Australian radio hosts have paid off their Kiwi producer's $41,000 student loan, which had ballooned to over $80,000 with interest and penalties.
Their producer Sacha French, who has produced their Hughesy and Kate show for 15 years, was overwhelmed when Dave "Hughesy" Hughes and Kate Langbroek sprang their surprise gift live on air yesterday, going halves on paying off the $80,000.
"I'm a single mum. It's going to make a massive difference in my life," she told the Herald this morning.
"I can look at buying something [a home] now. It's very generous, I'm so overwhelmed."
French, 45, borrowed $41,000 in two years at Auckland University and three years at the NZ Broadcasting School in Christchurch in the early 1990s.
She has actually paid off $52,000, but still owes just over $80,000 because she has lived overseas for the past 20 years so the interest has accumulated every year. The loans are only interest-free for people who stay in New Zealand.
She still visits her parents and a sister in New Plymouth about twice a year, so she has always kept paying the loan off and informed Inland Revenue of her address.
"I knew I had to make the repayments. If I don't, I can't come back to New Zealand," she said.
Hughes joked on the show that no one would want to be "dragged back to that hellhole", but French said that was just "transtasman banter".
"I love New Zealand and one day I'll come back and work in radio in New Zealand," she said.
"The other thing that annoyed me about this is that people get penalised because you go overseas, but they do come back with the skills that you bring back.
"There will be a point where I will come back and work in radio in New Zealand and my skills will come with me."
NZME group director entertainment Dean Buchanan, who hired French to work on the original Hughesy and Kate breakfast show on Melbourne station Nova 100 in 2001, said French was now one of Australasia's top teachers of other radio producers.
"She has worked in the top echelons of radio internationally, and she's had this millstone around her neck for years," he said.
"She has done all the right things. She has even tried legal letters and negotiating an outcome, so I think it's a good human who has been arguably treated quite appallingly by us."
French had 12 years with Hughesy and Kate on Nova 100, then rejoined them when they started a new drivetime show on the nationwide KIIS Network three years ago. She said the trio had become "family".
"When we all started on radio there were no kids. Since we've been together Kate has had four, Hughesy's had three and I've had one. We've done everything together. We're family really," she said.
In a letter which French read on air, Hughes and Langbroek wrote about sharing children's birthday parties, hospital visits, "break-ups and breakdowns".
They said they had been talking about how to help French ever since they found out about the size of her student loan last year.
"Neither of us could bear that our hardworking friend could have that albatross around her neck," they said.
French and her son Milo, 12, still rent in Melbourne, but she said Hughes and Langbroek were well paid.
"They are very successful people," she said.
Australian FM radio breakfast and drivetime hosts are reputed to earn A$1 million ($1,092,226) packages.