Fran Kelly departs ABC RN Breakfast after 17 years

Respected ABC Radio presenter Fran Kelly announced on-air today that she will leave RN Breakfast in December, after an unparalleled 17 years informing and engaging listeners around the country.

Since 2005, Fran has been the voice that Australians wake up to on Radio National. Under her stead, RN Breakfast has helped set the news agenda with authoritative analysis of major events and issues at home and abroad.

A former ABC TV 7.30 political editor and European correspondent for the ABC, Fran will continue to play a key role at the national broadcaster in 2022 and beyond, including in its federal election coverage and as co-host of popular political podcast The Party Room, along with other special projects to be announced next year.

Fran said choosing to leave her role as RN Breakfast presenter on 2 December was the hardest decision she has ever made. “I’ve been in this role for 17 years and I have loved every second of it. Each morning is an adrenalin-fuelled, non-stop live ride interviewing some of the greatest and most interesting minds in Australia and the world. I thrive on the thrill of both setting the day’s news agenda and engaging in the public discussions we have as a society.

“Presenting RN Breakfast is the best journalism job in the country and it is very hard to walk away from it. But Breakfast is a hard taskmaster – 17 years of early mornings is tough on the body and soul and I am choosing to leave now because I never want to give this job any less than 100 per cent.”

ABC Managing Director David Anderson thanked Fran for her dedication to ABC listeners and public broadcasting over close to two decades. “Fran is no doubt one of Australia’s most respected political journalists but she’s so much more than that,” he said.

“I admire her ability to engage Australians in important conversations across a wide brief, from breaking news and national crises through to sport, music and the arts. She’s fearless when it comes to the tough political issues but also incredibly empathetic when talking to people about their lives. Fran is duly respected and admired by so many and has played a pivotal role in supporting future generations of journalists and presenters, within and beyond the ABC.

“Fran’s trusted and authoritative voice represents what so many people love about the ABC and I am looking forward to seeing and hearing more of Fran on the ABC for years to come.”

Fran also paid special tribute to the RN Breakfast team. “One of the greatest joys of this job is my colleagues,” she said. “The RN Breakfast team is small, enthusiastic and deeply committed to bringing the audience the best possible coverage of the stories that matter each and every day. I have never worked with a group of such tireless, dedicated and creative journalists, who refuse to default to close enough being good enough. We are truly a team and I couldn’t do it without them.

“I love the ABC. It’s been my home for three decades and while I’m very sad to be leaving my beloved RN Breakfast and my listeners, I won’t be leaving the ABC. I will still be here on projects throughout the election and beyond and look forward to being able to meet my listeners in other roles over the next few years.”

RN Breakfast Executive Producer Marina Freri said: “Fran has been waking up at 3.30am for the past 17 years and has never once walked into the studio grumpy. She comes in humming a song and makes herself and the team a cup of coffee before tackling a dozen interviews. She fearlessly holds politicians and the powerful to account. But they don’t go ‘on RN Breakfast’. They ‘talk to Fran’. She’s eponymous.”

The ABC will announce the new presenter of RN Breakfast later this year.

Fran – in her own words

“RN listeners are there for information and they are there to hear the questions they know the country needs answered. They are loyal and you can never give them too much information but they are also happy to follow the flow of the program – when you give them a new musician they appreciate it, when you tell them about a new play they love it, when you introduce them to a new scientist they applaud them. They are right there with you.

“Over the years, I have interviewed nine Australian Prime Ministers, a US president, a British Prime Minister and a plethora of world leaders. But some of my favourite interviews have not been political but are the human stories – for instance, speaking to Afghan women stuck inside their country, terrified as the Taliban move in. It’s the real people who stick with you and you know that if you’re close to tears then the audience will be too. Radio is such a powerful and personal medium.

“I am incredibly proud of the role the show has played in engaging Australians with the broader issues and in holding people to account. I am leaving RN Breakfast on a high, particularly given the important reporting job the program has done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My alarm goes off at 3.30am, so I would be lying if I did not say that I am looking forward to some sleep-ins. I am going to take a couple of months off and then reappear, energised and ready for some new projects.”

Fran the frontwoman – from new wave to the radio waves

Fran was a relatively late starter to journalism, having first studied arts at Adelaide University, where she majored in literature and the classics and also fronted several music groups – most notably, the all-female new wave band Toxic Shock.

Her other early roles included Activities Director at Flinders University, Entertainment Director at La Trobe University and booking gigs for little-known bands such as Simple Minds, Hunters & Collectors, Cold Chisel, Icehouse and INXS. Fran was also coordinator of the Women’s Arts Festival for the state of Victoria’s 150th anniversary celebrations, in 1984.

Her first foray into radio was in the mid-1980s on Melbourne community radio station Triple R’s Backchat program. In 1988, she got her break and moved to Sydney to start at the ABC as a journalist on triple j’s current affairs program The Drum.

Within a few years she was in Canberra, with a front-row seat to major political events such as the Hawke-Keating leadership struggle. Over the next decade or so, she worked in coveted roles including Chief Political Correspondent for ABC Radio’s AM and PM programs, Political Editor for RN Breakfast and Political Editor for ABC TV’s 7.30 Report.

Fran spent two years in London as the ABC’s Europe Correspondent, before returning to Australia to take up the role of RN Breakfast presenter in 2005. She is believed to be the longest-serving national breakfast radio host currently on air – certainly, the only one who once fronted an all-female new wave band.

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