- 07 Jan 20
"The Joshua Tree is my favourite album, I love U2," he told our man Colm O'Hare
For over forty years, Larry Gogan has been the voice of pop music in Ireland. He was playing records on RTE (or Radio Eireann, as it was back then) before The Beatles had their first hit and he remains the longest serving DJ on Irish radio. He presented dozens of sponsored programmes during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a number of fondly remembered, and at the time all-too-rare, pop music shows like Discs-A-Gogan. He was the first DJ on Radio 2 (now 2FM), and remains a key part of the station’s schedule, presenting the hugely popular daily lunchtime show. He is without doubt a living legend, whose contribution to Irish music has indeed been immense. Now, Larry, here's your starter...
COLM O’HARE: When exactly did you start broadcasting?
I started working in RTE in 1961. I started the same day as Terry Wogan [pictured above with Gogan, left], though he was staff and I was on a contract. They used to give us weekly contracts at that time. But the chap who sent out the contracts thought it was a waste of his time sending these things out every week. They decided to send them every month and then every three months. But it was only to save paper and time! I’m on a three-year contract now. They did offer me longer ones – but I might change my mind and decide to go somewhere else (laughs).
You were a child actor and appeared in several plays at the Gaiety. Was radio something you drifted into?
No, it was what I always wanted to do. I wanted to be a DJ. I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg all the time as a teenager and I remember thinking that’s what I want to do with my life. Alan Freeman would have been my hero back then. I studied his technique closely. The great thing about him was that he didn’t waffle; he got right to the point, in one quick sentence, and played the record. Pete Murray, David Jacobs and Brian Matthews were others I used to listen to when I was still at school. Some of them are still on the radio now. People are always trying to find out how old I am, but at least I’m younger than they are. (laughs).
How did you eventually get into radio?
It was in a strange kind of way. I left school before the Leaving Cert and worked in CIE for about six months. My parents had a newsagents shop in Fairview. Someone told me that this girl who used to come in for an Irish Times every morning worked as a radio producer. Her name was Maura Fox and she worked in McConnells ad agency at the time. One day I asked her could I have an audition and she gave me one. They gave me a part in a sponsored programme for Cussen's Soap called The District Nurse. I played the part of a young lover (laughs). But I told her that I wanted to be a DJ and she sent me to Fred O’Donovan in the Eamon Andrews Studios. They used to produce sponsored programmes for ad agencies or firms. I started out doing lots of those. There was one time when I did 14 sponsored programmes a week. The head of sales in RTE objected because I was on too much. I said ‘it’s not my fault if I’m popular’. But you only got something like 3 guineas for each one and you had to make a living.
How different was the Irish music scene back then to the one that exists today?
There were showbands and beat groups basically, and New Spotlight magazine. But there’s as much bad music today as there was then. The Freshmen made some good records and I still think 'The Hucklebuck' by the Royal Showcase is a great record. There’s good and bad music all the time. There was always pressure to play certain records but you had to play what the audience wanted. I always tried to play Irish records when I could. They used to try and send money in with the records. It happened me twice – a tenner and a fiver. But I sent them back with a note saying ‘sorry, I’m already paid to play the records’. They actually got very upset with me over that.
You were one of those in RTE pressing for a pop station?
Yeah, myself and Vincent Hanley – Lord rest him – were always agitating the powers-that-be about getting a pop station going. There was a big demand for it and the pirates were doing well at the time. Then, when we finally got one, we thought they probably won’t give us a job on it. But thankfully they did.
You did the first show on 2FM
I did, although Brendan Balfe was the first voice to be heard. He was the MC at the launch party, but I did the first show and played the first record, which was ‘Like Clockwork’ by The Boomtown Rats. The hit at the time was ‘Banana Republic’ but they wouldn’t let me play that one. They didn’t think it would go down well (laughs).
What do you think of 2FM today?
It’s doing very well. It’s held its own, which is incredible, as there are so many stations around the country. Local stations' only opposition is RTE and Today FM. Our opposition is about 30 local stations. So we have to play music that’ll suit people all over the country. And we’re in competition with Radio One. One of my great friends is Ronan Collins and we’re in direct competition for half an hour during the day. I have to be careful about playing good stuff or he’ll be robbing my listeners.
Have you ever come into conflict with your superiors in RTE
A few times yeah. I got into a row once for playing U2’s ‘New Year’s Day’ on the lunchtime show. The Assistant Controller at the time came in and said ‘that was a terrible noisy record’. I told him that Gay Byrne had played it in on Radio One that morning and that it was a huge hit in England. I thought it was hilarious. This was 2FM – it was supposed to be a pop station and here was the biggest band in the world and they thought it was noise. Larry Mullen heard I’d got into trouble and rang my house later to thank me for playing it.
Presumably that wasn't the only time!
The same thing happened a few years later. My youngest daughter Sinéad was big into heavy metal when she was younger and she was always on at me to play more of it. One day I decided I would do a heavy half-hour. I blasted them out of it with Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. It got a great reaction from the listeners but the same fellow nearly had a seizure. He came by the studio and said ‘what are you doing?’ From that day, to the day he retired, every time he passed me by he’d say ‘your music is too heavy’. But it wouldn’t stop me. None of them could ever stop me from playing anything I wanted.
What music do you like personally?
It’s very hard to pick favourite records when you’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve kept all the early Elvis and David Bowie records. I love Bowie’s stuff but The Joshua Tree is my favourite album. I love U2 – I think they’re a fabulous band and it’s not just because they’re Irish. I used to love Steely Dan’s Katy Lied, but I was a bit disappointed when I saw them live. I listen to almost everything that I get. There’s a lot of rubbish and there’s a lot of rap, which I wouldn’t be into. At the moment I like The Killers, Snow Patrol, Mundy, Keane – there’s always good stuff coming along. Franz Ferdinand are another band I like.
Three years ago you developed a serious heart condition and your wife Florrie sadly passed away. How did you cope with that double blow?
It was an awful time. I had a bypass in Blackrock Clinic and Florrie was in Vincent’s up the road. I had my operation on December 30th and she died on January 20th. Some people said when they saw the state of me at the funeral that I’d never get back on the air. But I was back in March. When I came into the studio there was something like 19,000 e-mails and messages for me with people saying ‘welcome back’. It made it a lot easier. If I didn’t have this, I don’t know what I would have done. And the family were great of course. I’ve five kids – all grown up now – and they were a great help at the time.
You just received an award from IRMA for your services to Irish music. It’s not the first award you’ve received is it?
The first time I won an award for being top DJ was, would you believe, in 1964 from Bill’s Column in The Evening Herald. From then on I’ve won something every year from different magazines. In one year I won something from seven different magazines and papers including Woman’s Way, The Tuam Herald and the Longford Leader. I’ve won a few things since then. I got the Hot Press Smithwicks Industry Award in the early 1990s, though I’ve never won the Hot Press DJ award. Dave [Fanning] always seemed to win that one – though I’ve come second or third a few times.
This award came as a surprise. They phoned me and said they were going to give me this honour. They just told me to turn up on the night. But it’s a nice to be honoured and I’m grateful for it. But at the end of the day I’m only doing my job. I’ve no plans to retire. I’m still young! (laughs).