by Nathan Lerner
You may recall Bruce Warren, now 58, from his days in the restaurant business. He served a five-year stint as one of the chefs at Roller’s restaurant in Chestnut Hill in the 1980s (where Thai Kuu is now located).
At the age of 32, Warren switched gears and entered the radio industry. He became an on air personality at WXPN Radio. Eventually, Warren began programming at the station. He now holds the lofty title of Assistant General Manager for Programming.
Despite getting a late start on his current career, Warren was recently acknowledged by Billboard magazine as one of the top 25 rock radio programmers in the U.S. As part of his duties, Warren is busily preparing for the annual XPoNential Music Festival, which will take place from Friday, July 22, through Sunday, July 24, in Camden’s Wiggins Park and the adjacent BB&T Pavilion. (The latter is the rebranded name of what was previously the Tweeter Center and then the Susquehanna Bank Center.)
Warren has put together a program with some bold-face names, such as Ryan Adams, Alabama Shakes, Brandi Carlile and Old Crow Medicine Show.
We conducted the following interview last week with Warren:
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in South Philly and raised in the Northeast. I graduated from Northeast High School, class of ‘75.
Growing up, what did you aspire to do professionally?
I wanted to be an elementary school teacher and went to Temple for education.
How much of a fan of radio were you back then?
Since I can remember, I was always a big fan of the radio. I was raised on WFIL, WIBG, WDAS and WMMR. My favorite DJs were Long John Wade, Hy Lit, Joe Niagara, Butterball, Georgie Woods and The Geator with the Heater (Jerry Blavat).
Growing up, what were your tastes like in music?
I grew up on classic ’60s AM radio pop and then classic rock (but it wasn’t classic rock yet). The ’70s were — and still are — my jam. I think I started to get bored with “commercial” music that you could hear on the radio in 1976 and 1977. For a short while I listened to WIOQ. David Dye and Helen Leicht were on that station, and for a “commercial” station they were adventurous. But by and large I stopped listening to the other commercial radio stations for rock.
How did your musical tastes evolve over the years?
My musical taste continues to evolve. I like most music. Can’t do opera, though. And my crappy music teachers in elementary school made me really dislike classical music.
How did working at WXPN impact your taste in music?
Mostly it exposed to me so much music in the world that I didn’t know existed. From R&B to blues to world music to American folk and British folk to electronic music. It all sort of blew my mind as a music fan.
How did you end up being in the restaurant business?
Honestly, I needed a job. A friend of mine at the time in 1979 was working for Steve Poses (The Commissary, Frog, Eden) and I got a job working at the Commissary as a prep cook. I was good with a knife and I was a hard worker.
What did you like most about it?
What did you like the least about it?
Sometimes customers would treat restaurant workers like crap. But I learned to deal with that.
How many years were you in the restaurant business?
I worked at the Commissary in 1979 for about six months until Steve Poses (former long-time Chestnut Hill resident) opened up Eden Restaurant in Center City and West Philly. I was at Eden from when it opened in 1979, and in 1984 Steve sold Eden. (But) Rollers in Chestnut Hill was my favorite restaurant experience. I loved working with him and learned a lot from him.
At Rollers I was a cook, or some would say a “chef.”
What is the worst experience you ever had in the restaurant business?
I once ruined 120 quarts of onion soup. I was pretty mad about that.
What inspired your segue into the radio business?
During the time I was a freelance writer, I met Mike Morrison, who was the Music Director at XPN, and he offered me an overnight spot at XPN. Once I did my first shift on XPN, I did everything I could to get a full-time job here. That was in 1987.
What is the biggest challenge of your current position?
The biggest challenge: how to get people to listen, and when they do, how to keep them tuned in. On the digital side, it’s working with the staff to create engaging content.
What is working at WXPN like?
Good question. People outside the music biz think all we do is hang out with cool musicians all day. It’s far from that. We’re a business, albeit a pretty freaking cool one.
What are the biggest challenges of programming for XPoNential?
The biggest challenge we’ve had is that the market has changed, so we’ve needed to do the best we can in balancing bands with some broader market familiarity, bands that are exclusive to our XPN audience, with the category of new bands that we think will really go over well in a live setting.
What is the funniest thing that you have ever witnessed at XPoNential?
Edward Sharpe fishing before his set a few years ago in the Delaware River, behind the stage. It was probably more of an honest moment than it was funny, but it put big smiles on our faces.
What is the thing about Bruce Warren that people would find the most surprising?
I’m a huge hip-hop fan.