Gary Hamill PAGE 2
Sean McCarthy - A.K.A. Gary Hamill.
"Broadcasting on the Super Pirates in a New Romantic Dublin"

The next day, I was making bedroom demos on a flat hand-held tape deck, a chintzy mike, with my head stuck between two matresses. The tape finished, and with some foreboding, I began my first mission…getting it to Steve Jones, via the good nature of my little brother Joseph, whom I would cajole into bringing the tape around to the house of a mate of Jones, who lived around the corner. Later, I would pass the demo through the doors of Radio City on Capel Street, over and over again. Always a bunch of fellows hanging around the entrance to City. "Will you give this to Steve Jones?" "Eh…yeah…maybe!" Fair dues to Steve Jones, for he did find time to encourage me, if only once, and by way of a written note. But this handsome chap was busy with the many girlies in his life, and beyond the note…nothing came, nor was achieved.

My failure, or so it seemed to me at the time, to impress him with my demo, fortunately, for me, only added fuel to the flames. For many's a talent is smitten by the sword of a critical word. And my inability to draw a radio gig at first may well have finished me off, had I not thought myself to be the host of 'some' inner talents.

I went on to the next station, Big D. "Your crap!" Then came Radio Dublin. When I visited it, I found the station too ropy an atmosphere for me to get into it right away. People hanging out everywhere, lots of noise…more like an 'event'. I had listen to Radio Dublin, and loved and appreciated what they were doing. The 'people's choice'. But I didn't hand in my demo tape after all, hidden in my jacket pocket, because I thought The Captain, Eamon Cooke, who chatted with me for a few minutes, found me too nerdy, or perhaps too shy. I remember huge piles of crap all over the floor in that house in Inchicore, with Dee Jay Sylvie and the massively popular Kevin Barrett, who went on to become the 'Mayor' of Clondalkin, signing autographs from the windows of the famous white jaguar, with 'Radio Dublin' in big black letters on the car. Nah…Radio Dublin just wasn't the scene for me.

It was 1979…and something 'pivotal' occurred in my life. My parents moved house…from the suburbs of Clondalkin village to Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, and that was a turning point. No more long rides into the city on the 51 bus with my demos. Suddenly I was living 5 minute's walking distance from the city. (I'm referring to Dublin City…not Radio City).

I was studying for a BA in English at UCD. But, sitting in lectures, my head was spinning with thoughts of radio. I began thinking of a name for myself, ahead of being just offered my very first radio show at the rate of £ 5 a week at ABC, on Parnell Street. I opened up a map of the U.S.A., and…closing my eyes, cast a finger over the page. The city of Gary, Indian came up. That will do. Gary it is.

I still did not have a pseudo sir-name. I approached with trepidation the Ivy Rooms on Parnell Street on a Friday evening at about 25 minutes to six. On my way up O'Connell Street, a really tall blonde-haired man sprung suddenly from the steps of a coach outside the Gresham Hotel, colliding with me as I rushed passed the bus. My case of LPs and singles opened, and most of my records spewed out over the footpath. The man helped me pick them up, and grinned when he saw so many of his 'own' band's singles in his hands. He was Martin Fry of ABC…and there I was, heading to ABC! How fucking weird, and memorable a moment that was. What did it mean? Nothing. But at the time…it did.

As I left Martin Fry outside the Gresham Hotel, 'Gary Fry' came to mind...but sounded to eggy. Turning onto Parnell Street, there in black and white to my right, was a clothier called Hamill's Menswear. And that was it…Gary Hamill…for I had just run out of time!

I broke into a stride on entering the dark interior of The Ivy Rooms, belted up a dim winding staircase, and into my first radio gig on ABC, later ANNABEL, with my first words to be…

"You're tuned to ABC…I'm Gary Hamill…and this is ABC, for Martin. Thanks for the help," into Poison Arrow. I know my first link…'cause I still have the darn tape. (Scary but sentimental).

Ah The Ivy Rooms. 'Twas a hairball trap, the entire building, with lofty crooks and crannies, a filthy carpet, and plenty going on in those tiny, flea-ridden rooms I dared not investigate. The studio was very small…the experience, deadly. A milkman by day operated ABC, a decent chap called Mick Doyle. We were paid little, but we 'were' always paid. I had a brilliant time on ABC, and later on the name-change to ANNABEL. It gave me my groundwork, that station.

I remember well the little studio, with its red felt slip mats, its yellow muffler, and always a crowd of New Romantics pushed up against the studio window, watching us on air through bone-straight fringes of partially bleached-blonde hair. Blessed youth! Phil Oakey - drag me back, won't ya mate…even for just one ludicrous night! And I, believing myself to be some great star…so thick and genuine the adoration was, upon all the jocks, showered. The Sound Of The Crowd was ripping up the charts! The Mobiles were Drowning in Berlin! Siouxsie Sioux was spawning her generation of Clara Bow look-alikes. And the early Eighties powered on…. oblivious to the economic depression on the streets outside The Apartment on Fleet Street. As for radio? It was the Gold Rush of it all, the Roaring Twenties of broadcasting in Ireland…. and the high point of my radio 'daze'.

I think I was with ABC for over a year or so, before landing a gig on Community Radio 257, in Dollymount Strand / Portmarnock, operated by The Thewlis Brothers. Mrs. Thewlis, God bless her, would have a mile-high plate of ham and cheese sandwiches and lashings of scalding tea for us, just like an Enid Blyton story, as we arrived in succession for our 4-hour gigs. RTE's Sports Presenter Eamon Falvey (calling himself Barry Falvey at the time), the well-known Mark Byrne, and I, were the morning-into-afternoon jocks. My days with Community Radio 257 went on for some time, and they were brilliant, and so were we. We all worked to sound hot. But as far as I remember, the station was either eventually raided, or the Thewlis Brothers decided to wrap it up. I forget the details.

One day though, I recall…we were all out of a gig, Mrs. Thewlis was hanging up the teapot, and we all walked our separate ways. I never worked with Barry or Mark again. Barry eventually went to Sunshine, as did Mark. Funny thing though…the Human League, ABC, and Boy George all got together for an RDS gig a couple of years ago. I went of course, wouldn't miss it, especially for the League. During the gig…I had a few words with this chap standing along side me. Something about 'how ace it was to see these three mega-acts from the 80's together on one stage'. It was Mark…and I hadn't seen him since the fall of Community Radio 257. That's radio.

When Community Radio 257 folded, station owner David Baker offered me a full-timer on 'his' KISS 105 FM, (D.C.R. Media Services) operating from a studio at 17 Foley Street in Dublin ….the Connolly Station area of the north city centre. Working around David was great. His gear was always good, he paid, and he had an air of professionalism about him at all times. I am not surprised to find David is still in broadcasting. Back in the early 80's, I figured David to be an under-estimated talent in Dublin. Perhaps it was his love of Tom Jones records! Nevertheless, radio and media ran naturally through his veins, and I took great pride in my work with the jolly maestro.

It was 1980. Herbert Street was just over Baggot Bridge, with Nova setting up shop! Within months…the newspapers were a washout with the news of Chris Cary and Robbie Robinson…and, living in Dublin 4, I was a neighbour!

So there I was, on the 'smaller' KISS. Jocks like myself on stations like David's KISS….'on the fringe' of Chris's NOVA, KISS FM and Robbie's Sunshine…were beginning to send demos into the new biggies. Strangely enough, I was not, at that time. I wanted to give myself some time to develop, and I knew I was not up to it yet. As it turns out, I never actually sent a tape to NOVA, but did start to bug someone on the telephone through this period. I considered that, if I was to learn anything, I was best off learning whatever I could from someone who impressed me to no end on-air. I was searching for a mentor I guess…an Obi-wan Kenobi. I wanted to learn from 'the pro', not 'the poser'. But mostly, I simply wanted to 'learn'.

There was one voice in broadcasting I was astounded with, and I had recorded about 20 tapes of his jingles, broadcasts, and advertisements, which I was constantly listening to at home in my bedroom. I began to focus on finding a way to somehow get to meet this man, or, in the least, to hook into some line of communication with him. He was, and is, the Alec Guinness of radio, so Obi-wan Kenobi was not far off the mark. He was Tony Allan…the very 'balls' of NOVA, the very N.O.W. of 'Playing all over Dublin'. The thought of making a direct approach to Chris Cary was, at that time, beyond me. Chris and Sybil were deity-like figures, rich, famous, and, to me, unapproachable. Besides, I was far too shy.

Chris was a busy man, often flying by in a car, launching a venture, or meeting with fellow shakers and movers, politicians, the press etc. Once though, while eyeing the building on Herbert Street I did meet Chris on the steps of NOVA, and was greeted with that massive hand-shake, before he powered off somewhere in a Rolls Royce. I didn't meet him again…for some years.

From a call box outside Belfield …I began periodically calling NOVA, asking for Tony Allan. Eventually the man himself picked up the phone, probably out of curiosity. ("Who is this bloke constantly calling?) I was pretty bowled over to find Tony charming, and always giving of his time, as I asked for 'his advice'. I may have made about 6 or 7 calls in all…over a three or four month stretch. Each time I came away from the phone box, I felt high. After 20 years, I still feel that …were it not for Tony Allan affording me the time on the phone, I'm pretty sure I would have given up radio just about then.

I had been offered a job at the Bank of Ireland, a huge opportunity in those days of rampant unemployment. As it turned out…Tony's words over the telephone catapulted me forward with confidence, in leaps and bounds. It may not have meant much to Tony, to give of his time to a lad on the phone, nor does he remember me calling I am sure. But to me…. his words of encouragement set fire to my belly…and I was off, on a mission.

Tony Allan was the voice of CAPITAL. I knew this station could have been described as a mini-super-pirate. And if only I could get a gig there, I knew I would be playing Tony Allen jingles, a move, in my mind, closer to the world of Chris Cary. Capital sounded good, professional, if a bit easy listening. And so I left David Baker's KISS, in late 1981, and moved to Capital, broadcasting then from Robert Emmett House in Dublin. Is that rambling ghost-house still there? I don't know.

But what I do remember is the 10.00 pm to 2.00 am shift I did there, and other jocks leaving me with a large set of keys, alone in that magnificent building with its sweeping stair-cases, navy-blue thick pile carpets, and stories of the headless Robert Emmet himself wandering about at night. I never once used the loos …somewhere at the far end of a corridor.

While on Capital, NOVA was in its prime. The Boogie Bus…Nova Park, the ratings sending shock waves through the walls of Montrose, causing tooth-fillings to rattle and shatter. Chris's legend was alive…and kicking ass. I never got into Sunshine, not as a listener, nor as a jock. Too airy, compared to Nova. For me… it was Nova, and 102.7 Kiss FM…and that was it. Like everyone else, I was junkie-hooked.

I'll be brief here…because the legend of Nova marches on in the minds and memories of so many of us, that…to attempt to put words to it all might take something, rather than add something to it. I'll say this though:

The 'sound' of NOVA has yet to re-visit the radio band here in Ireland, since NOVA. The 'precision', both on a 'technical', 'quality and content' and 'presentation delivery' level was akin to what Lucasfilm does to sound, whatever that may be. Super dynamics. A mega-execution of sound. The quality of everything that aired under Chris's roof is still so vivid in my memory that, having knocked about the United States since, I never once heard this 'sound' again. I have been a broadcaster for 17 years 'since' my gigs on Nova…and on each of my later employments, I found (and still do) myself infuriated when I try to describe the microphone sound settings of Nova, in an effort to have it replicated in an on-air studio As a broadcaster, I have never heard it since.

Whatever equipment Chris Cary was using, he brought a technical wizardry to it all, and in many ways, I believe people 'remember' this 'sound'. Benny and Bjorn found a way to manipulate the wondrous vocals of Agnetha and Anna-Frid, who already possessed operatic voices. Chris Cary surely used a similar technique…sourcing Ireland's budding on-air talent, and inviting them onto the Starship Enterprise of radio stations.

Other memories: I recall every car in Dublin (and beyond) had a NOVA sticker. That included BMWs, Mercs et la. Ever shop in Dublin was playing NOVA. I don't hear that power anymore. Every shop in Dublin now flips through the band. And anyone working for NOVA was literally living the life of a Hollywood Star. On top of that, Chris and Sybil were not only the Bogie and Bacall of celebrity Ireland, but they were also the top remunerators of media-work. Pay in NOVA was phenomenal for the time. Remember, this was unemployed Ireland.

People were leaving for the United States in their tens of thousands. But at Nova…staff got paid top-dollar (or punt). You could also make a packet on voice-overs, on top of coming away with another 100 quid from a weekly disco gig. Yep…Bogie and Bacall always paid, always. But you had better be doing a brilliant job!

By 1981, I was working at Head Office, Bank of Ireland, on Baggot Street, receiving a brilliant wage, and enjoying the welcomed diversity of my Capital Radio gig, for the bank job was none but a dull and numbing slog...and not at all suited to me. So, hearing that Chris and Sybil paid so very well, an exit from the Bank of Ireland, and an entry to Nova, began to play on my mind as a solid transition. I had a game plan.

Nova was auditioning…for a full-time News Presenter. This 'news' in itself was all over town. Off I went, to queue up along Herbert Street with over one hundred or more other hopefuls. The street looked more like an outdoor concert. The queue tailed back onto Baggot Street. I hadn't a hope in hell…I kept thinking. After hours of standing in line…it was my turn to place a foot inside the Nova building for the first time, and the queue snailed forward. The larger-than-life images of the 'Stars of Nova'…covering the walls. A tingling in my fingers, the heart pounding, the immediate 'sense' that this was 'IT'…this was radio as it 'could' be. Sybil, giving directions to people, 'This way please!' to the poor unfortunate soul who's turn it was next to audition in the 'real radio booth!' behind the doors. Wow…soundproofing! Thick carpets! Huge mixing desks! State of the art equipment…everywhere you looked! And all the while…the unmistakable sound of NOVA coming from the nether land of upstairs. It was awe-inspiring, the build-up to my first audition at Nova. Terrifying…and, as it turned out…a complete and utter disaster for me!

Sybil: "Okay dear, just take this script, walk into the booth, and begin reading it! Simple! Off you go now!"

Gary: " A British soldier has …was shot dead in…can I start again? Okay…a British soldier has been shot dead….

Sybil: "Okay. That's it! Thank you….next!!"

And that was it. I completely lost it, and Sybil moved on to the next wanna-be news presenter. I was devastated, and left for home.

Months passed. I continued with Capital. As fate would have it, just under the Bank of Ireland on Baggot Street, was the Henry Grattan, and below that, Shivers Disco Bar. Colleagues at the Bank would go on the piss on Friday, and I would sometimes join them. On one such night, I was there, it was late, and I was standing at the bar in Shivers. A group was forming in the bar…and they were all talking 'radio'. Turned out to be the 'initial' staff of Pierre Doyle and John Conway's (Joy's Nite Club) Shortheath Properties venture into radio.

The man standing at Shivers Disco bar, ordering a thousand drinks for the thirsty crew of new recruits behind him, was Lawrence John…the new Station Manager of the to-be-soon Q102.

I shall be continuing this retrospect, with pictures!

Cheers for now!

Sean McCarthy - SPIN 1038 Dublin. A.K.A. Gary Hamill.

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