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Ian Dempsey: 'I was in awe of Larry's work ethic and genuine love for what he was doing'

Larry Gogan, who passed away last week, was an inspiration and a helping hand for aspiring radio DJs, writes Ian Dempsey.

Ian Dempsey

MOST MORNINGS MY phone urgently notifies me that Ariana Grande has just gone back into the studio, or that Met Éireann has released yet another orange weather warning, or that my VAT return is overdue again.

On Tuesday, as I was about to introduce the 8am news on Today FM it stopped me in my tracks – the little banner appeared at the top of my phone and said in what seemed like slow motion ‘Larry Gogan has died’ – (deep breath) I didn’t need to take a second look.

The shocking news was processed immediately and the tone of my show became a little more sombre. But, not too sombre. In the spirit of Larry the show must go on.

Comedy, quizzes, music and of course carefully, yet quickly, selected audio clips of the undisputed King of Irish radio.

Larry was my go to radio hero when I was growing up – his photo was on the cover of The RTE Guide on the day I was born – I listened to him since I was a child.

I used to run from the radio in my kitchen to the TV in the sitting room on Thursday evenings in the 70s when Top Of The Pops clashed with Larry’s show on the radio.

Both essential to a music fan starved for musical facts and figures.

Larry inspired me to get on the radio. “I want to do what he does. I want to be Larry Gogan,” I’d say, and then I met him.

In 1980, after some, you could say, formative, pirate radio shows, I joined RTÉ Radio 2 – ‘Cominatcha’ – and working out in RTÉ, Larry made me welcome from day one.

I was always in awe of his work ethic and his genuine love for what he was doing. He had been there before anybody else and knew the workings of this massive corporation.

He showed me the way, advised me on who to take notice of and who to completely ignore. I suppose I felt like I was an apprentice to this master craftsman. I learned from the best.

And he was fun. He had a wicked sense of humour and the beautiful knack of summing up a situation with a sharp witted mischievous one liner, which left you in no doubt whatsoever about what he was thinking.

Larry cared about his listeners. What other DJs would make catchphrases of, he would rather not make fun of people and said “ah they didn’t really suit you” or “they were a bit hard today”. He went out of his way to engage with the public.

I once witnessed him on the dance floor at a disco in Waterford jiving with a nun. It looked like she was having the night of her life. He signed arms, chests and even cheque books for his devoted fans.

He loved music and was always searching for the next big thing. He liked to give new artists ‘at least one play’ to see what the reaction was. He listened to everything that was sent to him. Nothing was off-limits because of trends or style.

The voice of Larry Gogan was unique. And it never changed, remaining as smooth as silk for decades. You could always hear the joy in his voice on the radio and the advertising world used it to great effect in many commercial campaigns - Zanussi, JWT Holidays, and of course, ‘Whatever It Is, The Herald Has It!’

They say that Larry had a stopwatch in his brain and when recording commercials he could instinctively give you exactly 15, 20, 30 or 40 seconds without a clock.

I last saw Larry on New Year’s Day out in Kiltipper Woods Care Centre. He told me he was there temporarily and that he was hoping to be out soon and back to work. He was in flying form and as sharp as ever.

We laughed a lot as usual and shared our latest thoughts about the ever-changing radio world – on his bedside locker, taking pride of place was his own radio with a few pre-sets to keep him updated with all that was going on.

He never stopped loving his beloved wife Florrie, his brilliant family and the radio.

Thanks Larry, for your good humour, for your inspirational example, for entertaining me, for showing me that it is possible to live the dream and, most of all, for never retiring.

Ian Dempsey is a radio broadcaster who presents the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show weekdays on Today FM. 

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