Monday 15 July 2019

Johnny Lyons remembered: "He was the TV-out-the-hotel-window rock star, and yet he was a gentle, forever helpful soul"

Popular radio presenter Johnny Lyons was found dead at his home Wednesday evening

Roy Curtis

He had a personality the size of the cosmos, his luminous likeability brought a firefly gleam into any room he gifted with that pyrotechnic presence.

To remember Johnny Lyons as a consummate broadcaster, a sporting encyclopaedia is merely to skim the surface of a bottomless ocean, to prise open but one chamber of a beautiful, untamed mind.  

He was a ‘Metal loving headbanger' who worshipped at the altar of Dutch football; his uniform of choice, had he ever chosen to walk the Sahara, would most likely have been his full length leather jacket and a pair of shades.

Oh, and an air guitar, one on which he would, without warning, bang out a cacophonous, defiant, adrenalin-charged Jimmy Page or Angus Young riff, if only to remind the desert that he too could kick-up a sandstorm at will.

His broadcasting voice had the bass-baritone depth of Barry White and the rich smoothness of a perfectly pulled pint of stout.

His distinctive, letter-rolling, inflection-filled sign-off – “For 98FM, I’m Johhhhhnnnny Lyons” – was his oral signature, Dublin’s answer to Michael Buffer getting boxing fans ready to rumble.

He was half-man, half Ajax shirt.

He had a riotous, frenzied chuckle; he was a courier delivering cheer to the day.

We called him Johnny Bonkers – a term of mischievous endearment, because to know the guy was to love him - and, as with almost everything he did in his sadly abbreviated life, he embraced his new handle with that unquenchable, zany enthusiasm that was his trademark.

In a monochrome world, he lived life in full, vivid technicolour, a sky-brightening sunburst of infectious, unchained individuality.

Johnny Lyons, simply by being himself, enriched, made brighter, the lives of those he touched.

It is hardly an insubstantial legacy.

His foot-to-the-pedal, whistle-stop tour of this spinning orb was rarely less than memorable.

He once breathlessly told his 98FM audience that, in breaking snooker news, Fergal O’Brien was leading Stephen Hendry 4-1; he then paused a moment for dramatic effect, before deadpanning: “That’s points, not frames”.

He thought nothing of arriving at the Shelbourne Hotel to record an interview with Ian Botham armed with an enormous ghetto blaster that looked like it had been borrowed from a 1980s breakdancing troupe.

Or of announcing to the the hugely amused former English cricket captain, “Sorry Beefy I can’t get this f***ing thing to work”, as he dashed out to the nearest pharmacy to buy batteries for the contraption. 

The subsequent piece he delivered to The Sunday Tribune was, inevitably, a masterpiece.

Johnny Lyons, if you didn’t know him, was for 20 years the voice of 98FM sport, the voice, in so many ways, of Dublin.

He was a big bear of a man, a great alpha-male galleon who brought joy to any port into which he sailed.

For those of us who traversed the world thunderstruck in his company, he was a warm, high-octane presence, oozing charisma, a bucking-bronco lust for life that simply could not be tethered.

Once, on the return journey from the 2002 World Cup, he appeared beside me somehow squeezed into the uniform of one of our KLM airhostesses.

“Rock N’ Roll,” he screamed, as he blazed by, a kinetic whirlwind in an ill-fitting skirt.

He had that engagingly madcap streak of a TV-out-the-hotel-window rock star, and yet he was a gentle, kind, talented, forever helpful soul.

And, a master of his trade.

Planet Journalism frequently stinks of self-important, cynical sewage: And yet, last night, social media was overrun by a damburst of unpolluted Fifth Estate grief, awash with genuine Blue Flag affection for a fallen and treasured giant.

The consensus – not because we had just heard of his shockingly premature death, but because it was one thousand percent true – was that there wasn’t a person in Irish media to remotely compare with Johnny.

And there wasn’t.

Nobody who had the good fortune to enter – even for a manic, fever-charged nanosecond – the airspace inhabited by this human force-field, this livewire Leviathan, ever again had to consult a dictionary for a definition of “larger than life”.

He was wonderful company, a flesh and blood tsunami, an authentic, arresting rainbow splashing light and colour all about him.

Everybody who met him had in their repertoire a story with Johnny as its centrepiece, its star.

His runaway-train enthusiasm and natural empathy made his show Now That’s What I Call Sport a lyrical Sunday morning scene-setter; his dulcet tones were – for many of us - an antidote to the throbbing aftermath of Saturday night.

The seventh day will be a black Sabbath now that he has left us.

The showman in Johnny would have enjoyed the Twitter machine overheating last night with lovely anecdotes recalling his ball-of-fire charm.

And they were endless, for he was the mayor of whatever town occupied the polar opposite planet to Dullsville.

There was one wonderful story of him bellowing his disapproval at RTE’s decision to drop James Last’s iconic Sunday Game theme tune, cursing whomever was responsible for such an unforgiveable cultural crime.

Nobody had the nerve to tell him the decision-maker was, at that very moment, sitting next to him.

But had they done so, he would have probably have set the bellows that were his lungs to laugh uproariously at his own lack of subtlety, offered an impromptu Death Metal version of the Artane Boys Band’s immortal summer soundtrack and then delivered a thesis on why Colm Cooper had to have Dutch blood coursing through his veins.

A legend:  For 98FM, for his audience, for those of us who were fortunate to call him a friend, he will always be JOHHHHHHNNNY LYONS.

Tweet your fond memories of Johnny Lyons to @RoyCurtis68

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