Radio kingmaker John Brennan celebrated as a mentor to many

He created and managed some of the biggest egos in the media business, but broadcasting kingmaker John Brennan was remembered for his humility on Wednesday.

Brennan, a devout Catholic known affectionately as “Brenno”, chose two bible readings for his funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.

Father Brian Lucas blesses John Brennan’s coffin during his funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral on Wednesday.
Father Brian Lucas blesses John Brennan’s coffin during his funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral on Wednesday.Credit:AAP

The first was a passage from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians which was read by former talkback giant Alan Jones, whose broadcasting talent Brennan first spotted.

“If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing,” Jones read.

Speaking after the ceremony, Jones said he owed Brennan everything when it came to his radio career and that no funeral service, however beautiful, could do justice to the contribution Brennan had made to so many people’s lives.

“He was the most influential figure in my life apart from my parents. He was the person who put me into radio,” Jones said.

“He was the person who took John Laws out of a studio in Wagga where Lawsy got sacked because he was smoking and he encouraged him to come to Sydney.”

Alan Jones delivers a reading during the funeral mass for John Brennan at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Alan Jones delivers a reading during the funeral mass for John Brennan at St Mary’s Cathedral.Credit:AAP

Jones was a rugby coach when Brennan urged him to become a radio announcer. He called Jones to come to 2UE at a time when Jones didn’t even know where 2UE was located, saying “I think you should be in radio”.


Despite the program director pronouncing Jones would never work in radio, Brennan knew he had picked a winner. Three days later the station decided to give him a go and “Brenno has been with me ever since”. They spoke most days and Jones saw his mentor two days before he died at the age of 89 on March 12.

2GB talkback host Ray Hadley, who also attended the funeral, said “I wouldn’t be where I was today without John Brennan”.

“He took a young race caller in 1987 to become a rugby league commentator. Six years later he told me he thought I could make a talkback host and I did that in 1992,” he said.

“His impact on the broadcasting industry is immense.”

Not only did Brennan pioneer talkback radio, he programmed music and was the first to compile the top 40, helping win top ratings for radio stations 2SM, 2UE and 2GB. He has also been credited with spotting rugby league talent including Benny Elias and Peter Sterling. Singers including Johnny O’Keefe have also thanked Brennan for turning their songs into hits during his days as a disc jockey.

Channel Nine newsreader Peter Overton, who was accompanied to the funeral by his journalist wife Jessica Rowe, was among the pall-bearers. Others who attended the service included 2GB talkback host Ben Fordham, TV and radio personalities Richard Wilkins, Tim Webster, Paul Murray, Chris Smith and John Stanley.

In his homily, funeral celebrant Father Brian Lucas, said Brennan had a strength of character that was grounded in his relationship with his family, wife of 67 years Jenny and his children Peter, Richard and Jan-Mary, who died of cancer in late 2015.

In his eulogy Peter said his father took his motto from Reverend Jesse Jackson to “never look down on anybody unless you are helping him up”.

He said Brennan was a chronic stutterer from the age of five until his 40s and the stammer miraculously disappeared when he turned on the radio microphone.
His son Richard spoke of his humility and their humble family home, saying his father had touched many lives with his generosity.

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