ON May 31 of 1979 the opening piano riff of ‘Like Clockwork’ by The Boomtown Rats announced the arrival of Ireland’s new national radio station, RTE Radio 2. The “youth orientated” station brought the legendary Larry Gogan from the RTE Radio 1 to helm music led shows that saw Gerry Ryan, Dave Fanning, Tony Fenton and Limerick’s Michael McNamara, Lorcan Murray and Will Leahy become household names.
For a generation brought up with access to all music and videos across the planet available on the phone in their pocket, listening to pop music in Ireland in 1979 would seem like something from the Dark Ages.
This Friday, RTE Radio 2 / 2FM celebrates 40 years on air with specially commissioned programmes airing on 2fm, produced by RTE’s Will Leahy and JJ Hartigan.
‘2FM 40: The Uncensored Story’
The documentary features interviews with Adam Clayton, Dave Fanning and Ian Wilson (responsible for recording 2FM sessions and bring Irish alternative music to an international audience). Narrated by Nicola Coughlan, the hour long show will look at breaking U2 and other big moments that shaped the station in its early decades. Airing on Friday 31 and repeated on Radio 1 at 6pm on bank holiday Monday, June 3.
Limerick Post talked to DJ Mickey Mac who has been with the station from the first day.
Limerick Post: How did you get into pop music?
Michael McNamara: I remember being hooked on radio in the late sixties as a child listening to pop music on radio Luxembourg and BBC Radio 1. Radio Éireann (RTE) did not have any pop music – except a few sponsored shows with Larry Gogan, Brendan Balfe and Mike Murphy so anyone growing up in Limerick in the late sixties and seventies had to wait until the wind was blowing the right way and tune into DJ’s like Tony Prince Alan Freeman on Radio Luxembourg and BBC Radio 1. BBC, in fairness, recognised the demand for young people’s music radio and launched BBC Radio One in 1967.
LP: What was the radio scene like in 1979?
MM: Ireland had to wait until May 31st 1979 – forty years ago this month for its first national young people’s radio station. From 1976 the sheer frustration of not having pop and rock on the radio was softened by the emergence of Pirate Radio. In Limerick we had the iconic ‘John the Man’ Frawley whose station Radio Luimní could have had up to 60,000 listeners on AM. Mike Richardson also set up an excellent station which sounded so professional. These two stations were the kindergarten for a new generation of Limerick broadcasters – Len Dinneen the rugby commentator being the most well known.
LP: How did you get into radio?
MM: “I myself applied to Radio Éireann on my 21st birthday – and was called for interview for the post of presenter. They would not call you a DJ in those days.
“I was interviewed by Liam Devally who went on to be a member of the judiciary, and Billy Wall who was Gay Byrne’s radio producer. I could not believe my luck when I was offered my first radio gig on national radio presenting ‘Airs and Races’ from Fairyhouse.
“This was followed by four weeks on a music programme between Mike Murphy and Gay Byrne – 9-10 on Tuesday mornings. I remember the producer telling me ‘Don’t think of one million people listening to you, just think of one person’. In those days over one million tuned into Radio Éireann every day – there was no competition, nothing else on the dial.
“When I joined Radio Éireann, the only DJ in his twenties was Vincent Hanley. We did not have to wait long though as it was announced that RTÉ would launch RTÉ Radio 2 on 31st May 1979. Every DJ in the country applied for the 25 jobs – and it saw the arrival of the generation who became real stars – Ronan, Marty, Dave Fanning, Mark Cagney, Gerry Ryan. Ian Dempsey and Tony Fenton joined later.
“On launch day I broadcasted live with Marty Whelan from Bank House in Limerick. It was the start of 21 amazing years presenting – ‘Solid Gold Saturday’, ‘Ireland’s Choice on Sunday’s in the 80s – and then re-inventing myself with Mickey Mac’s Dance Show in the nineties at weekends on the station which was renamed 2FM.”
LP: You are not the only Limerick voice on 2fm?
MM: “2FM recruited Limerick’s Lorcan Murray and Will Leahy, both who went on to be household names nationwide and who still work with RTÉ. At one stage there were three Limerick jocks on 2FM, Lorcan, Will and myself.”
LP: You happiest memories of working for 2FM?
MM: “Among the amazing Limerick memories were the Beats on the Street run in Limerick between 1986 and 1998 – when each year 40,000 danced on the streets of Limerick. 2FM was highly committed to live bands and always encouraged Limerick bands to do studio recordings and in those days, they were heavily played on the station.”
LP: And for the next 40 years of 2FM?
MM: “I hope that others from Limerick who have the talent are encouraged to work in radio – and keep the tradition of Limerick voices on national radio – and follow the lead and inspiration of the the legendary Limerickman Terry Wogan.”
Mickey Mac broadcasts on RTE Gold on Saturday afternoons 4-6pm, and on Clare FM. He will be celebrating 2FM’s 40th birthday at Dolans with Will Leahy and Decks & Drums at the After Madness Party at Dolans this Friday May 31.