Jonno goes statewide on radio

Jonathon Kendall has taken on a new audience on The Conversation Hour, and is loving it. Photo: Liz Bell

WHEN I dropped into the ABC’s Sale studios recently to take a press photo of former Breakfast presenter Jonathon Kendall, aka Jonno, the first thing he did was run his hands down his shirt and ask with genuine concern if it looked “too crinkly”.

“Do you think this shirt looks okay for a pic, maybe I should have ironed it better?” he asks with smiling eyes. It’s that disarming honesty and ‘realness’, combined with a diplomatic and considered interview manner, that has endeared the popular radio host to local ABC Gippsland listeners since 2014.

With Jonno, you always know what you’ll get – he’s the ‘real deal’ as they say, trading successfully on being tactful and empathetic – something that has already held him in good stead as new co-host on the ABC’s Conversation Hour.

It’s not surprising to anyone who likes his style that the ABC powers-that-be would eventually wrestle the Gippsland-born journalist from his regional lair and spirit him away, metaphorically speaking. It helped that a couple of recent stints on ABC Drive filling in for Rafael Epstein and for Nicole Chvastek on Statewide Drive put him on the radar for bigger and better things at the ABC and helped build up a bit of a fan base outside of Gippsland.

But to Jonno, even being in front of the microphone – let alone being heard by thousands of people all over the state – has come as a surprise.

“Look, if someone had told me 10 years ago that this is where I would be and what I would be doing, I wouldn’t have believed them,” he said.

“I’ve been so lucky to work at the ABC, where I’ve been given opportunities and where career development is possible.

“It’s been a fabulous time so far.”

Jonno finished high school in Gippsland before heading to university in Melbourne and working in journalism roles all over Victoria, eventually joining the ABC as a full time presenter.

This has given the presenter a strong interest in regional affairs. And he is personally invested in keeping regional voices on The Conversation Hour, following in the footsteps of Shepparton-based Warwick Long, who co-hosted the show with Richelle Hunt.

“I think my regional background was part of my appeal for The Conversation Hour when they were looking to fill Waz’s position – he brought a strong regional view which added to Richelle’s metro viewpoint, so it was a good balance,” he said.

“And I really think that in recent years Gippsland has become a very strong regional bureau for the ABC, and it’s great to be able to be part of that growth.”

As far as job changes go, it’s definitely a jump forward in the father-of-two’s career trajectory, and one that is allowing him the luxury of having a wider audience while still working from the ABC’s Sale studios and keeping his family in Gippsland.

“I’ve always loved The Conversation Hour, so it’s really exciting to be part of it from where I live and to be able to build on that regional perspective,” he said.

Only a few days into his new post, Jonno admits to still feeling his way and working on his rapport with Hunt, a seasoned radio presenter and former Afternoons show host.

“I’m enjoying working with Richelle,” he said.

“She’s a very generous presenter, she includes you, doesn’t try to dominate a conversation, and it wouldn’t work any other way because the whole idea of The Conversation Hour is to have a conversation.

“It’s not about the presenter just talking, it’s about hearing lots of people’s voices and coming to the end of it and having a better understanding of the topic.”

Despite Richelle being based in Melbourne, Jonno says working from different studios hasn’t hampered the presenters’ banter or stymied conversation, as he originally feared it might.

“I wondered initially how this was going to work, how are we going to have a conversation that flows freely when we are not in the same room, but I didn’t realise how important the video call is, so in fact Richelle and I are looking at each other and using body language so it’s like being in the same room anyway,” he said.

While many high profile radio hosts don’t mince words and are often lauded for their ability to make their interviewees sweat and squirm, that’s not Jonno’s style, nor is it the format of The Conversation Hour. He had the good fortune to develop a mentor-like relationship last year with interviewer supremo and ABC Breakfast great Jon Faine, and was able to observe objectively and evaluate a different style of presenting.

“Jon has a lawyer’s brain, so he would do hours of research and really know his topic and his subjects, and he was really good at holding people to account and it was great to watch and learn,” he said. ” think I’m a bit of a mix.

“I don’t have a lawyer’s brain, but I have a creative, analytical, hopefully colourful, accepting and empathetic brain – well at least that’s what I’m going for.

“But of course it is a work in progress.”

Like all new jobs, The Conversation Hour has already been a steep learning curve for Jonno, who is still getting used to the show’s format.

“I’m just enjoying working through the radio craft and trying to understand it a bit better … even things like after speaking to a guest – do I sum up the conversation, which is what I would have done on Breakfast? But it isn’t something that necessarily works on The Conversation Hour,” he said.

“I’m still working on some of those little things; there are always things to learn and I don’t think anyone really is ever a perfect presenter.

“I’m just so thrilled to have this amazing opportunity and to talk to ‘real’ Victorians and explore issues that affect us all, letting my guests take the lead, because talking to people is what I love to do.”

But letting guests do the heavy lifting doesn’t mean Jonno and his co-host Richelle are not integral parts of that conversation.

“I think as a Conversation Hour presenter there is room to give your own personality while realising it’s not about ‘me’ and my views, it’s about what Victorians think,” he said.

“My role is not to push people or get them to sit up and reassess their position on anything, but I do hope that some of the guests that we have on will do that.”

For those who miss hearing Jonno on the Breakfast show, he will be back in a few months to continue on the show in some capacity, either on air or behind the scenes, juggling it with his new role on The Conversation Hour.

The Conversation Hour is broadcast on ABC Radio Melbourne and Victoria weekdays from 11am until noon.