Kate Hawkesby opens up on her six years as host of ZB’s Early Edition show, life in the Hawkesby-Hosking household and what’s next; a former Kiwi radio star is brutally axed following a record deal across the ditch; and a well-known face is leaving media for PR.
An emotional Newstalk ZB host Kate Hawkesby has this morning farewelled her Early Edition audience, signing off from her radio show for the final time in what she describes to Media Insider as a “bittersweet” moment.
On air, she paid tribute to her audience, her producer and two New Zealand broadcasting legends - her husband, Mike Hosking, and her father, John Hawkesby.
Hosking, she says, is her “constant biggest cheerleader, listener and fan, closely followed by my dad, who wakes every morning at 5am to listen in via an earpiece in bed”.
“I am forever grateful to these two incredible men in my life - both great broadcasters of their own - for being so lovingly supportive of me,” she told her listeners.
“But that early alarm takes a toll, shift work is tough on families and our kids have two parents who do brutal hours, obsessively follow news, go to bed early, and are often tired and grumpy.”
And in an exclusive Q&A with Media Insider, Hawkesby, who finishes today after six years as Early Edition (5am-6am) host and 10 years before that in various ZB broadcasting roles, revealed the mental exertion of a role that starts with an alarm clock at 3am each day.
“It’s bittersweet, I love my job so much, it’s been the best job I’ve ever had in broadcasting, and to be honest my heart is still in it, it’s just my body is not. It’s given up. It’s asking for more sleep,” Hawkesby said.
She outlines her views today on the state of New Zealand journalism; tells of her memorable assignments; the responsibility of informing listeners that the Queen had died; and what life is really like in the Hawkesby-Hosking household.
And while Hosking is her number one supporter, she says: “I’m also really proud of the lead-in we give Mike’s show, I rub that in a lot. I’m always telling him how lucky he is to have us as his support act, hahaha.”
It would be good to hear/discuss your emotions of these last weeks/days behind the microphone.
It’s bittersweet, I love my job so much it’s been the best job I’ve ever had in broadcasting, and to be honest my heart is still in it, it’s just my body is not. It’s given up. It’s asking for more sleep.
It’s been so hard to say goodbye because we have such a loyal and engaged audience and I really feel connected to them in our wee pre-dawn hour.
The gym bunnies, the shift workers, the nurses, the rowing mums, the swimming dads doing drop-off, the farmers, the CEOs, it’s actually a real go-getter crowd.
I think there’s this misconception that ZB is just talkback. It’s not. My show, Mike’s and Heather’s do no talkback at all, we’re just news and current affairs, people can text or email us, but we don’t take calls.
What you get from those audiences is a real sense of who they are and where they’re at, which I think helps us be better broadcasters because it keeps us on our toes.
Our listeners are smart, they’re out there living it, they’re the productive side of the economy, they’re not pontificating on Twitter, they’re getting on with it, they care about this country and what happens to it, they’re engaged and I’ll really miss that to be honest.
Also, I love our little pre-dawn team, we’re a tight bunch in the wee smalls, we’re all sleep-deprived, we’re all working twice as hard to be alert and get out a great product with less of the machinery around us - there’s no management in at 3.30am, there’s no infrastructure (part of the appeal to be honest!), it’s just us.
It’s a sink-or-swim situation and you have to be up for that which is how I love to work. It keeps your brain firing.
Tell us about the challenges of producing/hosting a one-hour show - it’s unique in that sense; you must have to be very ruthless in terms of what you do/don’t cover?
One of the things I’ve loved most about my show is that we are a short, sharp hour - I always said I’m here for a good time not a long time! But it makes us really focus on what counts - we have to be super selective about what we’re covering and how, and we crack along at quite a pace.
We are a really small team in the mornings, me and Hannah Filmer, my executive producer who’s the same age as one of my children so I’m always in awe that someone so young is so on to it.
But it means we have to be on form every morning and thrash it out with real clarity when most people are fast asleep.
Mike’s team is super supportive of us but they’re the juggernaut, we’re just the supporting act. I keep reminding them how lucky they are to have us though, hahaha.
But being a one-hour show is what appealed to me about this slot from the get-go - it meant I could still juggle being a mum and get home in time for school drop-off etc.
What I love about our timeslot though is we are often breaking fresh international news for the first time.
I’ll never forget when the Queen died and my producer just said in my ear, ‘The Queen’s dead’, that was it.
It was just this surreal moment of, ‘Whoa, I have to communicate this breaking news’.
People are just waking up and they’re going to hear it first right now... you’re digesting news often as you’re relaying it and there’s no template on how to do that, there’s no script, you just have to do it.
It’s intense but it’s part of the allure of broadcast journalism. It’s never boring.
You’ve built a big audience at that time of day - a great lead-in number for Mike! I hope you remind him of this? As well as great content, you must get the sense that a lot of the country (and maybe Auckland in particular?) is up and about a lot more at 5am these days?
The success of the show and the audience we’ve built has been the biggest surprise to me. I had no idea so many people were up so early, but particularly in Auckland, I mean I’m heading home on the motorway just after 6am and it’s chocka.
People are up earlier and earlier these days to commute, or workout, or walk the dog, just get into their day earlier and I regard it as a total privilege that when they do that they choose to turn us on.
I take that responsibility really seriously.
I’m also really proud of the lead-in we give Mike’s show, I rub that in a lot. I’m always telling him how lucky he is to have us as his support act. Hahaha.
I will be up and listening at 5am next year to see how the new guy goes [Hosking will be broadcasting in the 5am-6am hour in early 2024 while ZB finds a permanent replacement] in case he needs some feedback!
I’ve already been telling Mike little bits and pieces about how our show works and he’s like, ‘Yeahhhh I think I’ve got it ...’ but I’m trying to point out how our show is unique - and what makes it tick.
We’ll see how he goes. Hahaha.
What you’ll miss/won’t miss? What time does your alarm go off?
I won’t miss the 3am alarm to be honest.
Mike’s alarm goes at 2.25am and that wakes me up every morning so I’m kind of semi-awake till 3, but I have a son living in London so that’s often a good time to get a quick catch-up phone call in with him.
But my body is ready to go back to sleep past 3am and not have to get up, put clothes on and get a brush through my hair.
Part of why I’m leaving too is my daughter has her last year at school next year and ever since she started intermediate, all she’s known is tired mum who goes to bed early, is busy following news and writing editorials every day.
Shift work has a real impact on the whole family and with two shift workers in the house it’s been really tough for our kids to understand our wacky schedule.
There was a time when the boys were still at home that we’d be leaving for work as they were coming in from a night out. Hahaha.
But with parents always in bed early, my daughter’s had to rely on the village of other mums and dads to pick up the slack on late-night pick-ups etc, so I feel like it’s my turn and I want to be more present for her final year and just enjoy her and her friends without always having to shoosh everyone and head off to bed.
I mean we really are the personification of boring, it’s rest home hours at our place. But it’s just the reality, the discipline of working our hours means you have to be 100 per cent committed to it or the wheels fall off.
Favourite stories/interviews of the past six years; perhaps touch on broadcasting/covering pandemic, Queen’s death, major news events etc. Anything in particular stand out?
Standouts are probably the trips we did - two royal weddings and a coronation - for an avid fan of the royals and London. These were awesome shows to do because we were able to be out of the studio and soaking up history in real time, bringing the audience a real sense of what was happening on the ground.
Content-wise it was magic too because the timezone really worked for us - we’d go to air at night our time, so we had all day to source content, do interviews, get out and about, so by the time NZ was waking up we already had a day full of news for them.
Journalistically, the most surreal thing I did was cover Donald Trump’s election to president in New York with Mike’s show.
We were at the Democrats’ HQ, as all international media were, no one for a minute thinking there would be anything other than a Hillary win, so we were all there with all her celebrity crowd, I was doing selfies with them, having my photo taken at the lectern all set up for her victory, with Madam President draped all over it, and then as the night wore on, it became apparent Trump was going to beat her and the mood just shifted so dramatically.
It went from so jubilant to a total wake.
Clinton wouldn’t even come out and address the crowd - we later learned she was in shock backstage. She didn’t concede until about 2.30am local time Even then she wouldn’t come out, the celebs all left, people were in tears, and a really buzzy, noisy New York just fell silent - it was eerie.
I remember walking for ages afterwards at like 3am with crowds of people just in shock. I’ll never forget it.
Locally the pandemic was the toughest thing we did - for all of us I think.
Initially, we thought it was a blessing in disguise being essential workers and therefore able to stay in regular routine, getting up every day and going to work as normal.
But as lockdowns dragged on, particularly in Auckland, while it felt like everyone else was making sourdough and sleeping in, we were still on the daily grind of getting up every day before dawn and going into work and having to report so much depressing news.
There was a real sense of angst as people got angrier and the angst started to really bubble, it was impossible to switch off from it, we couldn’t. When you’re in it, and you’re the conduit delivering the information, you have to be across it, you don’t have the luxury of just opting out and going, “Oh I’m sick of it I’m not watching anymore”.
We had to live it 24/7. That really took a toll more than we all realised at the time. There was a bit of collective PTSD afterwards for us in the newsroom.
I still find news clips of the ‘pulpit of truth’ slightly triggering!
What next? A breather for a while? Do you still want to be attached, longer term, with media? I know from [NZME chief audio officer] Jason Winstanley’s staff email you’ll still be doing Mike’s show on Friday mornings - anything else lined up?
I’ve been joking with my girlfriends that I’m in my ‘country hippy era’, off to grow veges and make homemade candles or something.
I just feel like I need to sleep for a while, and not follow news, not write editorials and not worry about having to have an opinion every day.
Jason says I’ll be bored within three months and be back, hahaha, I’m not ruling that out!
I’ll remain part of the ZB family with Mike’s show on Friday mornings, and I’ll do the odd thing here and there. I’ll possibly come back and fill in at times, I don’t know, the door’s open, all I know is I need some sleep for a bit.
Some other interesting opportunities have popped up but I’m honestly not looking to do anything until my body has learned how to sleep again.
I’m down a health and wellness rabbit hole at the moment and I’ve been obsessed with epigenetics and weird shit like that for the last few years, my dad calls me Gwyneth (as in Goop) and takes the piss out of me, but the new science around genes and what we can do with our bodies is so amazing. I’m intrigued by the biohackers, it’s partly why I’m reprioritising sleep.
I remember being part of the press pack working alongside you at the Ansett Dash 8 plane crash in Palmerston North in 1995 - I think you were at TVNZ as a reporter at that time. Do you still love working in media? How are you feeling about the state of media in NZ?
Media is all I know and all I’ve ever done. I was fresh out of uni with a Political Science degree and into TVNZ green as grass and that plane crash was so horrific and I was brand new to the place and suddenly I’m being told to get to this plane crash and I’m flown down as part of the 7pm Holmes show [pre Seven Sharp] to get to survivors, get to families, first responders, talk to whoever I could and get them on camera, preferably get them to go live at 7pm with Paul [Sir Paul Holmes, the late host].
I mean these days everything is filmed 24/7 but this was pre-social media, pre-cameras everywhere, pre the 24-hour news cycle so this would be first TV images of the scene for the 6pm news and the Holmes show.
It was daunting - fly into a tragedy, a shocking scene, and see who wants to talk, on camera. I mean this is pre-Tik Tok, pre all social media, and in regional NZ.
A bunch of Aucklanders with cameras fly in - with the very famous Paul Holmes and we want to film everyone or have them speak live to him on camera.
No one expected cameras everywhere like they do now.
So that was like a baptism of fire, I was terrified, it was such an awful tragedy and it was really hard to try to keep your own emotions in check and remember the job you had to do.
Paul was extremely gracious and kind to me, the show went really well, and Paul reported back to management that I’d done a good job, so I think he helped play a part in me getting a fulltime contract with TVNZ.
Ironically when I left TVNZ 12 years later after the birth of my daughter, it was his ZB Breakfast show (pre-Mike Hosking) that I began my radio career in newsreading.
The media landscape has changed drastically since I began. The insatiable 24/7 demand for clicks and content has, I believe, seen quality suffer.
Facts come second to being first with the story, so in that regard, the bar seems lower.
When I started it was really tough, it was a real boys’ club. It was relentless.
These days kids going into journalism are often going into it for the wrong reasons or with the wrong expectations, and they get disillusioned real quick.
The bar is lower, because we need more people and there’s more churn, but there’s also - and I saw this particularly during the tenure of this last Government and during Covid - a real ‘group-think’ mentality going on.
There’s a lack of independent thought, it’s more agenda-driven, a lot more virtue signalling, and there’s also a lot of reliance on social media for content - which we didn’t have back then.
Not to sound biased, but I think that’s the beauty of Mike and why he’s got such a huge audience to be honest. He’s not afraid to call it as he sees it and take a view the rest of the media aren’t taking.
It also helps he’s not on social media soaking up a certain narrative and just regurgitating it. And to be fair to radio, that’s the beauty of this medium too, we are less filtered, no autocue, no agenda, it doesn’t get run through several layers and watered down before you say it, it’s direct and immediate and that’s what I love about it. Radio allows you to be yourself.
Your amazing social following and content - especially the Reels of Mike watching the Warriors ... that’s prime content! Can we expect more of that in 2024?
I love Instagram, that’s my only social media outlet. I don’t bother with the rest, but yeah him watching the Warriors seems to go off.
He hates me filming him so I have to do it covertly without him noticing or he gets really mad, but I rely on the fact he’s so passionately involved in the Warriors and what they’re doing, that he’s not noticing me so much.
He hates all social media and has none of it, apart from his show pages which are run by other people.
He doesn’t see the point of social media. I do, I get a lot of good stories and tip-offs out of it, I like the immediacy of it and the engagement.
Ex NZ radio star brutally axed in record $200m deal
A former New Zealand radio star has been axed from his Melbourne breakfast show - despite top ratings - in order to accommodate the biggest deal in Australian radio history.
Sydney’s Kiis FM Breakfast hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O announced this week that they would stay with ARN’s Kiis FM for another 10 years, for a record $A200 million deal.
But as part of that deal - which has smashed all records for Australian radio talent - the Sydney show will also now air in Melbourne, where Jason Hawkins and Lauren Phillips have hosted the Kiis breakfast, successfully, for the past three years. They are number three in the market.
Hawkins was based in Auckland from 2015 to 2018, hosting ZM’s Drive Show Jase and P.J. - also with considerable ratings success. (P.J. Harding was this week announced as the new co-host of The Hits’ drive show next year, alongside Matty McLean).
“Last night, we all received a phone call from management ... mine was during ‘black hawk down hour’ when all the kids are cracking it, trying to get to sleep,” Hawkins told his Melbourne listeners on Wednesday.
“[Management were] informing us that the show will be finishing up at the end of this year. We’ll be finishing up at the end of 2023. Kyle and Jackie O will be taking over in 2024.”
Phillips choked back tears.
“This is certainly not the way we wanted to bow out,” she said.
“We didn’t have a choice. It’s a business decision that we have been told is what’s happening. We don’t want to say goodbye.
“We didn’t have to be here this morning to make this announcement, but we’re here.”
Hawkins said: “We’re a little dysfunctional family. And we’re still on air until the end of next week, so we will still be rocking up. I wish Kyle and Jackie O good luck, they are extremely lucky to inherit the people that listen to this show.”
Mr Fixit brought into SENZ as TAB takes over
Big changes in New Zealand’s sport broadcasting world yesterday, with the TAB announcing it will buy the financially troubled SENZ radio operation.
The gaming business will buy SENZ for $4 million from its Australian parent Sports Entertainment Group (SEG), taking ownership of SENZ’s digital radio operation and 29-frequency radio station from February. As part of the deal, SEG will still provide content to its former New Zealand arm.
The announcement comes just a week after one of New Zealand’s most experienced commercial media leaders was brought in as a consultant at SENZ, to try to help turn around the financial performance of the fledgling sports and racing radio station.
Mark Smith, a former top commercial leader at NZME and MediaWorks, is contracting at SENZ until the end of March, advising them on commercial strategy, operations and initiatives.
SENZ launched with a range of top sporting names - including Brendon McCullum, Israel Dagg, Ian Smith and Stephen Donald - but aside from Smith, few of them had top broadcasting experience, and ratings in the first two years have been less than stellar.
That’s also reflected commercially in Australia, where reports have openly described SENZ’s parent company, Sports Entertainment Group, as being at “serious risk”.
It reported a $10.1 million loss in the financial year 2023, with much of that red ink - $5.9m - flowing out of New Zealand.
Reports out of Australia suggest the Commonwealth Bank could potentially demand an “immediate settlement” of a A$28.7 million credit facility provided to the parent company.
“In the Sports Entertainment Group’s preliminary final report, it’s highlighted that the company has slightly more than $1 million left in its line of credit,” the Ministry of Sport website reported. “To manage its obligations, the company sought ‘covenant relief’ from the Commonwealth Bank in the June quarter. The bank, in response, did not push for immediate settlement of the liability.”
SEG has said it remains a going concern, based on positive cashflow and an improved trading performance in 2024.
Mark Smith told Media Insider: “They just want me to come and give them advice, especially on the commercial side of the operation, how to make the boat go a bit faster and any ideas. What do I recommend, and where should we go, and do we need to recruit some people?
“Just basically, I think they hit a bit of a stalemate in the business and they were just unsure where to go.”
Smith has a successful pedigree as a commercial operator, from his days as a dedicated sales rep for Radio Sport in 2000, through to his leadership roles at our two biggest radio firms.
“They’re expensive to run, talkbacks, as you know - you have to have a lot of personnel and announcers demand a lot of money. It’s an expensive beast - journalists, reporters, newsreaders.”
He said he was looking at the entire operation.
“The whole lot really, but commercial obviously - like any business, the money coming in is always a priority when you have got lots of money coming out.”
He believed the Australian operation was strong and the resource in New Zealand was good, although he would be looking to recruit. The company has about five commercial reps, as well as support teams.
The company received strong backing from the horse racing industry but there needed to be other revenue streams.
With the TAB coming on board next year, it is clear Smith is there to find new money.
“One of the reasons why I took the role is I was passionate about the whole talkback sport thing. That’s what got me into the industry initially.
“I was a Radio Sport listener and I had the opportunity to go and join their sales team as a dedicated Radio Sport rep.
“I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for it so it sort of takes me a bit to my grassroots.
“When they approached me to see if I could come and have a look and see what I thought, I got a bit of fire in the belly. It took me back to 2000.”
Meanwhile, SEG chairman Craig Coleman said of the TAB deal: “Importantly, this transaction removes start-up losses from our operating performance. In FY23, our New Zealand business represented a negative $2.4 million drag on underlying EBITDA. SEG continues to focus on reducing net debt in FY24. This transaction aligns with this objective in addition to several other proposals and initiatives under consideration.”
One Good Text
This week, we catch up with Newstalk ZB political editor Jason Walls.
Damien Venuto heads to PR agency
The host of the NZ Herald’s The Front Page podcast - and one of the most thoughtful and kindest people in New Zealand journalism - is leaving NZME to join a PR agency.
Damien Venuto will become a senior account director at One Plus One in January.
He has been at the Herald for six years, including four as online business editor, but most recently as the host of the daily weekday podcast The Front Page.
Venuto also spent four years at Tangible Media, including as editor of Marketing Magazine and StopPress.
“I’ve known Damien professionally for the better part of a decade now, across the aisle in his role as a journalist, and I’ve always been struck by his curiosity, professionalism and smarts,” said One Plus One managing director Kelly Bennett.
“He’s somebody who really gets what we do, and is famously one of the nicest people in media. I couldn’t be more excited about his arrival, and what that will mean for our business.”
Venuto says the opportunity arose at the right moment and gives him a chance to tackle a challenge that has always interested him.
“Over the past decade I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some of the leading marketers and business people across New Zealand, and I’ve always had a real interest in not just filing the story but soaking up all that insight,” says Venuto.
“I feel incredibly privileged to have spent six years at the New Zealand Herald, where I was reminded every day of the value of integrity and accuracy. I plan to hold those values close as I start this new journey on the comms side.”
NZME editor in chief Murray Kirkness said The Front Page hosting duties would be shared between reporters Katie Harris, Georgina Campbell and Chelsea Daniels for the start of 2024.
Women’s, travel magazines on the rise
All three of New Zealand’s main women’s magazine titles have seen readership rises in new figures released on Thursday - reflecting, perhaps, an audience desire for a breather from all of the heavy news we’ve been subjected to over the past four years.
The Australian Women’s Weekly (477,000), the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly (459,000) and Woman’s Day (373,000) have all seen year-on-year increases of between 5.5 and 11 per cent. (Disclaimer: My wife is the editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly).
Are Media - publisher of the three titles - is also delighted with the performance of Kia Ora magazine. The Air New Zealand in-flight publication is back up to 414,000 readers - a rise of 146,000 (55 per cent) in a year, and reflecting our return to the skies following the pandemic.
That trend in travel readership is also evident in the newspaper magazines.
The NZ Herald’s Travel magazine is also back above 400,000 readers - it now has an audience of 401,000 and is easily the biggest newspaper magazine in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, the NZ Herald continues to dominate the overall newspaper market, with 532,000 print readers alone.
The Herald’s overall brand readership (print and digital) is now 2.22 million, according to Nielsen.
Nielsen’s monthly audience readership show Stuff and the Herald website are still the number one and two biggest sites for audience, followed by Newshub in third position.
ZB, Breeze out front in radio survey
Newstalk ZB remains the country’s top radio station, but there are some interesting changes within the top 10 stations, nationally.
ZB has come off the highs of the Covid news period but still has a big lead - it is 4.5 share points ahead of its nearest rival.
MediaWorks’ music stations hold the next four spots. The Breeze stays at number two behind ZB, while The Rock overtakes More FM to move into third place. More FM is now fourth followed by Magic FM.
In good news for NZME’s music stations, ZM moves into sixth position nationally (previously eighth) while Coast is ninth (previously 10th) and The Hits now comes into the top 10 - in equal 10th place with The Edge.
NZME has a major focus on boosting its Hits audience in 2024. It has announced some major talent changes in the last two weeks, the latest being PJ Harding and Matty McLean for the Drive show. And Megan Papas - who was this week on air to replace Ben Boyce - will be a permanent fixture next year at Breakfast, alongside Boyce and Jono Pryor.
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.