From community radio, to Phantom in its pirate radio days, to 2FM, Dan Hegarty has been flying the flag for alternative music on Irish airwaves for 20 years. His current late night slot “The Alternative” on RTE 2fm see him take to the air Monday to Thursday from 1am, as well as doing a daytime show on digital station 2XM. We sat down for a chat with Dan recently to discuss how and why he got into broadcasting, and to pick his brain on the upcoming year of alternative music.
You graduated from Dún Laoghaire College of Art & Design after studying broadcasting. Can you tell us a little about your journey from there to presenting “The Alternative” on RTE 2fm?
"It’s a pretty roundabout journey. I left there in 1995 and I started writing for a little bit for a local newspaper called “News Four” which is based in Ringsend/ Sandymount, mainly about music. Then I kinda took a step back from broadcasting for what seemed like an eternity but it was actually only around six months, after which I started doing a feature for a show called “Local Beat” on what was Dublin South Community Radio – D.S.C.R. 104.9FM. That was followed by doing a full show on the station for a number of years. Next I went to Australia and did some bits & pieces of writing, freebie stuff, over there. I also did reports back about Irish music in Australia."
"When I got back I did a little bit more of that but I always had my eye on Phantom, the pirate, because it was just cool, it was brilliant and I used to listen to it all the time. I sent them my demo through a friend of mine Tara, “Pearl”, who was a really good presenter there."
"She gave my demo to Pete Vamos who was one of the people running the station. Him and Simon Maher very kindly gave me a chance, they gave me a show. I did that for just under three years and then I joined 2FM in 2003. I’ve been here eleven years now, which sounds so long but doesn’t feel long at all. It still seems pretty fresh and still feels good to be here, which is the really important thing."
What was it like doing your first show?
"I’ll always remember the first show I did on Phantom. I was on after Ray McGowan’s metal show. At the time I was just playing indie, with bits & pieces of acoustic-y stuff thrown in. I recall playing something which I thought had serrated guitar sounds, I can’t remember what it was but it just sounded so wimpy after what Ray finished up with – I think it was Napalm Death or Slayer."
"My show started at 11pm/midnight on a Friday night. I remember just being in this building by myself, being a little bit freaked out about doing the show, a bit freaked out being there. It was great fun though, the nervous energy, nervous excitement that you never really forget."
"My first show on 2fm was great. I wasn't nervous at all until I hit the jingle which counted down from ten seconds and then I thought, “oh my god what am I doing, oh Christ this has been a dreadful mistake, breathe, just speak, just say something that means something.” And then that was fine as well."
You finished college in 1995. Were you listening to presenters of the time such as Dave Fanning?
"The name Dave Fanning and music go hand in hand for me. It was a musical education listening to him and still is. Such a clever, kind man. It’s nice to come across someone who is so interested and passionate about music. So yeah he had a huge influence on me, as did – to a lesser extent – John Peel. Although I didn’t really hear that show as much, only hearing it when I managed to tune in my absolutely rubbish mono radio when I was supposed to be doing my homework."
"Then later when I went to Australia a guy called Richard Kingsmill on Triple J, an amazing station which I think he now runs. He was a big influence."
"To a lesser extent again people like Tom Dunne. He’s a fantastic broadcaster, but I remember hearing him start on 98FM and how nervous he sounded, you could hear how hard he was trying and how hard he was finding it. But he just got better. He persevered and just got better really quickly. In the space of just a couple of months it was a really, really, really good show. I mean, that was so inspiring to listen to him doing that."
Speaking of people changing directions in their career such as Tom, what advice would you have for people looking to move into broadcasting?
"A lot of it is common sense, but I guess it’s common sense in a retrospective type of way. Often you are at this starting point saying, “Where do I even begin?” I think listening to what other people are doing is always interesting because it will give you some sort of road map about how they got to where they are. You can either be influenced by that or go, “well, I’m not going to do that at all.”
"I think one of the most important things is not to be afraid to put yourself forward for things. If you fail, you learn an awful lot more from a failure than you will from someone patting you on the back and saying, “well done, that was brilliant.” It’s nice but it’s not very constructive. If you fall flat on your face, if somebody comes and says, “I heard that and it’s absolute rubbish, don’t ever do that again,” you’ll know that it didn’t work."
"You have to be realistic and give some time for free. I worked in broadcasting for ten years, I had other jobs obviously, but I never made anything. I got music and stuff sent to me and that was like my reward as well as obviously doing the broadcasting."
"You have to put yourself out there, you can’t expect to be just given a load of money straight off, you have to pay your dues a little bit. I think being polite, humble and being open to learning are all really important as well. I think if you fail on any of those your chances of making any sort of impact are significantly smaller."
You mentioned paying your dues, giving time for free and not expecting to make it big. Can the same be applied to bands? It seems that Irish artists need to make it on foreign soil before being recognised and appreciated in Ireland. Is there anything the Irish music industry can do to help change that?
"Look, I think part of that is population, the size of Ireland. You can only tour Ireland so many times a year, you can’t play the same venue every week. I mean you can, but it’s not going to do you any good because the law of diminishing returns suggests that you’re going to get a smaller and smaller crowd, unless you start giving away free beer or something like that. I think the reason a lot of bands go abroad is partially for adventure and fun but also because there is not an industry in Ireland that can sustain you full time, unless you want to just do covers and things like that. There is nothing wrong with that, a lot of people don’t want to do it though."
"In relation to bands being embraced abroad before coming home the same can be said of any small country, if you looked at New Zealand you would see the same. Even England, look at bands that go off to America and Japan, break really, really big internationally and then come home it’s like, “oh we always loved you but well done, we love you a little bit more now.
What do feel about legislating for more radio play for Irish acts?
"Yeah there’s always room for it, I mean there should be more & I think there will be."
On merit or to fill a quota?
"Absolutely, but I don’t think it’s an issue as there’s so much good Irish music around. There has been for a long long time. People go on about a Golden Age of Irish music, I just think that’s nonsense, most of the time there has been really good bands around. For as long as I’ve been involved in music, which I guess is around twenty years, there’s always been good bands."
"There’s been times the talent has been a little bit richer, like now rather than in 1995 but there’s reasons for that, for example technological advances. But no, it has to be on merit, you can’t just play, “this is Irish,” and it’s some fella with spoons singing in the jacks. It’s not going to work."
GoldenPlec are currently compiling their Plec Picks for 2015. Whose star do you see rising in the next year?
"Obviously someone like SOAK is – fingers crossed – going to have a very big year in 2015. I really do hope so because she’s wonderfully talented. But there are so many other people around, you can look at someone like the DJ/producer Will de Burca, who put out an amazing album this year and he’s working on another one as well, I just think he’s so talented."
"I could rattle of a list of thirty people, you know? I think Columbia Mills are going to do very well. I think Terriers will do well. Young Buddha, I saw him play not too long ago and I think he is excellent. There’s a really long, long list of people I could go into."
"See, I almost step away from this because I almost don’t want to say who is going to do well. When I say “do well” it’s more like, do well as in put something good out. Whether that does well is another question. But I’d much rather see someone put out something really strong than necessarily just get massive for the sake of it."
What gigs are you planning on getting to soon?
"I’m going to Eurosonic in the Netherlands in January and that’s always brilliant. You see bands that you know are going to be headlining second stage at big festivals in January and suddenly then in July they’re massive. So there are a lot of acts I want to see at that. I want to see how the Irish acts get on over there. I think Kormac’s Big Band are really going to make an impact. I think The Riptide Movement will do very well at that too."
"As in local gigs, yeah there are a few, whether I’ll get to them or not is another matter."
For more information on Eurosonic check out the website here.