- 07 Jan 20
The news emerged this morning that one of the ultimate iconic figures in Irish broadcasting, Larry Gogan, had died. Hot Press editor, Niall Stokes, pays tribute to the man who defined pop radio in Ireland...
Larry Gogan has died. The news, following hard on the heels of the loss of the incomparable Marian Finucane, came as a huge shock to many. Larry was 81 years of age. It is what you might call call 'a good age', but most of us would have expected the iconic broadcaster – who seemed somehow to have stayed forever young – to be around for a lot longer. Sadly, we will now have to carry on without him.
Larry Gogan was already a fixture on Irish radio when I was growing up. He was, from his earliest days on RTÉ, distinguished by an infectious enthusiasm for the records he was playing. He loved music. He loved being on the radio. Put the two together and the result was something that you’d make a fortune from, if you could only bottle it.
In a media climate where bile and nastiness have become such common currency, the world could do with a lot more people like Larry. He was an incredibly warm, positive and generous person. He didn’t have a cynical bone in his body, nor a bad word to say. He always sounded as if he loved life. Meeting him, that impression remained solid. He preferred to laugh at things rather than to complain or be miserable. A wry chuckle was as rough as he got.
His enthusiasm really was infectious. On air, he could switch from heavy metal to country, throwing in a bit of soul or rap music for good measure and he had the ability to introduce each and every song in a way that made the artist involved seem important and worth checking out further. To say that he was eclectic in his tastes is to understate it: he was completely open-minded, though he wouldn’t have been a fan of anything that was overtly vulgar.
Larry was always a great supporter of Irish music, responding to the entreaties of people trying to scratch out a living in the music industry here in Ireland, through the hardest years, as helpfully as he could. Again, when he did play a track by a relatively unknown artist, he had the knack of making them feel much better about themselves, by waxing lyrical about just how good the track was. Very often he was right.
Over the years, there were attempts to retire him which failed. Almost inevitably, Larry was back by popular demand. He became a national legend just by being there, and by being exceptionally likeable and good at what he did. He was the first DJ to spin a disc on 2fm, when it launched in 1979, symbolically playing a Boomtown Rats song, ‘Like Clockwork’.
And a 2fm DJ he remained, until relatively recently, when he made the shift to RTÉ Gold. During the glory years, his status with the public was cemented by the legendary “Just A Minute: The Sixty-Second Quiz”, a regular feature on his 2fm show, which at times turned into outright pantomime. With the clock ticking in the background, like an eerie reference back to ‘Like Clockwork’, Larry fired as many questions as the occasional tongue-twisters allowed and the challenge for the contestant was to answer as quickly as possible – and of course as accurately. The listener who got the most correct answers into the 60 seconds was the winner.
Part of the fun was in the lovely way that Larry told even the biggest flops that they had done well, always offering the get-out clause that the questions “were hard today”. On occasion he might have been telling the truth, but more often it was just Larry being immensely kind.
And then there were the funnies. The likelihood, of course, is that the producers and researchers who were tasked with coming up with the questions cottoned on to the fact that they had hit a seam of potential comedy gold, if they could only get the questions right. Knowing some of the rapscallions involved, that was surely part of the plot. There may even have been a squad of mischievous listeners who felt that they were in on the joke, and offered themselves up as contestants with the purpose of creating the max laugh factor.
We all have our favourites. “What was Hitler’s first name?" "Heil!”. “Can you finish the phrase, ‘Happy as…?’" "A pig in shit!”. “Where is the Taj Mahal?" "Opposite the dental hospital.”
No matter how daft the answers, Larry was never phased. He carried on like a trouper while the nation – or a decent portion of it at least – buckled over in riotous laughter.
I met Larry hundreds of times over the years and he was always warm and completely genuine. He was interested in what we were doing in Hot Press and how we were getting on. He wanted to talk about the new up-and-coming bands and artists. He enjoyed keeping in touch. And when it came to gigs, he was a joy to work with.
One year, he broadcast from The Music Show, an event we ran in the RDS that was pure bedlam (in a good way) from start to finish. Around Larry, the noise was raging. The fans were crowding the edge of the makeshift, open studio that had been created on the floor of the Main Hall, amid a load of stands exhibiting the latest guitars, keyboards, drums and more.
All over the building, curious young musicians were bashing, banging and twanging to beat the band but Larry Gogan just got on with it, putting in an unflappable performance, which had the distinct benefit of suggesting that we were almost as sane as he was. When he was done, he told me that was great, and enthused about how brilliant the event was. We hugged, and he left, an exemplary professional to the end.
Of course there were tough moments, both professionally and personally. But Larry’s attitude was that this was the hand you had been dealt. You got on with it. He understood that being a broadcaster, getting to play music for a national audience, and talk to them daily, was a privilege. He accepted life’s vicissitudes as the flip side of that coin. There was never an ounce of bitterness, even when the bureaucrats or the managers made a mess of things.
In a business which is far too often dominated by egos, he was also notable for the fact that he was an unassuming family man, who made it clear always that his partner – or his wife if you prefer – Florrie, and their children, meant the world to him. Larry Gogan was a star, but he never acted like one. He was hugely influential, but he never slipped into self-importance or pomposity.
Or to put it another way, he was an ordinary guy, but one with a unique ability to talk to people in a way that they could relate to; and to lift their spirits with an infusion of his own almost boundless enthusiasm.
That is his great legacy. Larry Gogan spread the joy and people loved him for it.
This is indeed a very sad day for Irish radio. It is inevitable now that we think of Vincent Hanley, Gerry Ryan, Tony Fenton, Gay Byrne and Marian Finucane, among other enduring figures, who helped to define what was possible in Irish radio. Well, another great has been added to that growing list of lost heroes.
Larry Gogan's marvellous, and wonderfully engaging spirit will be sorely missed. But we will cherish the memories for a long, long time to come.