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.
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.
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….