Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Jet magazine called Ramon Bruce Philadelphia's first negro disk jockey. It was a damn shame when WHAT-AM later fired him for "flagrant neglect of duty" and "insubordination." Bruce claimed that they fired him for joining AFTRA because he was fired by telegram "55 minutes" after joining the union. For his part Bruce filed charges with the local labor board. It was a dirty public fight. Station Manager Dolly Banks even claimed that his absenteeism required that they hire Cal Williams and Jocko Henderson to fill in...and that they were the only staff that had joined any union.

Every biography says that Bruce was a former pro football player but they never say for what team. But, starting in December of 1945 on WHAT, Ramon Played Jazz and Rhythm and Blues all week then Gospel on Sunday. His show was initially called "Snap Club " and later "Ravin with Ramon."  He broadcast live from Club 421 and later Powelton's Cafe and Paul's Carnival Club. He was an amazingly popular DJ in a time when segregation was legal. He was receiving 1,000 letters a week by some reports and earning $50,000 dollars a year in an era when that was a CEO salary. He owned restaurants and a record store. He also released some very bad recordings that Billboard dismissed as the "delusions of Ronald Colman." People bought them anyway. In 1949 still on the upswing WHAT gave him an afternoon show as well.
The root cause of his firing is uncertain but in 1949 the FCC reported that Bruce "belongs to a number of negro and other organizations..." The language is vague but that sounds slightly accusatory. Ramon wrote a column for the paper the Philadelphia Afro-American. That kind of black pride was new and not welcome in all quarters. Maybe joining the union was the last straw for management.

Mr. Bruce went from WHAT to a new program 1230 WCMC-AM in Wildwood, NJ where he broadcast live from the Riptide Club. He was known as "The Bruce" which to my mind was the superior stage name anyway. He was making more money on the side booking R&B tours milking that growing audience for R&B in New Jersey. In 1954 he joined WNJR-AM, a bigger signal covering better parts of the Jersey market. He stayed there for about 3 years.

WAAT-AM in Newark, New Jersey, where he took off again. He continued to book theater tours Heartbeats, Cadillacs, Valentines, the Avalons, LaVern Baker, the Clovers and many others, they toured in the region playing shows in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.  He stayed on at WAAT until at least 1957 when he was listed in Sponsor magazine as having the best ratings of any program on the station. He was dead less than 5 years later after what the papers called "a long illness." He was only 39 years old. By 1968 Robert St. John was already describing Ramon Bruce in print as a "pioneer negro deejay." He certainly was that.