Terry Prone: Solid gold Larry the most humble of broadcasters

Terry Prone: Solid gold Larry the most humble of broadcasters

It might be possible to find someone who didn’t like Larry Gogan, but it would take one hell of a search to identify them. Pick any year out of the half a century he worked for RTE, and you’d find the same Larry. Smiling. Unpompous. And wonderfully UNSURE of himself.

That was the extraordinary thing about him. He knew more about music than it was possible to know, but he was never sure of it. He never laid down the law and was always eager to hear other people’s views. He may have been the most humble individual in the history of broadcasting. He had simply no ‘side’ to him at all.

When I was a teenager, learning my broadcasting trade, I would see him in the corridors of the GPO, where RTE started out, and wonder at the friendliness of him. He knew and used everybody’s name, even the names of those objectively unimportant to him.

One day, when I came out of studio, he was waiting for me, which put the heart crossways in me, because he was famous, at that point, not only on radio but on TV.

“You’re the one who would know,” he told me, laying out a script on a windowsill. “How do you pronounce that?”

The script was a radio ad for a L’Oreal product and what he wanted to know was how to get the brand name right. I said it aloud and suddenly found myself giving a one-word tutorial to the doyen of music broadcasting. He repeated it out loud until he was sure, not that he had it right, but that I was satisfied he had it right. Nobody but Larry would have that self-effacement, that unselfconscious sense of obligation to the listeners.

He was as enthusiastic about music as a teenager. More enthusiastic, because he missed out on the cynicism gene. Larry was literally sweetness and light. He didn’t do any of the normal stuff. He didn’t sit with pals in the canteen, bitching about “the suits” who directed RTE and had no clue what they were doing.

He didn’t plot and plan to down someone he perceived as a threat, partly because of his ineffable goodness and partly because Larry didn’t see other broadcasters as a threat. He wasn’t arrogant at all. That wasn’t it. Rather the reverse: Larry was threatened by his own perceived inadequacies. He never believed the publicity that surrounded him. He was authentic and ordinary and extraordinary.

His love for his wife was palpable. They moved and spoke as one. They adored each other. When a wedding present arrived for me and Tom from Larry and Florrie, I was fascinated that a man who wasn’t invited and who I’d never socialized with enough to tell him when I was getting married, would nonetheless go to the trouble of telling his wife and have her pick out a present.

Tom said if we lasted, as a couple, as long and happily as Larry and Florrie had, we’d be doing well. They lasted two decades more, and then Florrie died. He never had to parade his grief, and he didn’t. Anybody who knew them knew the torn out heart scorching he suffered and continued to suffer.

The unwritten rules of growing old are that you lose enthusiasm, lose laughter, lose curiosity about new things. That you gain a defensive pomposity and self-regard. Larry broke all those rules, retaining his delight in music, his enthusiasm for listeners and his essential sweetness of spirit.

When the news of his death came through, we all said “aaah.” In sadness at the loss of someone who had managed to be great as a broadcaster and solid gold as a person.

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