NEW YORK, NY – As the story goes, sometime back in 1959 a relatively obscure radio DJ named Bruce was standing in the hallway of the WINS radio studio in mid-town Manhattan. There an elderly woman, somehow getting past security and entering the studio, approached him and said, “Cousin, lend me 50 cents to get home.” When Bruce as the true tale continues, jokingly asked the woman if they were really cousins, she replied, “We’re all cousins.”
Bruce, as you probably guessed, gave the woman the 50 cents she asked for. But the story does not end there. Entering the studio for work the next day with the woman’s three words still racing in his mind, Bruce announced to his program director, “I have a new name. From now on, just call me ‘Cousin Brucie.’’
The name stuck, as six decades of music fans who have joyfully listened to the tunes and musical artists introduced, played and boosted by the legendary “Cousin Brucie,” aka, “Cousin Bruce Morrow,” will attest.
Morrow, whom I interviewed over the phone last week, explained how the three parting words uttered to him by that elderly woman in 1959 impacted upon his life and career.
“There would have been a Bruce Morrow, but not a Cousin Brucie or a Cousin Bruce Morrow had I not met that woman that day… From the next day on, that moniker would define both my career and reflect my philosophy of life… I believe all people are cousins… And when I’m on the air, I feel every person in the audience is truly my cousin,” Morrow stated.
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In 1961 Morrow left WINS and took his new name and new philosophy to WABC. The timing could not have been better for Morrow, who by then, having totally fallen in love with rock and roll, had been given the dream come true opportunity to – from every weekday evening from 7:15pm-10pm – play hundreds of the songs he loved, sung by many of the artists he revered to his rock and roll smitten mainly young audience.
Recalling those artists, Morrow stated, “I played the songs of the top performers including Elvis Presley, the Drifters, Neil Sedaka, Chubby Checkers, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, The Everly Brothers and Ray Charles. Their music was so great and so easy to listen to that it grew to become, let me say in a poetic sense, a part of the DNA of my young audience.”
However, by then Morrow and his growing legions of fans would soon fall in love with a new form of rock and roll played by foreign groups bearing strange names. Those groups, which included the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, and the Zombies, came to America from their native England in late 1963 through 1967, in a musical period widely known as “the British Invasion.” It was a musical “invasion” which Morrow, by then a radio superstar, helped spread through his perch at WABC.
“With its large audience and young fan base WABC was the perfect place for me to play the songs of these incredible artists who had transported their music across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States,” Morrow recollected. “In reality though, they were more than musicians. They were also poets writing lyrics that came to help change, for the better I believe, the culture of America.”
Still, of all those great groups, it was the Beatles – comprised of (the late) John Lennon, Paul McCartney, (the late) George Harrison and Ringo Starr – who had the greatest impact upon American music fans, including arguably the greatest music fan of all, Cousin Bruce Morrow.
“I first heard the Beatles record ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ in late November 1963, just days after the assassination of President Kennedy, and I played it seven times in a row on my show that day,” recalled Morrow. “I believe the song was so terrific that it provided, if only for a few minutes, a respite from the sadness all Americans felt after losing our beloved president.’’
“But that was only their first major American hit,” Morrow added. “The hit records ‘She Loves You,’ ‘Please, Please Me,’ and ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ soon followed… Within the following 2 years, the Beatles recorded 4 albums, which I played so frequently on WABC, that the station came to be known as, ‘WABeatleC.’’
The Beatles, learning that Morrow had been one of the leading northeastern DJ’s introducing their music through his station to his large audience, rewarded that loyalty. On August 15, 1965, the band chose Morrow and the iconic TV entertainment host Ed Sullivan to introduce them at their historic Shea Stadium Concert, which drew a then record breaking 55,600 fans.
Describing that historic event, Morrow stated, “I will never forget the sight and the sound of a great, actually the greatest band in the world, performing their amazing music on a rickety stage on the infield of Shea Stadium to a screaming crowd of tens of thousands of adoring young fans.”
For Morrow, 85, who had been born and raised in Brooklyn’s predominately middle-class area of Sheepshead Bay, graduated from James Madison High School in 1953 and 5 years later graduated from New York University, being a part of that show was both an unlikely and extraordinary experience. “What an incredible and unimaginable experience it was for me. Here I was a young man from a working- class Brooklyn neighborhood who, with just a handful of years as a DJ behind me, had been given the opportunity to meet and to appear on the same stage with the greatest band on the planet,’’ Morrow reminisced.
Even after the Beatles broke up in April 1970, Morrow continued playing their tunes, by then already widely referred to as “Old Beatle Songs” on his WABC telecast. But that was to change. In August 1974, after an amazing 4,014 broadcasts, in a gambit that surprised his listeners and shocked the kingpins of the radio industry, Morrow left WABC and moved to his long-time station’s main rival, WNBC.
Explaining why he left WABC after 13 years of enormous success at the station, Morrow stated, “Those 13 years had been great for me, but I felt I needed the change and the new challenge offered by WNBC.”
But even WNBC was not be the final stop for the nomadic Morrow. After leaving that station in the late 1970’s, Morrow found a new broadcasting home at WCBS FM, New York’s premier “oldies” station which ran his show throughout the 80’s and 90’s. In addition to hosting the station’s daily-music show, Morrow also soon was called upon by WNBC to host four other of the stations’ similarly themed shows, including what became the mega hit, the “Saturday Night Dance Party.” Incredibly, around the same time, an indefatigable Morrow also hosted the nationally syndicated radio show, “Crusin’ America.”
While noting that he worked an 80 hour plus week hosting so many different shows, Morrow insisted that he never felt tired or worn out. “Cousin, when you’re doing what you love doing, you never get tired, and I loved playing the music that my fans love, which gave me all the energy I needed,” Morrow explained.
Morrow was to take that love and energy to still another venue. From 2005 to the early months of this year, he hosted two weekly music programs- “Cruisin’ With Cousin Brucie” and “Cousin Brucie’s Rock and Roll Party”– on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.
“Those were a great 15 years,’’ reflected Morrow. “My audiences through satellite radio extended across the U.S. to around the world.”
But belying the idiom, “You can’t go home again,” Morrow did just that when he left Siriux/XM and this past September 5th returned to WABC, where he currently hosts a weekly Saturday-oldies show, playing music from the 50’s to the 1980’s on the station which he credits with launching his then embryonic career into stardom.
Morrow explained why returning to WABC is so important to him. “This completes a career circle. A magical circle for me… My first real hit show was at WABC. To return there and still feel the same magic I felt almost 60 years ago is a magical and thrilling experience,” stated Morrow.
After that comment, I realized that 35 minutes had already passed in our 40 – minute interview (which Morrow was kind enough to extend from the originally scheduled 30 minutes), leaving only five short minutes remaining. I then also realized that the problem with having a time-limited interview with a guy with a timeless list of accomplishments like Morrow is that there were questions about other highlights in his life and career that I would not have the chance to ask him about.
The career highlights, which I knew about, but didn’t have the chance to discuss with Morrow included his memorable feature roles in the hit films, “Dirty Dancing” and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band,” his performances on Broadway, in the award-winning plays, “Grease” and “Memphis,” and his frequent guests spots on major television morning shows. Nor, I realized would I have the chance to ask Morrow about his co-hosting the currently on-going critically acclaimed PBS series, “My Music.”
More frustrating still, I realized that if time only allowed, I would have asked Morrow, the author of five best-selling books, how he was able to find the time to be a prolific writer, or, to ask him how it felt to be inducted into National Radio Hall of Fame in 1988 and the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2001, as well as questioning him about the many other professional honors and awards he has received during his long, remarkable career.
But there were still five minutes left, which gave me just barely enough time to ask him two more questions. So I first quickly asked Morrow, the married father of three adult children and two grandchildren, about how he had and has been able to fit his family into his exhaustive professional life. “That’s an easy question, cousin. Regardless of how many hours I was working, my family always came first,” he stated… “And in truth, rather than feeling neglected, my children loved having ‘Cousin Brucie’ as their father. Which is why, I believe, my children when they were young and to this day call me ‘Cousin Daddy.’’’
Finally, I asked Morrow, who has had a very long and very extensive involvement with several philanthropic organizations, including the Variety Children’s Charity (for which he served as president for 10 years) and Why Hunger (which in 1975, was founded by Morrow’s close friend, the late singer-song writer, Harry Chapin), about what motivated him to work on behalf of such charitable organizations.
“Cousin, that’s another easy question for me to answer,” Morrow declared. “My motivation can be explained by just looking at the humanitarian work that these organizations perform: Why Hunger works with great people in the entertainment industry to raise funds used to provide food and education for impoverished people throughout the world. And,’’ Morrow continued, “the Variety Children’s Charity’s mission is to help improve the quality of life – from childhood to adulthood – of disabled, seriously ill and severely disadvantaged children.
“I believe” Morrow added, “I have been truly blessed to have had a career that has enabled me to be involved with charitable organizations, which have made life so much better for so many people.”
Something tells me that the elderly lady he met in the hallway of the WABC studio 60 years ago would be proud of Cousin Bruce Morrow.