Sunday 20 October 2019

From Mystic Nylons to broadcasting legend: the one and only Larry Gogan

With Gogan the talk of the nation, George Hamilton recalls fond memories of the man who was top jock at RTÉ in the 1970s and beyond

Seamless operator: Gogan is moving from 2FM to RTÉ Gold. Photo: Mark Condren
Seamless operator: Gogan is moving from 2FM to RTÉ Gold. Photo: Mark Condren

Back then, social media were the chats you had over the garden fence, or the conversations you had on the telephone - that is, if you even had a telephone.

But we've moved on from landlines. It's all mobiles now. Instant connectivity.

How ironic, then, that the name trending on Twitter earlier in the week was that of Ireland's original deejay, who'd begun his career spinning 45s.

How ironic, too, that the reason he'd become Tuesday's hot topic was his move, as he approaches 60 years behind the mic, into the brave new world of digital radio.

The announcement that Larry Gogan is to leave 2FM at the end of the month for a regular slot on RTÉ Gold was the catalyst for an avalanche of goodwill from not only his public, but his peers.

At lunchtime on Radio One, the words were the same: "Hello, good afternoon, and you're very welcome to Liveline." But this wasn't the voice of the regular host.

Joe Duffy, devoting the whole of Tuesday's phone-in to a celebration of the achievements of one of the nation's favourite broadcasters, had him introduce the show as well.

I once shared a stage with Larry Gogan, on a Friday night in November 1990. It was the Cavan International Song Contest. Larry was chairman of the jury - no better man. I was compère.

We shared an evening of song and laughter that wasn't confined to the competition. Into the wee small hours we rocked by the baby grand in the lobby of the Kilmore hotel.

It was a long way from the 15-minute sponsored slots that kicked off so many broadcasting careers in the 1960s.

Larry soon moved on from the promotion of seamfree stockings known as Mystic Nylons (still available on eBay!) to become a TV regular fronting pop music shows on the then Telefís Éireann.

Larry was indisputably top jock when I moved to Dublin in 1979. RTÉ only had the one main radio station. RnaG was broadcasting for part of the day. Cork had a short local opt-out from the national schedule. 2FM was still five months away.

Larry was hosting the only daily pop music show. Each day from 3pm to 5pm, while the regular schedule went out on medium wave, he spun the discs on what was then known as VHF. Bill O'Donovan, who'd become head of 2FM, was his producer.

Though I was there to work on sport in television, the warmth of the welcome in Donnybrook meant that, in jig time, I was meeting people from right across the campus, and Bill was one of them.

He invited me over to Radio Centre to join him in the control room and watch Larry at work.

What a pro! The master of all he surveyed was in total command on the other side of the glass, lining up the tracks on vinyl, delivering his intros with perfect timing, always in tune with the music, managing the ads and the jingles in a seamless operation the like of which I'd never seen up close. It was magical. No wonder the audience loved him.

At the end of that May, 2FM took off. Well, it wasn't known as 2FM in 1979. It was RTÉ Radio 2 that was "comin'atcha".

Larry played the first track - 'Like Clockwork' by the Boomtown Rats - and took his place at the heart of a schedule that kicked off with Declan Meehan's breakfast show, and went on through the morning with Vincent Hanley playing music that "never sounded better", according to the catchline.

Larry was on from noon till 2pm, then it was Ronan Collins for the afternoon, followed by the drive-time show - Whelan Home - with who else but Marty Whelan.

Over the years, new voices arrived - Ian Dempsey, Gareth O'Callaghan, Tony Fenton - and the station changed its name. 2FM was born in 1988.

The schedule would further evolve with one Gerry Ryan becoming the mainstay of its output.

But there was a constant - the one and only Larry Gogan. And he had one and only aim which was to play the music the punters wanted to hear, and to keep them entertained.

His 'Just a Minute Quiz' became part of the nation's folklore, not least because of the obvious rapport he had with his audience.

With the clock ticking, and Larry willing them on, some of the contestants would wilt under the pressure, with comical results:

Which town do you associate with Shakespeare? Hamlet!

Name something you open other than a door. Your bowels!

They've all been trotted out this week as part of the soundtrack to so many lives is recalled.

That soundtrack will switch channels soon. His final show on 2FM is on Thursday, January 31. And then it's onwards and upwards each lunchtime on RTÉ Gold

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