I have often been asked how and why I got into radio.
In order to answer I need to first give a background of sorts.
I’ve always loved music. I would always be singing about the house as a boy. As the youngest of four, I grew up on an eclectic mix of styles and genres, from the Beatles to Simon and Garfunkel to King Crimson to Pink Floyd to the Monkess and everything in between. As long as it had a good melody I liked it.
I was born and reared in Kilkenny and lived there until the mid 70s when I went off to work in Waterford Crystal. I didn’t know it at the time but I grew to dislike the mundane routine of having to clock in day in day out. Music was my savior (not for the first or last time). At that time I would still go home to Kilkenny as I still had strong connections to friends there and was also involved in the local youth club. It was here that I had my first experience of being a DJ as I would manage the disco at the regular Saturday night get together for the club members. I loved it. I particularly loved how the others there liked my choices of music (remember the seventies music?).
In due course I began to make friends in Waterford and as a result I was spending more of my weekends in my adopted city of Waterford.
In 1978 pirate radio began to (pardon the pun) make waves. Some had already started in Dublin and before long the rest of the country followed. In the south east, Waterford Local Radio made its first steps into the world of broadcasting and before too long Suirside Radio sprang up as a competitor.
At work in Waterford Crystal, I would hear the broadcasts and longed to be involved, not because I thought I would be good but I just loved the idea of playing music across the airwaves. It had never crossed my mind prior to this but somehow it seemed like the obvious progression from the discos in the youth club. Turned out that one of the people involved with Suirside Radio also worked in the factory and…I knew him so, I made an approach and asked was there any room for an extra DJ (it would be some years before that term switched to ‘presenters’)
My first show was in May 1979, a Saturday and the first song I ever played on radio was – Waiting For An Alibi – Thin Lizzy, which had been released the previous March. Was I nervous? I was PETRIFIED but I was also exhilarated beyond belief. It was an incredible adrenaline rush and the few hours on air that day seemed to pass in a flash. These days, while the exhilaration may have subsided somewhat, the adrenaline is still there. I still get a rush just before opening the microphone for the first time on a show. Once the first words have been uttered, I tend to settle very quickly. “How do you know what to say?” It’s a common question. In most cases, presenters know their subject so the words come easily. We are also good at padding, or bullshitting, as it is more commonly known!
I ended up doing the ‘Cantwell’s Album Chart Show’ (a local record shop, sadly long gone) on a Saturday evening. 6pm to 8pm I think. It was never a guarantee that the show would always air though, because the record decks we used belonged to one of the guys and he was a working DJ and I never knew from week to week if he had a gig or not. I could start the show and within 20 minutes he would arrive and says “sorry Roddy, I need the gear”…. Talk about a fast countdown ! And that would be it. I’d start at 6pm at number 20 and within a half an hour I’d be giving the top 10 and then playing the number one. Mad, crazy days ! There are other stories, but that’s for another day.
In time, the evening jock at Suirside, who also was a working disco DJ, was finding it difficult to keep doing the evening show so it was eventually offered to me full time – Monday to Friday 7pm – 9pm. This was the only time I could realistically go on air as I still had the day job. It’s because of this arrangement that I became known as an evening presenter over the years. To be honest, I have to say I loved it. In the years that followed I found that evening/night was definitely ‘my’ time, although I still enjoyed daytime presenting whenever the chance arose.
1983 was a big year.
Waterford Local Radio and Suirside Radio were established but the hurricane that was ABC Radio swept in and raised the bar. ABC was fronted by a number of English jocks who had spent time on Radio Caroline and other offshore stations and pirate station in the UK and with them they brought a freshness and attitude that almost immediately grabbed the attention of listeners.
Based in the seaside resort of Tramore, ABC began playing music imported from America alongside the hits of the day, and this in itself set the station apart from the others. The style of music that I was was introduced to in those days stays with me today. That music and the slick professional sounding jingles soon had the others scrambling to up their game. The one abiding memory I have of ABC Radio is, FUN, both on and off air. For all the ‘messing’ that went on, on air, there was an unspoken rule that it would never get out of hand. It did occasionally though !
In time, ABC outgrew the premises in Tramore and moved into Waterford to Arundle Square and eventually to Barronstrand Street above a pub, Egan’s. ( handy )
It was during this time that I began present a show fully dedicated to Irish bands. I had been playing Irish acts on previous shows but never a show dedicated to Irish bands only but it was something I always wanted to do. I have always felt that Irish acts were never given enough exposure and I wanted to try and redress that. I’m not entirely sure of the times but it was a Saturday evening when I began presenting a show called “Kissing The Blarney”. It was a two-hour show and at that time was not really the coolest show to be presenting. It was difficult enough to find new material so I would play the reliable acts like Thin Lizzy (of course), the fledgling U2, The Boomtown Rats and so on. There were the occasional acts who had demo cassettes, yes, cassettes,many of which I still have but many of the bands have long since split !) . I made it my business to contact people who I felt were the ‘movers’ in the industry in terms of PR and as a result I managed to get music from some of the bands that were high profile at that time.
And so it began. Over the coming years I made more and more contacts within the industry and the show became known especially among the musicians and PR people and it gained a reputation. Being a specialist show, it was never going to top the polls but I was never interested in that. Nothings changed in that respect. I simply wanted to play as much new Irish music to as many people as possible.
During my time in WLRfm, Hotpress Magazine twice awarded the show ‘Best in Munster’ for its promotion of Irish bands. The first time I won I had to get to Belfast, to the BBC studios, where the ceremony was being held. That was the year Larry Mullin of U2 was awarded ‘Musician of the Year’, which was greeted with a lot of laughter, not least from Larry himself. The following year the ceremony was back in Dublin.
Both those awards proudly adorn the walls at home. Winning them brought me onto contact with many other people, musicians and others who, in later years would become trusted contacts and people that to this day have remained friends.
Do I love what I do? Oh yes.