The accidental radio star

Paul McLoone fronting The Undertones during The Return of Colmcille Festival.
Paul McLoone fronting The Undertones during The Return of Colmcille Festival.

Tune in to Today FM each night from 9pm and you may just hear a familiar accent waft across the airwaves all the way from Dublin.

Because for “proud Derry man” Paul McLoone - known to many as the lead singer of the city’s favourite sons ‘The Undertones’ presenting the nationwide radio show is the day job which allows him to rock it out at the weekends.

But it was something that came about without any real career plans - and thanks to the willingness of others in the media to take chances on the man from Derry with the “just slightly mannered accent” who never had any intention of sitting at the presenting desk himself.

He had spent a number of years doing a “few bits and pieces” on the Gerry Anderson Show for Radio Foyle in the mid 80s before getting invited to Dublin to work as a producer on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM.

Ian Dempsey may well have been one of Ireland’s most popular television and radio personalities but at the time the fledgling station was flagging. “Ian had been poached from RTE - but he had not been given a producer - not a real crack at things. So when I was asked to give it a go, it was really as if we had nothing to lose. I certainly felt I had nothing to lose - I wasn’t trying to fit into any one else’s shoes.”

But the pair gelled together and the show’s fortunes began to change and for five years Paul worked alongside Ian Dempsey creating a winning formula - much of which still exists today.

He then decided to move on from Today FM “adopting the life of an itinerant” and freelancing throughout Dublin. A return to the station - and an eventual role on air was not something he immediately considered.

“It was never really in the plan,” he said. “It wasn’t something I secretly wanted to do - it just seemed to happen.”

For the thousands who tune in to Paul’s radio show that happy twist of fate is something they will no doubt be grateful - it was necessity which forced him to take a chance on a new career.

“I had been working as the producer on the Tom Dunne show when Tom, very abruptly, upped and left the station to go and work for Newstalk.

“I found myself wondering if I would be out of a job. I knew I liked Today FM and wanted to stay there - it felt like a good fit. So I asked if I could have a go at presenting the show myself.

“It was a move I made really out of necessity and I suppose at first I did feel like a bit of a fraud but I was glad that Today FM took a chance on me and allowed me a crack of the whip.

“And now, with a few changes, I’m still there and still getting to play the music I love.”

Paul admits that “like the song says, music is my first love and it will be my last”.

“I’ve always loved music and as I’ve grown up I have kept that ridiculous obsession. I still love music and I’m still an avid listener. Over the last few years I’ve fallen in love with vinyl again - I’m at the stage where I am running out of room in my house!”

Sharing that love of music with listeners across Ireland is something he enjoys but he admits that it has its pitfalls as “not everyone is going to like the same music I do”.

He combines classic, non-mainstream music with new Irish sounds, independent releases and hits from bands such as Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins and the like.

“It’s not all obscure,” he laughed, “but it’s not Kylie either.”

Being part of the Dublin media set it would be easy for Paul to fall under the spell of “fitting in” with the big boys - but he remains proud of his Derry roots - something he often uses to advantage in his show.

“If I tried to posh it up I’d sound like an eejit,” he said. “I believe in people staying true to where they are from. Why not occasionally allude to it? There’s that old joke, you don’t need to ask someone if they are from Derry - they will tell you themselves, within the first 30 seconds or so!”

And it would be a sorry state of affairs if the man who has fronted The Undertones for 15 years wasn’t proud of his hometown.

He admits it’s a bit quirky to be able to say that you fit in being in a band as successful and as revered as The Undertones at weekends and during holidays - essentially while holding down day jobs.

But while the band love what they do - their enthusiasm for their music bouncing off the stage with every performance - he fears if they were ever granted the chance to do it full time they might find it became a chore.

“The Undertones were always a bit different. Here they were going to Top of the Pops or the John Peel show and then coming back to Beechwood, or Creggan or wherever. We’re just like an adult version of that - we like to take it easy with a cup of tea at the end of the day!”

No interview with any Undertone would be complete without asking what their favourite ‘Tones’ song.

Perhaps surprisingly Paul says his favourite is a lesser known track ‘Julie Ocean; which was released in 1981.

“It’s not one of those fast paced tracks the Undertones were famed for - not that they aren’t great. It’s just a beautiful song from a band who were pigeon holed as those wee boys who sang punky pop-y songs. It’s just stunning.”