This Sunday at 6pm TXFM will broadcast a documentary ‘Left Of The Dial‘, “looking at two periods of time in radio and music when alternative music programmes ruled the national night-time airwaves – 2FM in the 80s and TodayFM in the late 90s”. The show was produced by Cathal Funge and will feature interviews with Dave Fanning, Mark Cagney, Donal Dineen, Tom Dunne, John Kelly, Dan Hegarty, Paul McLoone, Ian Wilson, Dave Couse, Paul Cleary, Richie Egan, Peter Murphy, Olaf Tyaransen and Nadine O’Regan. Then at 7pm stay tuned for 2 hours of music featured in the documentary interspersed with listener requests and stories..
So for some reason when I was in 1st year in school, I decided it was time to join the workforce. At the time I was living a few miles outside Gorey in the Wexford countryside and got a weekend job at the petrol station just down the road. After a few weeks my obvious talent for pumping fuel and checking oil levels was spotted and I was soon working three evenings a week after school.
Now this place really was in the middle of nowhere and business wasn’t exactly booming despite my high profile promotion, so my daydreaming skills were honed as I sat on a rickety stool in a kiosk staring into space.
I did have a radio and Atlantic 252 was my station of choice, for the first few months anyway, but soon I got bored of hearing the same 30 songs on a loop so I decided to give this guy Dave Fanning a shot.
I pretty much hated the show at first, but my options were fairly limited so I stuck with it and within weeks it became something of an obsession. I had no time for daydreaming now as I sat there with a pen and paper scribbling down names of bands and songs I was hearing for the first time. You had to be fully alert due to Dave’s rapid fire delivery and the dreaded scenario was the sight of a car pulling in to refuel just before Dave was about to back announce what he had played.
By the time I was finished pumping £5 of diesel into a rusty old Ford Cortina, Dave would already be on to another string of songs and that was it, gone, no way of checking online or texting in to the station to find out who the artists was. The only lifeline I had in those days was to check with someone in school the next day; “Were you listening last night? What was that track he played around 8.30? You didn’t tape it did you…?”
Lots of tracks I fell in love with listening to the Fanning show pop up on TX Breakfast every now and again, particularly in Record Revival and Song Club, and I can almost smell the petrol fumes whenever I hear Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well, Part 1’.
By 1997, I was out of the petroleum business and on to another late night radio programme. Donal Dineen’s ‘Here Comes The Night’ was a little too out there for me when it first aired on Radio Ireland/TodayFM in March 1997, but in early ’98 I tuned back in and was rewarded big time.
I reckon about 90% of the records I bought over the next few years came on the back of hearing them on ‘Here Comes The Night’. The pen and paper were in use again as I jotted down names of bands, singers, labels, and compilations. Unlike Dave Fanning’s million word a minute approach to presenting, Donal’s was at the lower end of low key. There was many a night Donal would keep me awake by playing four or five amazing songs back-to-back and I would have to fight off the sleep until his whispering voice returned to name the tracks.
Late last year I was thinking about how essential certain late night radio music programmes were for anyone wanting to hear alternative music back in the days before the internet made music so accessible. You could of course read about new music but actually getting to hear these records was not so easy and you depended on a handful of presenters to play the music no one else would.
So I decided to go off and make a documentary telling the story of how important these programmes were in a pre-digital era. The documentary is called ‘Left of the Dial’ and it’s going to air this Sunday at 6pm followed by the official soundtrack to the documentary – basically two hours of great music from that era.