Thursday 20 July 2017

Golden days: Why we're still wild about Larry after all these years

Ed Power drops in on the much loved broadcaster on the eve of an industry tribute

Ed Power

Ed Power

It's 10 minutes to airtime and Larry Gogan has just been locked out of his own studio. The reinforced electronic door has gone into shutdown mode and, although Gogan has entered the password, nothing is happening.

He raps, then bangs on the unyielding surface but, on the other side, his staff continue with their lunch, oblivious to his predicament.

When it eventually occurs to someone to look for him and the door is opened from the inside, Gogan strolls into the production booth unfazed.

A fixture on Irish radio since the '60s, Gogan, a twinkly-eyed 72, has seen it all and it will take more than an altercation with a malfunctioning lock to put him off his stride.

Stepping into the studio, he sinks into a chair, hovers over the microphone and grins. It is the easy smile of someone utterly in their comfort zone.

Some 250,000 people will shortly be listening to Gogan's 2fm oldies show, the Golden Hour, but there are no nerves, only boyish enthusiasm.

"I always imagine I'm chatting to one person," says Gogan, who will tomorrow be honoured with a Lifetime Achievement gong at the PPI Radio Awards. "If you were to think you were chatting to a quarter of a million people, you'd kind of freak. When I started, that was one of the things they'd always taught you -- if you can get through the studio walls to the person on the other side. You have to keep in mind who is listening to you."

Off-air and on, Gogan is exactly the same person. He is gentlemanly, humble and speaks in the mellifluous patter of someone who grew up in front of a microphone.

What really comes through is his passion -- for broadcasting, obviously, but also for the music he champions. In an era when most radio is formatted and market-researched to death, he still chooses his own playlists and his show has a refreshing 'expect the unexpected' quality,

Today, for instance, he begins with Cher's 'Believe', veers into The Fugees, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple and finishes with the Led Zeppelin-sampling instrumental group CCS. It ought to be an awkward hodge podge. Glued together with Gogan's easy chatter, however, the Gold Hour has its own distinct grace and symmetry.

"The music keeps me interested," he says. "There are some great Irish bands coming up. The Coronas, O Emperor, Mundy. I love Mundy. There are always new sounds to hear. Even with the oldies, which is what I play here, it's great to hear some of them again.

"People say Coolio isn't an oldie. Well it is if you are 15. If I wasn't excited by this, I'd give it up. I'd be gone. I'd hate to be cruising along. People say, 'oh do you still listen to stuff?' And I do. I listen to everything."

Gogan is hosting the Golden Hour in a Plexiglas studio above Dundrum Town Centre. From the window, you can see shoppers -- not too many this early on a Tuesday -- milling about.

Sunshine streams through the mall's glass roof. This is a novelty for the DJ, who usually works deep within the bowels of RTE's Montrose complex.

After the ad break, it will be time for the 'Just A Minute Quiz' -- an Irish broadcasting institution up there with the Late Late Toy Show and the Angelus.

Because it's an outside production today, contestants will be coming into the studio rather than participating by phone. Which means Gogan's assistant, Helen, has to venture out, clipboard in hand, and round up some punters.

In the past, it was sometimes difficult to cajole members of the public into going on air.

However, people are more confident nowadays, and it isn't long before she has found an off-duty Dublin Bus driver and his daughter, out shopping for a debs dress.

Stepping, blinking into the studio, they seem not quite able to believe they are here. Gogan sets them immediately at ease, though. Soon the atmosphere is laid- back; giggly, even. You would not for a moment think father and daughter were about to put themselves on the line before 250,000 listeners.

"We started the 'Just a Minute Quiz' on the very first day of 2FM," Gogan recalls. "We did the 26 counties and then we had people from the North wanting to go on. And then people from England.

"I remember getting a vicar from the Outer Hebrides on. I asked him: 'How did you hear about this?' And he said: 'Some days the signal is very good.'

"We also got somebody from France. I couldn't believe it. But then, we went on holidays there with the kids. I got off the ferry, turned on the radio, and there was 2fm. Clear as a bell."

Father and daughter contestants don't disgrace themselves, and leave with tickets to Disney On Ice. People haven't always kept their wits about them, however, and the 'Just a Minute Quiz' has become famous for some hilariously wide-of-the-mark answers proffered down the decades.

"Yes, things like 'Where is the Taj Mahal?' 'Opposite the dental hospital'," laughs Gogan. "Of course, that's what makes it a bit of craic. After about a year, it was suggested to us that people were getting tired of it. We took it off air and there was war."

The secret to a long, happy career in broadcasting, believes Gogan, is to be yourself.

"I think people can see through you when you put something on," he says.

"I can immediately see through those fellas putting on those American accents and that kind of thing. Someone like Wogan, he is exactly the same. Have a pint with him and he's the same as the guy on the radio. So is Gay Byrne. Ryan Tubridy is exactly the same."

As was Gerry Ryan. "Yes, yes, Gerry," he says, misting up.

"I sat beside Gerry for 30 years in the office and had a laugh every day. He was the same always. Maybe that's the secret. People can see through you if you are pretending. I really think they can."

Ryan's death has obviously affected him profoundly.

Of course, there has been tragedy in his own life too. Eight years ago, his wife Florrie passed away after a battle with cancer.

In one of those cruel ironies, she died just a few weeks after Gogan had come through a double by-pass.

"I've never had to deal with anything like this before," he said shortly afterwards. "It's an awful wrench. I keep thinking 'I must tell Florrie about that' and then you remember she's not there."

Spend your whole life doing something and it can be easy to sink into nostalgia. Gogan, however, isn't in the least bit sentimental about the past. Irish music, he believes, is in a far healthier place today than when he started.

"In the '60s, there were showbands. Now they were great entertainers; they gave fantastic value. But they mostly played covers.

"U2, they're a fabulous band. They're at it for what, 20 years? And they're as brilliant as ever. There seems to be a lot more people making music today. Some great stuff is coming out."

If there is a downside, he says, it's that young people don't listen to radio with the same devotion as previous generations.

"We used to listen to Radio Luxembourg under the bed clothes. Younger people, they'd laugh at you now if you told them that. They have the internet, MP3 players. They put their own stuff on. I don't know where it is going. The young don't listen to radio. Not as much as we did.

"I think that the listenership is going to get older. It's inevitable."

Larry Gogan will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the PPI Awards tomorrow.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment