It’s the most common question I get about the man who I worked for as senior producer over seven years – “What’s Jon Faine really like?”
As he leaves in a glorious #FaineFarewell, I guess it’s time to tell you.
He is like he is on air, although with the volume turned down a little when the red ‘ON AIR’ light isn’t on.
Jon Faine is insightful, generous, witty, kind, clever, and — at times — almost-impossibly bloody frustrating.
That’s because his brain is working fast, making connections between disparate events and pieces of information, recalling facts and distant conversations.
The producers would prepare the show by reading the newspapers, scouring emails and texting and calling people to get them on air.
Right past our editorial meeting he’d be answering emails and calls as we were trying to get him to agree to decisions.
He’d meet them at cafes or sit in their houses and listen to their tales.
Most of their stories would never make it to air on the show.
But he would make calls.
He, or the producers, would contact intransigent government departments, slothful utility companies and mean-spirited corporations to highlight the person’s problem.
The magic of the Faine-megaphone was that he didn’t use it to bully or berate, but to make a lot of issues disappear.
His strength as a broadcaster, I believe, was that he didn’t pretend to know everything. (Although providing football ‘analysis’ against Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon was probably a stretch).
Presented with an expert he’d ask them to explain an issue.
Jon would challenge aspects, certainly, but what audiences got was clear, thorough and reliable information.
But he just doesn’t care who people ‘are’.
When a premier or prime minister would come in, there was often a huge security protocol to follow with instructions on who could be there, which exits or spaces were to be used — I used to wish they’d add: have a haircut and wear a suit!
What Jon cared about was the audience, the community.
And for them, most of all, he sought transparency.
People from all political stripes, business leaders and members of the public would seek tips on how to ‘deal’ with a Faine interview.
Faine’s producers – waking when there’s a ‘four’ on the alarm clock – would struggle to match his pre-dawn passion for vintage cars, hockey, rail projects and Indigenous affairs.
Despite the punishing hours, his energy shone through.
As I struggled through the sleepless traits of my two small children, he’d bound up the stairs.
“Lit from within by a cauldron of rage,” I’d joke, when people asked me how he did it.
It couldn’t have been further from the truth.
He’d hear a traumatised caller and, instead of wrapping them quickly and bundling them on their way, he’d take the time needed to help them: on and off air.
While people probably remember the ‘tough’ political interviews, what I remember is the other side, the sort of ‘pastoral care’ he’d maintain beyond the show.
A journalist asked me when Jon had cried on air and I couldn’t tally it.
Beyond the rolling tragedy of Black Saturday and the aching murder of our colleague Jill Meagher, it’s the stories of otherwise-unknown people that would get to him: callers in distress and despair.
It is difficult being told, in the 30 seconds before the news ends and the show begins, that someone you know, respect and are friends with has died: and I’ve had to inform Faine about deaths so many times I can barely recall them all.
He’d draw breath, blink, and tell the world.
I could go on, and I’d never be able to explain it as succinctly as he could.
For a generation of Melburnians, and a cohort of ABC staffers who’ve flowed through the program, Faine has shown how to do it: how to interrogate, inform and entertain.
So, you asked, “What’s Jon Faine really like?”.
He’s the man you know, and more. And now we get to see what he does next.
Daniel Ziffer was senior producer of Mornings with Jon Faine from 2011 to 2018 and now works as a business reporter with ABC News.