Key Points:

Broadcaster Paul Holmes has made his final sign-off as breakfast host of Newstalk ZB after 22 years.

Some 120 family, friends and colleagues gathered at a restaurant overlooking Auckland's Westhaven Marina where Holmes, 58, made his last broadcast for the show.

The veteran broadcaster paid tribute to past and current colleagues as well as his listeners throughout the country.

He also had some advice for young broadcasters, urging them to "break some rules" while at the same time being compassionate.

He said being the breakfast host was "always a pleasure".

As nine AM rolled around, the guests were on their feet clapping an emotional Paul Holmes who stood and clapped them back.

Earlier, Holmes rang Newstalk general manager Bill Francis while on air and told him to "shove this job up your arse".

Mr Francis, sitting next to Holmes at the time, laughed and paid tribute to Holmes who he said had always been a team player.

Mr Francis said the pair had always had fun and he thanked the Holmes family, many of whom had not seen Holmes do his show live.

Lived his dream through radio

Holmes earlier introduced his mother on the show as his "best supporter and fierce critic".

Mrs Holmes said her son had inherited his speaking ability from her but the roughly five foot tall woman said it was "a different question about the height".

Mrs Holmes said Newstalk and Auckland had given her son a better farewell than welcome and she was proud of him.

"Auckland just didn't want to listen," Mrs Holmes said of her son's early career, when Newstalk's ratings were slipping.

She said had the recently passed legislation allowing employers to sack workers inside 90 days been in force, Holmes may have been without a job.

But Mrs Holmes said over the years her son had earned the respect of his employers even when at times "80 per cent of the nation wanted his head to roll".

"He wrote a book, sang a song and danced with the stars.

"I'm afraid to think what is coming next," she said.

"Everyone should live their dreams and Paul has done that through radio."

Earlier this morning on Bernadine Oliver-Kerby called Holmes "the best character in the biz".

Prime Minister's tribute

Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff sat and chatted at the same table before John Key was interviewed on air.

Holmes couldn't resist plugging his olive oil while he chatted to the PM about the economy.

"Olive oil could be the saviour of the Nation," Paul Holmes said.

Mr Key congratulated Holmes on his career.

"I congratulate you on a lifetime of achievement as New Zealand's finest broadcaster. You have entertained the nation."

Squash player Dame Susan Devoy, sailor Brad Butterworth and equestrian Mark Todd all paid tribute to Holmes on air and singer Brooke Fraser played two songs.

Nine-to-noon show

Holmes who has long topped Auckland radio ratings, is now gone from breakfast, but not from radio.

He will remain "part of the Newstalk ZB family", taking over the Saturday nine-to-noon show.

On Thursday, Holmes seemed close to tears as he completed his last Cook Street studio breakfast broadcast and took calls from well-wishers.

One was a multiple sclerosis sufferer who said Holmes had "brought a light to my life", while others applauded his 21 years at Newstalk and his television career - 17 years of the daily Holmes Show on TVNZ and three years on Prime TV.

Holmes said: "Nobody should be getting this much niceness."

But Brent Harman, who established Newstalk ZB in 1987 and brought Holmes from his job as a 2ZB host in Wellington to Newstalk ZB breakfast, said the applause was deserved.

"He may be the best broadcaster New Zealand had ever produced," he said.

Holmes has always had his detractors.

But his unique style that breaks many of the rules - with mumbling, dead air and offbeat humour - has attracted a loyal audience.

In the last Research International radio ratings survey, Holmes had three times more listeners than his nearest competitor.

Harman established the Newstalk format for Auckland's 1ZB in 1987. The new show lost nearly three quarters of the audience 1ZB had under long-time breakfast host Merv Smith.

He came close to sacking Holmes, but they dug in, and Holmes says the rot stopped in mid-1988.

Now as chairman of broadcaster MediaWorks - owner of Newstalk ZB rival RadioLive - Harman says Newstalk is taking a risk with the change from Holmes to Mike Hosking. He is hoping some of the audience will move to RadioLive.

But Holmes said he was not expecting any exodus. The Newstalk format was strong, he said, and he backed his younger replacement.

"I don't think there will be that same sort of struggle and battle.

"Mike is well established in the market, around the country and on Newstalk.

"There will be some people for whom Mike is not their cup of tea, and some people probably already prefer him to me," he said.

The change was announced in March last year. Newstalk ZB, owned by The Radio Network, had hastened the change after Hosking received a job offer from rival Radio Live.

Holmes will be taking over Hosking's Saturday nine-to-noon "lifestyle" show.

He will also fill in for talkback host Leighton Smith when he is on holiday.

Holmes said he would keep the Saturday show's focus on lifestyle topics when he takes over January 17, but it would probably be more offbeat.

The Radio Network is half owned by APN News & Media, publisher of the New Zealand Herald.