Patricia Karvelas accepts there’ll be a ‘period of grief’ for lost host as new RN Breakfast era begins | Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Patricia Karvelas is not fazed by a daily 3.30am start and exudes the confidence and enthusiasm of someone who can anchor an agenda-setting national news program like ABC’s RN Breakfast.

But “PK”, as she is known to listeners and colleagues alike, is well aware that audiences generally don’t like change. Radio National listeners are sure to miss the calm and assured voice of Fran Kelly, who hosted the flagship radio show for 17 years before stepping down last year to take up a less gruelling role at Aunty.

“What I want to demonstrate to our listeners is that the show’s spirit will continue,” Karvelas told Guardian Australia ahead of her first shift hosting RN Breakfast on Monday.

“That’s my first project: to sort of steady the ship. When you lose a host there is a period of grief and adjustment that I’m very prepared for. Because I’ve done it before, I went through it when Waleed Aly moved on [from RN Drive] – the listeners were very attached to him.”

Once the show is bedded down her focus will be on “making sure that it doesn’t sound like a show that now will be coming out of Melbourne”.

Breakfast will be produced from Karvelas’s hometown of Melbourne – moving from Sydney under Kelly – but it will have a determinedly national focus.

“This country is big and vast and the experiences we have in it are just so diverse and different,” the former host of RN Drive and Afternoon Briefing on ABC News says. “If you’re in the Northern Territory, dealing with the new laws which are putting 10-year-olds back in detention, your experience in this country is vastly different to mine in Melbourne.”

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Karvelas has always taken a keen interest in Indigenous affairs – dating back to her time as a political reporter at the Australian – but she does not accept the label of activist ascribed to her by Sky After Dark presenter Chris Kenny.

When Karvelas was revealed as Kelly’s replacement, Kenny said Fran Kelly, a “left of centre activist”, was being replaced by “another green left activist”.

Karvelas bristles with irritation when she hears this.

“In the years I worked with him at the Australian newspaper I don’t recall him telling me I was a green left activist,” she says.

“I was in a senior role at the newspaper, not in some junior role, but in consistently senior roles appointed by their rightwing management. So I’m assuming that at that stage, they thought that I was a pretty fair and robust reporter. I’m pretty certain that they knew that and he knew that.

“Unlike maybe him and some others I’m not a card-carrying member of the Liberal party and I have not worked for Liberal prime ministers or senior Liberal figures. I also haven’t worked for senior Labor figures and I never will.

“And that’s something I definitely can guarantee you: I will never work in politics because I don’t believe in it because I am a journalist.”

These attacks on her professionalism are nothing new. Karvelas believes one of the reasons ABC management saw her as a successor to Kelly was that she was “battle-hardened” and “knows not to read the comments”. She cares less about what people say about her on Twitter now than when she was an up-and-coming reporter more easily provoked by trolls.

Patricia Karvelas behind the panel in the studio
‘I was never the smartest kid in the room or the prettiest kid in the room, but I was always the hardest working,’ Karvelas says. Photograph: Jackson Gallagher/The Guardian

“There are people on the left who really don’t see me as captured by them,” she says. “They believe that I need to, you know, basically pursue their agendas or their politics in order to be legit. I won’t do that. And I don’t think it’s my job and the people on the right are unhappy because I don’t declare myself a conservative and I won’t because I’m not a conservative.

“What I am interested in is the truth, and sometimes if you pursue the truth and facts they can take you to places unexpected.”

Kelly is a hard act to follow but Karvelas is known as one of the most driven people in media and is determined to be successful.

She likes to tell students at school talks that hard work is the key to success. “I was never the smartest kid in the room or the prettiest kid in the room, but I was always the hardest working,” she says.

Kelly is on a long break over the summer and will return to the ABC in a yet-to-be-announced role.


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