Larry Gogan: The man who made Ireland swing

The 2FM broadcaster, who has died at 85, was one of our first and best radio DJs

Larry Gogan  has died at the age of 81. Photograph: RTÉ/PA Wire

Larry Gogan has died at the age of 81. Photograph: RTÉ/PA Wire

 

Larry Gogan, who has died at the age of 85, once remarked that he was blessed to be able to work as a disc jockey. “All I ever wanted to do was play records and talk in between them,” he said. It was a typically modest comment, but it made his job sound deceptively simple. To sound as fresh and enthusiastic as Gogan did throughout his six decades on air required a talent and dedication that few others possessed, even if his natural ease behind the microphone meant that his achievement was sometimes taken for granted. If Gay Byrne got the country talking and Marian Finucane gave voice to Irish women, Larry Gogan made Ireland swing.

Gogan’s career as a DJ paralleled the rise of pop music in Ireland, from ephemeral youth craze to cultural and social force. Having started out spinning pop records on RTÉ in the early 1960s, Gogan stuck to his path through thick and thin, enduring official indifference in the 1970s before his perseverance was rewarded with the launch of 2FM, his home for 40 years. Even as he became something of a national treasure, thanks to his Golden Hour oldies segment and his frequently hilarious Just a Minute quiz, he always kept up to date with the latest releases. More to the point, he never came across as jaded, always sounding excited as he played new tracks or old favourites.

RTÉ broadcaster Larry Gogan in 1969
RTÉ broadcaster Larry Gogan in 1969

Born in Dublin, the son of a newsagent, Gogan originally hoped to be an actor. But he discovered his true calling when he first heard Elvis Presley on Radio Luxembourg, the only station where rock’n’roll could be heard in the 1950s. His initial break was fortuitous. A regular customer at his father’s shop, the radio producer Maura Fox, helped the young Gogan land a job at Eamon Andrews Studios, which produced many of the sponsored programmes then common on the airwaves. He joined RTÉ in 1961, starting his life as DJ on a pop programme sponsored by a cigarette company.

Unlike many of his station colleagues, Gogan produced his own show, drew up his own playlists and constantly read the music press to keep up with new releases

His gifts as a broadcaster soon saw him move to television. As presenter of such groovily named light entertainment shows as Pickin’ The Pops and Go 2 Show, he became a bona fide star during the era of prosperity and optimism in 1960s Ireland, though he wore his fame lightly. “That kind of attention is not to be taken seriously,” he later remarked.

His abilities attracted attention from outside Ireland, with both the BBC and Radio Luxembourg offering him gigs. But married to his childhood sweetheart Florrie, with a young family of five children, he opted to stay in Ireland. It was a decision that must have seemed foolhardy as the next decade progressed. Though Gogan returned to radio to do the job he loved most, his opportunities as a DJ were limited in the starchy environment of RTÉ in the 1970s. That said, his weekly show Discs-a-Gogan was one of the very few outlets for new rock and pop music on the staid national radio station.

Larry Gogan: A life in pictures

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‘All I ever wanted to do was play records and talk in between them,’ Larry Gogan said of his six-decade career
‘All I ever wanted to do was play records and talk in between them,’ Larry Gogan said of his six-decade career

All this changed with the arrival of RTÉ Radio 2, now named 2FM. Launched by RTÉ in 1979 in response to the proliferation of wildly popular pirate radio stations across the country, the new channel was staffed by alumni of the pirates. But it was Gogan who played the first record on the station (by the Boomtown Rats). He would become the station’s leading light and, later, its father figure.

His afternoon show was squarely aimed at a mainstream audience, with his Golden Hour slot a reassuringly nostalgic fixture amidst shows helmed by younger, more irreverent figures such as the late Gerry Ryan. But his devotion to playing music never dimmed. Unlike many of his station colleagues, he produced his own show, drew up his own playlists and constantly read the music press to keep up with new releases. Though he was a huge fan of rock – U2 were his favourite band – he was primarily a pop DJ, concentrating on chart singles rather than cult sounds. Gogan said that he loved the idea of “jocking” music, but he was also happy to go with the public’s taste and play the latest hits.

Gogan once recounted how, after having a heart monitor installed, a doctor remarked that his blood pressure was lowest when he was on air

His innate comfort with people also shone through on his Just a Minute slot, immortalised in jingle form as “the 60 second quiz”. Though the competition became famous for its wrong answers – the Taj Mahal was once identified as an Indian takeaway – Gogan’s presence meant that it was conducted in a spirit of fun and generosity, right down to his consolatory catchphrase, that the questions “didn’t suit you today”.

Even as the rest of 2FM’s line-up turned over constantly, Gogan remained a beloved fixture, with the station even naming a studio suite after him. But despite an ageless on-air persona, the new millennium saw him experience ill health and personal bereavement, with Florrie’s death in 2002. Eventually, the youth-driven demands of a pop station meant that Gogan was in recent times moved from his daily show to a weekend slot, before his retirement from the station was announced in January 2019.

Larry Gogan in the RTÉ 2FM studio: RTÉ/PA Wire
Larry Gogan in the RTÉ 2FM studio: RTÉ/PA Wire

Despite such setbacks and declining health, he kept working. He presented a show on digital oldies station RTÉ Gold, and turned up with cameos on everything from Liveline to 2FM’s new breakfast show, where he slagged off presenter Doireann Garrihy with customary good humour. As always, he remained as gracious and friendly in person as on air. (He once wrote a thank-you note to this writer, a rare occurrence in this line of work.) That Gogan should keep working was testament to his devotion to radio – “You’d go mad doing nothing” – and how it made him feel: he once recounted how, after having a heart monitor installed, a doctor remarked that his blood pressure was lowest when he was on air.

Following the recent deaths of Byrne and Finucane, Gogan’s passing seems to herald the closing of a chapter at RTÉ, at a time when the network is in upheaval, especially its radio division (2FM’s position as a public station is under scrutiny while RTÉ Gold is due to be axed). Having started out as one of Ireland’s first DJs, Gogan ended up as one of its last – and best – old-school jocks. He never sounded happier than when playing what the public wanted to hear and talking about the music he loved. It sounds easy, but few others ever did it with the same affability, ease and aplomb, a fitting testament to Gogan as a presenter and a person.

Mick Heaney is radio columnist for The Irish Times

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