Known as “Cousin Brucie,” Bruce Morrow became the most recognizable radio voice for any boomer kid growing up in northern New Jersey and the metropolitan area who could afford a transistor and the nine-volt batteries needed to power it up. Mentored by the legendary 1950s radio personality Alan Freed, Morrow. 72, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. He was on the cutting edge of the music broadcast scene from the early 1960s through the ’80s when AM radio changed to a mostly talk format. Now, through Sirius XM satellite radio, Morrow is reaching a global audience.
“He’s forever … everybody’s cousin at every age,” says Sid Bernstein, one-time manager of the New Jersey-based Young Rascals. “He and I worked together at Shea Stadium when we brought the Beatles there.”
BORN IN BROOKLYN, MORROW describes himself as a “shy kid” who grew up listening to music his parents played and not being happy with most of what he heard on the radio at the time, such as Doris Day. But when music with a beat broke onto the airwaves, he was there to celebrate.
His journey from shy kid to radio personality started when he was selected in elementary school for the part of a decayed tooth in a hygiene play.
“I was the kind of kid that begged teachers not to call on me,” he says. “I did my work, but I didn’t want attention. But during that assembly—while I was dressed up as a tooth with a black mark—something happened to me. I felt a real warmth from the audience, and I felt the desire to be in public.”
At the Brooklyn School of Technology he learned his trade and rapidly fell in love with radio, visiting Alan Freed’s studio to watch him work.
“I had my nose up against the glass,” Morrow recalls. “He must have been bored. He invited me in. He was very nice to me and let me watch what he did, explaining everything. I was very fond of him, he was fond of me.”
Later, Morrow went to New York University, where he helped found its radio program.
“I spent four years building that up,” he says. “When you graduate you prepare a demo tape of about six to eight minutes showing off your skills. I sent out about eight to various markets.”
MORROW WANTED TO LIVE someplace warm, so he sent demos to stations in Florida and Bermuda.
When a station called from Panama City, Fla., “I was scared,” he says. Worse, the man said that they wanted Morrow to work four hours on air and four hours at their other enterprise.
“My father finally asked him what the other job was,” Morrow recalls. “It turned out they wanted me to wash cars for the other four hours.”
Morrow declined the offer.
A day later, he got a call from the station in Bermuda and accepted a job.
“I was there three weeks later, and I learned a lot about life there,” he says, “not just about radio skills, but about racism and other things.”
Known as “The Hammer,” he played rock and roll music. This lasted about a year before he returned to New York. In 1960 he was hired by WABC where he remained until 1974, becoming the stuff of legend.
URBAN LEGEND HOLDS THAT MORROW got his on-air moniker after a woman calling him “cousin” stopped him on the street to ask for money.
“She wasn’t on the street,” Morrow clarifies. “I was on the air. The security guard came to me saying that a woman has to ask me something. The minute she got into the studio I knew she was going to hit me up for money.”
He never saw her again, yet the encounter left him with a new on-air handle he has kept ever since.
During the 1960s, Morrow became synonymous with Palisades Amusement Park in Cliffside Park, where he introduced some of the top musical acts.
Palisades had become one of the most popular amusement parks in the country, sometimes called the Disneyland of the East Coast, a touchstone for many who grew up in New Jersey.
“Palisades Park was iconic and it spanned an iconic decade,” Morrow says. “I produced all those free shows.”
He remembers the deals with local manufacturers that had people bringing in product labels for free admission to the park.
“Babysat a whole generation,” he says.
Acts didn’t perform live but lip synched to records. Morrow remembers when Tony Bennett performed and the record skipped.
“I put my arm around him and tried to comfort him, but he wasn’t happy,” Morrow says.
ONE OF THE BIG MOMENTS of his career came when he introduced The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965.
“John Lennon and I were pretty friendly; he always called me ‘Cuzin,’” Morrow says. “He looked at the crowd and asked me if I thought this was dangerous. I told him ‘Do your thing,’ then we walked up. Nothing happened at Shea. The NYPD and security were great. To this day I can feel the vibrations in my chest. Con Ed could have turned off all the power in the city and that place would still have glowed.” He says he walked around with the police prying fingers off the chicken wire fences that were put up around the inside of Shea to keep fans from charging onto the field.
Morrow says he saw music change from the vocal harmonies of Bobby Darin and Neil Sedaka in the 1950s to the revolutionary changes in music marked by the Summer of Love in 1967, including the release of The Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper” album.
“These were kids who grew up on American music like Elvis Presley and Fats Domino,” Morrow says.
After almost a decade of operating his own stations, Morrow returned to host an extremely successful series of programs on WCBS FM, which was then an oldies station, including his nationally syndicated show “Cruising America.”
Without warning, the station changed formats and for a time Morrow felt betrayed (and perhaps still does) by the loss of a station that had been “so tuned in to a generation.”
“That’s not something you give up,” he says, “or ever get back once you lose it.”
Had the station not changed, Morrow says he might have stayed forever.
“Sirius changed business, changed options,” he says. “The new technology has allowed me to reach people who haven’t heard me in 20 years.”
His second week on the air, a guy calls from North Dakota:
“Twenty years ago, he had left Hackensack for a new job in North Dakota and hadn’t heard me since. He and his wife listened to me on the New Jersey Turnpike until the signal faded. That was the last they heard of their old lives. They started crying. They knew their lives would be different. And all these years later, they heard my voice again.”
Now, instead of getting calls from Edgewater, Hoboken, or Weehawken, he gets calls from the Arctic Circle, Belgium, Hawaii, London, Mexico City, and the Philippines.
“The audience is huge. I go on Wednesdays and Saturdays, we do the show live, then repeat. We can’t handle all the phone calls and emails.”
His show reflects the old tradition of broadcasting.
“I won’t let a computer select my music, and Sirius XM lets me have the freedom to do all of my own shows,” he says. “Sometimes I feel as if I’m flying as high as those damned satellites. I expect to do this the rest of my life. I’ll do this as long as my audience wants me.
“I’m still me. I’m still full of energy. I’m in love with what I’m doing.” PM