Tim's Turn | In Tune with Cousin Brucie
I DIDN’T RECOGNIZE THE NUMBER when my phone rang, which means I usually don’t answer, but for some reason, I picked it up and waited for what I assumed would be a car warranty spiel to begin.
Instead, I heard a voice say, “Hello, is this Tim?” I recognized the voice immediately; it was attached to the legendary radio deejay Bruce Morrow, known worldwide simply as Cousin Brucie. He had gotten the message I wanted to talk with him, and he got in touch. Quite the surprise; shows the kind of guy he is.
I’ve been a fan of his since the early 1960s when at nights, I could pick up faraway radio stations on my three-transistor radio. Cousin Brucie was on WABC-AM in New York City, and he was playing the hits of the day. I learned to love rock and roll on those dark lonely nights listening to him from Buckeye Lake, Ohio.
It was he who inspired me to be on the radio when I grew up. When he first played the first Four Seasons hit, “Sherry,” I fell in love with that distinctive sound. It was the first time I heard it, and I have been a huge Four Seasons fan ever since. Still am, but I digress.
I wanted to talk with him about his years producing and hosting the “Ring- A-Ding Record Hop,” a weekly event at Palisades Amusement Park, located in Fort Lee, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City.
He was the city’s most popular on-air personality and had a huge teenage following. Palisades Amusement Park was a major sponsor of his show. Brucie, now 85 years old, was quite knowledgeable of the park, having grown up in the area and having spent a great deal of time there as a teen himself.
“One day, Irving Rosenthal, the owner of the park, asked me if I would produce a show at the park and bring in the popular acts of the day,” Brucie told me.
Those shows lasted “a decade and a half,” according to Brucie, and he loved them, not only for the extra money the gig brought in, but for the boost his radio show received.
“It was a great part of developing my career. A live show like that, with thousands of fans packed in, and the immediate feedback they provided was not only magic, but also quite educational to me. It was a big chunk of my success,” he shared.
The park also benefitted greatly from the publicity these record hops created.
“The kids knew that if they wanted to see the acts they were listening to on the radio, they could come out to the park and see them. It was a safe place to be, and parents would drop their kids off, and for 60 to 90 minutes, I would be their babysitter,” Brucie recalled.
The big acts of the day, from Fabian to Chubby Checker to The Four Seasons to Freddy Cannon to Tony Bennett would show up to promote their latest hit and lip sync their hit in front of the crowd.
“We didn’t have a band or tracks or a good sound system, but that didn’t take away from the fun time and camaraderie we all felt,” he noted.
“Palisades Amusement Park: ‘Here we were happy, here we grew!’” are words on a plaque that today stands where the park once stood.
“That’s exactly what we did there. I loved that park.” Legendary words spoken by a legend himself.
- Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.