respect him now.

    That music guide is the BEST. For years, I thought “Lay Lady Lay” Was sung by Mac Davis. And look at that concert at Cobo Hall! $5.50. Everyone in Cleveland thought that Cobo Hall was a cathedral. Live Bullet. Kiss Alive. C’mon.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. They’re great memories, aren’t they? It wasn’t until college when my first real girlfriend, from Cleveland, had similar feelings about the worthiness of her own hometown’s rock credentials. When years later they chose Cleveland as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s location, I knew they made the right choice. We all knew about WMMS and its “Coffee Break Concerts. As I got older, I really enjoyed the fact how a couple of blue collar Midwest cities became so important to rock and roll.

    Thanks for reading!

    Like

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