Last month saw the return of Bruce Morrow — better known to his fans as Cousin Brucie — to the New York radio orbit after a 15-year absence. “Cousin Brucie’s Saturday Night Rock & Roll Party” now airs from 6 to 9 p.m. every Saturday night over 77 WABC-AM and, thanks to the station’s website and app, he is reaching far beyond the five boroughs.
“When we were on last week, they got emails from Belgium, Paris and London,” he recalls. “And, of course, all over the country. So, it’s a whole new responsibility, and a whole new mindset for me of who I’m talking to and who I’m visiting with.”
While Cousin Brucie can cite an international following, the foundation of his fanbase — or, as he prefers to call them, his “cousins” — has been the generations of New York radio listeners who followed the Brooklyn-born broadcaster across the dial from WINS in 1959 to WABC in 1961 to WNBC in 1974 to WCBS in 1982. In 2005, he departed the terrestrial radio dial for SiriusXM satellite radio, hosting programs on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
But Sirius is a paid subscription service, and those who did not subscribe missed Cousin Brucie’s booming voice and unapologetic devotion to the classic sounds of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. And, it seems, Cousin Brucie missed the New York listeners, too.
“We were garnering our huge audiences all over the world,” he said about his satellite radio gig. “But I knew that there was something missing to what I wanted to do. I’m a broadcaster. I’m a performer. I like to be with people, but I felt that I was doing something more of a corporate nature than I was a broadcasting.”
While Cousin Brucie was debating whether to renew his Sirius contract this past summer, he was getting calls for song requests on his show “from a guy named John and his wife, Margo.” At first, he assumed he was dealing with devoted fans with a penchant for the vintage hits.
“They were driving around in their cars on a Saturday and he’d request songs. He loved Elvis, the Everly Brothers, the Stones and the Beatles,” he says. “One day, I got a call from a friend who said, ‘Do know who you’re talking?’”
The John who kept ringing Cousin Brucie with Saturday night phone requests turned out to be John Catsimatidis, who bought 77 WABC last year in a $12.5 million cash deal. Castimatidis had gotten word that Cousin Brucie’s Sirius contract was coming to an end and was eager to have him return to his old stomping grounds.
“The day after I stopped my contract with Sirius, I signed the deal with WABC,” he continues. “So here I am, back on radio and very thrilled.”
The tunes that Cousin Brucie plays on his Saturday night shows reflects what he perceives to be the pinnacle of popular music.
“The music of the late ’50s and the ’60s was so easy to listen to and remember,” he says. “You could hum a tune after the first time you heard it on the radio or some friend played a record, and you knew it something very special. It really showed what life was about.”
As for today’s music mix, Cousin Brucie freely admits that he has no emotional connection with the hit songs.
“Everything is so overproduced,” he laments. “When you see these videos, it’s like watching Barnum & Bailey Circus, and I think the music is very secondary….Everything’s fireworks and production with 800 people on the stage moving, jumping and screaming, and nobody has clothes on. So, nobody’s really paying attention to the music. In the ’60s, we paid attention to the music. We didn’t know about having a circus video.”
While Cousin Brucie could easily spend hours name-dropping — he was close friends with Elvis Presley and still stays in touch with Paul McCartney — he is more focused on his listeners. His new show includes call-in requests and dedications, a rarity on most of today’s music radio stations and, to his delight, he is attracting yet another generation who are just discovering the classic tunes for the very first time.
“We have young people in the audience and I love it,” he exclaims. “I talk to kids that are in elementary school — 9, 10, 11, 12 years old — and they love their Cousin Brucie. We talk about their school and I always ask them: ‘What’s your favorite subject?’ And I tell them my favorite subject when I was in school was lunch, and they laugh. They giggle. They’re terrific kids and we have a good time.”
Cousin Brucie is banking on these “terrific kids” as both his future in radio and to keep yesterday’s hits relevant in the digital age.
“It grows because one kid tells another kid,” he says. “My audience is loyal. They’ve been with me a long time, and it keeps growing.”
For more, visit wabcradio.com.