Jon Faine: “Do it properly or don’t do it at all”
“It’s a lifestyle, not a job. It’s so all-consuming, what I used to do. Basically you either do it properly, or you don’t do it at all.”
That was the mantra Jon Faine lived by during his 23 years hosting mornings on ABC Radio in Melbourne.
In a candid interview with me on the Food Bytes podcast this week, Faine opens up about the rigours of the job, the emotional toll … and why he ultimately decided to hang up the headphones.
“To do it properly, you had to immerse yourself in it. It was exhausting – absolutely exhausting – which is one of the reasons why I pulled the pin when I did.”
“There were several reasons. One of them was that I was tired, like chronically tired. Long, deep tired. Secondly – and this was really important to me – I wanted to be the one who chose when I stopped, rather than have someone choose for me.”
“I’d seen what happened to lots of colleagues and friends who’d had their radio time ripped out when they didn’t want it to be taken away from them, and they never recover.”
“Daily live radio – it’s such an adrenaline rush. It’s so addictive. It’s such a fabulous thing to do. And to have it taken away when you don’t want it to can be utterly crushing for people.”
“I’m not going to rattle off names, but there are lots of people who didn’t want to finish (but) were told they had to finish, and it’s something that some people don’t recover from.”
“I was determined that wouldn’t happen to me. Apart from which – for goodness sake, I was at the ABC for thirty years, 23 of them doing the same shift. At some point you’ve got to say to yourself ‘Enough. Someone else gets to have a go.’”
“I never wanted to be one of those talk show hosts who believe their own bull***t.”
Faine refers to his wife Jan as his secret weapon. No matter what might have happened on air on any given day, she always kept him grounded.
“I’d come home and say ‘Oh my God, you won’t believe it – I just ripped the Prime Minister apart today,’ and she’d just say ‘That’s great, but can you go and pick the dog s**t up from the garden?’”
Faine says it was a sobering reminder that his radio job was merely one version of the ‘real world.’
“It was a great gig, but you’ve got to keep your feet firmly planted, otherwise – and we do see this – there are people who start to think they’re actually more important than they are.”
“I always reminded everyone at the ABC ‘I’m just the rostered Mornings presenter.’ If you start thinking you’re a star, I reckon you’re already starting to undo yourself.”
Faine’s on air journey has at times been an emotional rollercoaster.
“The two hardest things I ever did in my 23 years on the morning show on the ABC in Melbourne was stay on air when our friend and colleague Jill Meagher was murdered – we had to stay on air and somehow still talk about it without breaking down. And then the bushfires. And holding the hands of people and helping them – not just during the immediate crisis, but in the rebuild and being there for them, being a resource, and being able to solve problems for them.”
“As I speak about it, there are some incredible things that flash through my head. One day we had a talkback caller, three or four days after the worst of the fires, and I was on air all through that night, and the next day, and the next day … we just didn’t take a break for two weeks, I think.”
“This woman rang up and said ‘We desperately need men’s suits.’ I said ‘Overalls? Boots? Jeans? I can get that. What do you need suits for?’”
“And she said ‘Funerals.’”
“It’s a long time ago now but it still gets to me.”
“About two years later, I got an invitation to the first housewarming back in Kinglake. I responded by saying ‘This is something for the community, for you, for your neighbours. I’d feel like an intruder.’ They said ‘Oh no. Not at all. You’ll be a guest of honour.’”
ABC Radio invested heavily in emergency broadcasting and behind the scenes training and developing protocols.
Faine shares with me an interesting story that illustrates the power or radio:
“About a week or two into the emergency and Black Saturday, the ABC TV news people came upstairs. Now, that, in itself, is remarkable – TV would NEVER come to visit radio.”
“The boss came up and said ‘Have you got any spare ABC Radio – or 3LO – shirts?’ We said ‘Why?’ He said ‘Because they won’t talk to us, but they’ll talk to you. Could we borrow some radio shirts so we can put them on our crew?’”
They were told where to go … and it wasn’t to the ABC shop.
With a wry smile, Faine says “The words that were said couldn’t possibly be repeated.”
It’s yet another example of the intimate connection radio has with its audience.