Why I'll always be Radio Ga Ga (but nod off listening to Chris Evans): Sir Terry Wogan says he wouldn't swap his 40 years on the wireless for anything
22:27 GMT, 4 May 2012
Radio is one of life’s great pleasures. I’m a great radio listener, and whoever happens to be on I’ll listen to. It’s a wonderful medium because you get inside people’s heads.
They have to pay attention and use their imagination, unlike on television where the images do the thinking for you. And it’s very intimate.
Of course everyone said it wouldn’t last when TV came along, but nothing of the sort happened.
Still going strong: Sir Terry started on the Radio 2 breakfast show 40 years ago
It was 40 years ago that I started on the Radio 2 breakfast show, which is frightening. Inside I can’t quite believe it’s been so long, but outside my body tells me it’s probably correct! I remember my first day vividly.
I’d come over from Ireland, where I’d been working on RTE, the national channel, and unbelievably been given a job by the BBC. I started covering for Jimmy Young in the summer of 1969 and by the end of the year they gave me my own afternoon show on Radio 1 and Radio 2.
Then, in April 1972, I was given the breakfast show on Radio 2. I must have got to Broadcasting House quite early because it was my first day. Once I got there I found the studio was locked so I sat there thinking a) I hope I’m in the right place, and b) I hope the engineer turns up or there’s going to be silence.
I used to get up every day at 5.15am,
and now I no longer do the early show I wonder how I did it for so long…
Sometimes I wonder if that’s what the British public would have liked, because the first reaction I got to the show wasn’t wholly positive. I’d taken over from a fellow called John Dunn and the first thing written about me in a newspaper was a complaint from a listener saying, ‘Who is this person We preferred John Dunn.’ But over the years I gradually wore down the public’s resistance, and I did that show until 1984 when I moved to television.
When I stopped the TV chat show I was invited back to radio again in 1993 and did the breakfast show until 2009, and for the past two years I’ve had a live music show on Sunday mornings called Weekend Wogan.
Familiarity has definitely been part of my success – and the reason Radio 2 is so good. They’ve got the combination of voices that are comfortable and familiar and easy-listening music, just right. Good radio is something that gives people comfort and allows them to get up in the morning.
Terry in an RTE radio studio in 1969
This Thursday you’ll be able to hear a whole host of your favourite presenters as Radio 2 celebrates its second 2Day, when they all take different slots in the schedule. I’m going to be on from 4-5pm, just after Dermot O’Leary and before Claudia Winkleman. It’s going to be great fun and a change from my Sunday show, which is a combination of live music and interviews.
I never wanted to just play records, so the show I have now is perfect. But I do miss the fun we used to have in the studio on the morning show – and the food, of course. We responded to any kind of food campaign that was going on. National Curry Week, National Chip Week, you name it, we had the food in the studio. Jeremy Vine, who used our studio after us, used to complain about the smell. People would ask, ‘How can you eat curry at this time of the morning’ But to us it was more like lunchtime.
I used to get up every day at 5.15am, and now I no longer do the early show I wonder how I did it for so long. I occasionally listen to Chris Evans, who took over from me in the mornings, but then I fall asleep again. (I’m an Old Geezer now, you know!) When it was me, I’d have a breakfast of fruit and a cup of coffee – if I had a full English every day I’d have passed on by now – and then a car would pick me up at 6.15 to take me to the studio.
At 7.30 I’d start the programme by saying the first thing that came into my head. I never rehearsed, as I think that knocks the edge off. Usually we’d be responding to things that had been on telly the night before. When I got up in the morning I’d listen to Radio 4, just to give John Humphrys some support, poor old fellow. Once I had to open the show on my mobile phone from the back of the car. It was during the last tanker drivers’ dispute and the traffic was very congested.
On another occasion I hadn’t had time to shave so I thought I’d do it at the studio while the news was on. I hadn’t brought my electric razor, so I had this duff old thing and I started bleeding profusely. There was blood everywhere and I was lucky to make it. All my colleagues were calling me Scarface and having a good laugh. But there was never any question of not doing the show. I was never late – and why would I be, I looked forward to it so much.
Occasionally we were forced off the air. Once, in 2007 a fellow went for a shower in the gym and there was so much steam it set off the fire alarms. We had to clear the building and all my old TOGs (Terry’s Old Geezers/Gals) assumed I was dead because of the sentimental music they played while I was off-air. Then I was reincarnated – and I’m very glad I was. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than a career in radio!
2Day, Thursday, 7am-7pm, Radio 2.