My dad would put me in the car and take me to the North Shore of Long Island for an appointment on Monday nights, right around 7 p.m. I remember this vividly for a number of reasons, one of which was as we piled into the car, I’d turn on the radio to WABC, the top 40 AM station I liked the most. And there’d be a chorus of voices calling for “Cousin Brucie” until finally, the real thing, Bruce Morrow, took the mike.
There was something neat about his patter. He was upbeat, fun to listen to and he played the Top 40 songs of the day and make them all seem fresh and wonderful. Time passes and eventually, AM Top 40 radio crumbles from increased advertising time and the dominance of FM radio. One station after another changed format, giving up on current music in favor of other music, news or talk. When ABC made the switch to Talk Radio, they celebrated the passing of an era by bringing back all their top jocks, including Cousin Brucie, to play favorite songs and reminisce.
Some of the DJs, along with Cousin Brucie, migrated to FM and WCBS, an oldies station. For the last decade or so, it was like listening to my childhood once again and that was fun.
Last Friday, at 5:30 p.m., WCBS changed formats. Now, stations do this as a matter of survival and I don’t fault them for doing what’s necessary. However, there are right ways to go about this and wrong ways. Last week, when the change happened with no notice, no advance warning, no final farewells, it was like we shifted to some parallel reality.
WCBS became the first New York area station to jump on the Jack fad. Started in Canada, the Jack format is supposedly cool and eclectic, mixing material from the 1970s-1990s with an expanded play list. As an oldies station, WCBS had a list totaling a mere 400 songs, which is pathetic by any standard. The Jack format boasts it now has 1200 songs to choose from. And that’s still pathetic by any standard.
I’ve been listening to the new format on and off since last weekend and while I’m hearing some stuff I haven’t heard in a while, I’m still hearing too much from the same performers. In the days when people wander around with iPods stocked with thousands of songs, 1200 is not going to cut it.
A friend of mine recently took a top level position at Infinity Broadcasting. One of the first things I told him was to try and convince management to let local disc jockeys play what they want, ignoring the formatted lists. Let the local radio guys be the tastemakers once more, breaking new bands or introducing songs that mean something to them. He smiled, nodded and told me this was the single most requested thing he had heard since taking the job. The dissatisfaction with current music radio seems to be a coast-to-coast fact of life that Clear Channel, Infinity and the other chains seem to be ignoring.
Or addressing by switching one market after another to Jack. Which is a band aid on a larger problem.
Whither Cousin Brucie?
After being unceremoniously dumped by CBS last Friday, he signed today to take a channel on Sirius Satellite radio. So, for those with a hankering for the past and a voice that can bring back their New York childhoods, you can pay for the privilege in the months ahead.