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Johnny's desk at 98FM this week

"Working with Johnny could be a stomach churning, white-knuckle ride. But he had a gaffer's talent"

98FM’s Stephen Doyle pays tribute to his friend, colleague and “one-off radio broadcaster” Johnny Lyons.
“I’LL HIRE YOU for the long hair alone.”

The first words I ever heard delivered from the cheerfully smiling mouth of Johnny Lyons, words that would change the course of my life.

Not only did those eight words show that my Gallagher-esque barnet tickled Johnny’s rock ‘n’ roll fancy, they also demonstrated his willingness to take a professional punt on someone because he liked the cut of their jib.

I went into the studio with him that same day to lay down possibly the worst radio demo that has ever been recorded, but Johnny was far too nice to say anything harsh and shatter my already fragile confidence.

“Jaysus not bad Stevo. Eh…a few things to work on but you’ll be flying in no time!”

unnamed Stephen Doyle (left) alongside Johnny (right), with 98's Francis Moore and former Dublin footballer Bryan Cullen 98FM 98FM

I wasn’t the first or only radio hopeful who arrived at the big man’s fastidiously organised sport desk, thinking that their chance in the industry had already passed them by – or that they never even had one in the first place!

Yes he was a one-off radio broadcaster, an ever-flowing fountain of football, cricket and general sporting knowledge and a consummate professional.

But for me and the countless amounts of people that emerged from under his wing, his real talent was helping to mould many of the great broadcasters you hear on the national airwaves today.

I spoke to many of them this week. And just like me and my 98FM colleagues Jamie Moore and Denis Vavasour, they all say they wouldn’t be where they are today if it hadn’t been for Johnny.

There was one thing that we all had in common with him – a real passion for sport and radio.

That’s all he needed to work with. The rest he could chisel, sand and plane into a beautifully finished piece.

j98 Stephen Doyle Stephen Doyle

‘A white-knuckle ride’

It could be a stomach churning, white-knuckle ride at times.

When the day finally arrived for me to do my first shift reading sport’s bulletins, as I nervously scrambled my first ever script together, I was interrupted at 6:30am by the big man’s boot kicking the door open and five minutes later I was pouring him a Jack Daniels and coke.

On several occasions we had fundamental disagreements in the office or after a night out (of which there were many). Tempers flared and we stood chest to chest bellowing at each other at the top of our voices (no need to guess who won those unevenly balanced shouting contests).

“Therapeutic Stevo! If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t bother”, he would say.

And he was right! You knew he cared.

But it wasn’t always a win for him, he’d often realise he was in the wrong and would hold his hands up saying, “Sorry Hairy Man, you know I love you!”

There were other frustrations – his technophobia, his dislike of change and his annoyingly regular phone calls after a press conference and five minutes before a bulletin to ask for a completely different clip of audio to the one we had agreed on ten minutes earlier.

Of course there were the times when I couldn’t tell him off the top of my head which peg the new firebrand striker at Liverpool was kicking with, or which club the Kerry wing-forward played for – but it only increased my own thirst for knowledge.

Slowly I realised he was moulding me, testing me, training me. This was my pre-match training. A match I must play on now without Johnny watching from the sidelines.

That was the gaffer’s talent.

In whatever weird or wonderful way, he made you better.

A better broadcaster.

A better human being.

Stephen Doyle is a sports broadcaster with 98FM.

Along with his colleagues, he will be presenting a one-off tribute to Johnny on the Dublin Station – titled Now That’s What I Call Johnny – airing between 9am and 12pm tomorrow.

Guests will include Robbie Keane, Mick McCarthy, Katie Taylor, Tony Ward, and the first ever guest on Johnny’s first ever show, Hill 16 legend Charlie Redmond.

Read: “We will miss you so much”: Tributes paid after 98FM’s Johnny Lyons dies

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