Larry Gogan leaves 2FM: Ageless DJ’s golden hour is over

The much-loved, open-minded broadcaster moves to RTÉ Gold at the end of January

Larry Gogan: His lifelong mission to share the joy of music continues. Photograph: Eric Luke

Larry Gogan: His lifelong mission to share the joy of music continues. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

It’s a tribute to the enduring enthusiasm and professionalism of Larry Gogan that news of the veteran RTÉ star’s retirement from 2FM after close to six decades on air and 40 years at 2FM (he will move to RTÉ Gold at the end of January) should come as something of a surprise, rather than the winding down of his career as one of Ireland’s best-loved broadcasters.

Gogan is stepping down from presenting his weekend shows on 2FM, the station that has been his home since 1979. It is not his longevity that is most striking, however. What has made Gogan such a singular figure in Irish radio is his apparently insatiable appetite for playing pop and rock music, both old and new.

Though he has been a fixture for several generations of Irish listeners, to call Gogan a radio institution would be a disservice: there has never been anything staid or portentous about him.

Despite his years – he is evasive about his birthdate, though even the most generous estimate puts him in his late 70s – Gogan’s passion for music has always been palpable, even as colleagues half his age would sound jaded or phony. Though he was for years famed for “the Golden Hour”, the oldies segment on his 2FM show, Gogan was always open to fresh sounds, be they the latest chart hits or new tracks from emerging Irish acts.

“I prefer to be called a DJ rather than a presenter,” he remarked in an RTÉ profile in 2007, underlining where his priorities lay. Despite his formidable gifts as a broadcaster – even still, he is blessed with a natural-sounding yet irresistibly warm voice and an appealingly modest air – he always put the music first, eschewing the outsize on-air personas of so many of his peers.

“I was never driven by ego,” he told The Irish Times in 2007.

Born in Dublin, Gogan had early ambitions to be an actor, even acting professionally as a teenager. But he was bitten by the rock ‘n’ roll bug after listening to Radio Luxembourg, an epiphany that also awakened his interest in broadcasting.

The young Elvis Presley fan got his break when he discovered that one of the regular customers at his father’s newsagent’s shop in Fairview, Maura Fox, was a producer of sponsored radio shows, then a staple of Irish radio. After an audition, he began working at Eamon Andrews Studios, where much of the programming was produced, joining RTÉ in 1961. (Terry Wogan started on the same day, he would later recall.)

Though he started out on radio, presenting a pop programme sponsored by Craven A cigarettes, Gogan became a television star in the 1960s, presenting programmes with such swinging titles as “Pickin’ The Pops” and “Go 2 Show”.

Though he later marvelled at the experience – “It was incredible, you couldn’t go anywhere,” he remembered in 2007 – he also took an admirably wary view of fame: “That kind of attention is not to be taken seriously.”

Music remained his focus, however. His ear for new tunes and his effortless style was such that he was approached in the 1960s by both Radio Luxembourg and the BBC. (Married to his teenage sweetheart Florrie, with whom he had five children, he turned both offers down for family reasons.)

By the 1970s, he was a rare oasis of rock and pop in an otherwise stolid RTÉ Radio schedule, with his weekly show “Discs-a-Gogan” throwing a lifeline for young listeners growing up in rural Ireland (not least this writer).

But it was the arrival of RTÉ Radio 2 in 1979 that really allowed Gogan to flourish. Launched in response to the proliferation of pirate stations, the new station (later rebranded as 2FM) was staffed mainly by DJs from the illegal channels, such as Gerry Ryan, Marty Whelan and Dave Fanning.

But while it became clear that many of his new colleagues were fond of the sound of their own voices, Gogan – who had played the first song heard on the new station, Like Clockwork by the Boomtown Rats – stayed true to his mission of putting music front and centre on his daily show. Over the next 40 years, as programmed playlists became the norm, Gogan always picked the records for his show, as well as becoming his own producer.

His style had a light touch and inviting air. Presenting the charts, he would sound a positive note: the closest thing to a bad word he ever had to say was his retrospective admission that he hated the schmaltzy ballad Save Your Love by 1980s Europop duo Renee and Renato.

But his overriding spirit was one of generosity rather than false sincerity. Gogan always sounded excited at the chance to play music he had always loved, on the fabled “Golden Hour”, or introduce his audience to acts he had just heard: an early fan of U2, they became his favourite band.

And of course, Gogan’s reputation was buffed by his 2FM show’s “Just a Minute” quiz slot. A general knowledge quiz, the wrong answers given by contestants became the stuff of legend – one caller said the Great Wall was located in Crumlin, where there is indeed a Chinese takeaway of the same name – not to mention myth.

Gogan constantly had to disappoint interviewers that no-one had ever finished the phrase “as happy as…” with the line “a pig in s***”. Even here, however, the DJ’s generous personality shone through, as he comforted misfiring competitors with the consoling line, “They didn’t suit you today”.

In more recent times, Gogan suffered personal loss. His wife Florrie died in 2002, while he had his own health issues, from heart operations to, more recently, severe arthritis and a lengthy hospital stay in 2017. There have been professional setbacks too.

As 2FM frantically chased its young target demographic, station management moved Gogan from primetime weekday slots to his present weekend berth, despite that fact he was more obviously interested in music than many of his more youthful station colleagues.

Nonetheless, he took the move with his customary good grace. His enthusiasm seemed undimmed, while the timbre of his voice was as smooth and inviting as ever. “You’d go mad doing nothing,” he said in 2017.

Gogan continued to play shiny chart pop alongside old favourites right until his last 2FM show, on Christmas Day, when he followed a track by Justin Bieber with one by his old hero, Elvis Presley.

For such an ageless and open-minded DJ, it was an oddly fitting way to draw the curtain on his time at the station. But his lifelong mission to share the joy of music continues.

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