The kingmaker of Sydney radio John Brennan dies
The radio kingmaker who made radio stars of names like Alan Jones, Mike Walsh, Ray Hadley and Stan Zemanek has died at the age of 89.
John Brennan, affectionately known as Brenno, is being mourned as perhaps the most influential figure in Australian radio.
He passed away suddenly at his retirement village home last night and is survived by his wife of 67 years, his two sons and three grandchildren.
Rugby league icon Phil Gould mourned Mr Brennan as a “great man” with a “beautiful family”.
“John gave me my first opportunity in radio many years ago. Always had words of encouragement,” Gould tweeted.
“Radio in heaven just got better.”
The visionary’s career started as a country radio announcer in Wagga Wagga where he met his beloved wife, Jenny.
Mr Brennan took three Sydney radio stations to the top of the ratings, starting with 2SM in the 1960s.
He moved from music to the fledgling talkback format, moving to 2UE and then to 2GB.
“Two basics of talk – to inform and entertain. Entertain informingly, inform entertainingly,” Mr Brennan said.
As a program director and manager Mr Brennan launched the careers of Alan Jones, Mike Walsh, Ray Hadley, Stan Zemanek, Geraldine Doogue and Peter Overton.
He received an OAM for his service to radio in 1989.
The managing director of Nine Radio, Tom Malone, described today as a “sad day for radio in Australia”.
“Brenno was a legend who through a long career transformed our industry and in particular talk radio, leaving an indelible mark on both 2UE and later 2GB. He understood the power of talk radio and its ability to give ordinary Australians their say, and holding law makers and institutions to account,” Malone wrote.
“Beginning his radio career not long after World War II, as a sports reporter and announcer, he would go on to be Australia’s best radio programmer. In the 1960s he took a struggling 2SM to the top of the ratings with the ‘Good Guys’, in the 1980s he installed the talent at 2UE who took it to its zenith, and then in the 2000s he would make the move over to 2GB as it too became number one under his guidance.
“Brenno had a simple philosophy when it came to what made great talk radio and he was known to say there two basics: to inform and entertain but that hosts should ‘entertain informingly, inform entertainingly’ and he was right. He loved the interaction with callers, and was passionate about news and current affairs keeping copious notes on issues important to every day Australians. Better than anyone he understood the companionship talk radio provided – on weekends, overnights, during holiday periods, and big news stories.
“In 2014, Brenno launched his autobiography in which he rightly described himself as a ‘media godfather’. He had a unique and unrivalled ear for great talent. He coaxed former Wallabies coach and Prime Ministerial speech writer Alan Jones to get behind the microphone, and gave Ray Hadley – a former taxi driver and sports broadcaster – his start on talk back filling in for John Laws. He transformed 2UE in the 80s, and then 2GB in the 2000s.
“His ability to recognise and develop radio talent is unlikely to ever be surpassed. The list of talent he nurtured, grew or gave their first starts includes John Stanley, Ben Fordham, Mike Walsh, Ron Casey, Mike Gibson, Stan Zemanek, Peter Frilingos, Jason Morrison, Prue MacSween, and many many others, including straight from school a young Peter Overton.
“Personally, I remember putting down tapes at 2UE in the 90s, and leaving them at Brenno’s door seeking his approval for ‘on air’ duties in the newsroom – one of thousands across news and programming who would have done the same thing. In his unique style he would give feedback: ‘Tommy my boy, I think another week or so, and you’ll just about have it.’
“He was a kind and generous man, with time for everyone, just as comfortable speaking with Prime Ministers as he was with ordinary Australians. He was compassionate, and particularly interested in helping people – from the aged, to the infirmed, and the under privileged.
“Brenno’s love of radio was immense. While he would technically ‘retire’ in 2007 he remained passionately involved in talk radio, he would still consult for years to come, and he was still known to call hosts to let them know he was listening or to give them feedback on segments.
“Today we will see many tributes rightly flow for a man who has left an incredible legacy in Australian Radio. A father of three, he is survived by his wife Jenny, his son Peter Brennan, who would follow his father and also spend time as program director of 2UE, and son Richard.”