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Marty Whelan: Fab Vinnie was just that - and loved by all


PEOPLE always talk about knowing somebody who can light up a room. For me, that was pop music pioneer Vincent Hanley. .

The renowned DJ was an innovator; a master at what he did. And even 25 years after his tragically early death, his legacy lives on

When I went on air on RTE Lyric FM yesterday morning, there were several emails from listeners reminding me that it was the 25th anniversary of Vincent's death.

It was just fantastic that people remembered and they wanted to say something special about him. And it wasn't just people from his home town in Co Tipperary, they were from all across the country.

No matter what you do in any business, you always wonder will people remember you. Well, Vincent is truly remembered.

My colleague Ronan Collins was also inundated with emails about Vincent on his lunchtime show on RTE Radio 1, playing requests for songs introduced to a whole generation of music fans on MT-USA back in the early 1980s.

For those too young to remember, MT-USA (Music Television USA) was Vincent's ground-breaking show that lit up the lives of teenagers with its three hours of pop videos every Sunday afternoon on RTE2.

I first met Vincent back in 1979. I had just joined RTE to be part of the newly formed Radio 2 (now 2FM) with several others including Gerry Ryan and Declan Meehan. With its 'Cominatcha' slogan, it was a whole new world to us all.

But Vincent had been there for a while and he knew the place well. He was just lightning. To those of us who joined, we were all very taken with him. He was quite a spectacular fella; always on the go, full of energy and he exuded positivity. He was a gentleman.

To this day I can't think of a memory that isn't a fond one. We never fell out. He was a glass half-full merchant.

While 'Fab Vinnie' was very showbiz, he was a very ordinary guy from Clonmel and very grounded. But he loved the industry and it loved him. You were kind of caught up in the electricity that he gave off and it was very infectious.

He embodied our business and had exuberance in spades. I think people remember him with great fondness, but they'll also remember him for just being so good at what he did.

We grew to be terribly fond of each other. He was just a lovely, lovely guy.

Vincent was king of the airwaves in Ireland but he was always pushing the boundaries. He was always saying to himself "there's something else, let's try that". And that's really how the MT-USA idea came about.

It's hard to believe now, but we lived in a world where we didn't have music television and he was an innovator in terms of what he did.

You need a few people who kick the dust up and say give it a go and he was very good at that.

MTV was in its infancy in the US and Vincent reckoned Ireland needed its own version. So he pursued his dream and left RTE for New York from where he became a VJ and would present MT-USA from various locations around the city.

It was a gamble but it paid off big time. Vincent was at the cutting edge of the music video revolution, giving us a window into the American pop world. Week after week he introduced us to new US acts like ZZ-Top, Cyndi Lauper and Dennis DeYoung of 'Desert Moon' fame.

It was the beginning of a very exciting period in our careers and he was at the forefront of it.

He was introducing music videos to the masses and it was terribly exotic.

I was deeply fond of him on a personal level, as was my wife. In fact, he attended our wedding and was great company that day.

You could always talk to him as well. I remember when I started out, he wasn't afraid of giving advice, always telling me not to be afraid or to be in awe of it all.

But he could be frank with you as well and he would have been the sort of fella who would have been fairly open with you.

He wouldn't be afraid to lay it on the line for you. That is the mark of somebody who is a good person to be with.

We kept in touch over the years after he left Ireland and it came as a terrible blow to all who knew him when he died.

It took a lot of us quite some time to realise just how ill he was. That was terribly sad.

But I prefer to remember the man as he was in his prime -- exuberant, funny, witty and generous with his time.

Simply, a true star.

Marty Whelan presents the morning show on RTE Lyric FM

Irish Independent