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Career

Kerre McIvor on her stellar year in radio and her cherished relationship with her grandchildren

‘I think, as a woman of my age, if you can enjoy your job, you’re very lucky.’

By Wendyl Nissen
Kerre McIvor enjoys a challenge.
Just spur her to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or run a marathon and she's up for it. She'll knuckle down, train religiously until she can do it and tick that off her list.
But this year, Kerre (54) found herself presented with a career test which could have defeated even her fierce determination had it all gone horribly wrong.
She was given the task of taking over the Newstalk ZB morning show from its previous host of 34 years, Leighton Smith.
Kerre had certainly done the training after 22 years at the station, but her bosses expected her to fail – at first.
"They took me aside and warned me that the ratings would almost certainly go down, that you can't replace a host after 34 years without seeing some kind of reaction, and they just wanted me to be prepared for that," says Kerre.
"I started the year knowing that I had a lot to live up to because Leighton was an incredibly strong personality − in radio, people get used to that − and I was going to be quite different.
"To be honest, I thought I would just white knuckle my way through the two-year contract I signed and that would be that."
Kerre's relieved she's clicked with her new radio audience.
But Kerre has risen to the challenge. After just a few months, she not only held the number-one position in Auckland for the show, but also increased listeners, including more women, something her bosses were hoping she would do.
"I'm so glad my bosses didn't have to deliver the bad news they had prepared me for," laughs Kerre. "I would have nodded and accepted it, but man, it would have sucked."
She credits much of the success to her producer Helen McCarthy, who has worked with many Newstalk ZB hosts including Sir Paul Holmes, Larry Williams and Jack Tame.
"I hit the ground running and because I had Helen, we just got right into it and had a great time. My bosses were really supportive and we've got a fantastic newsroom that I'm really proud of, and they were really supportive of me too, so it all started out so much better than I could have hoped."
But the bubbly personality admits when she turned up for her first day, she was nervous.
"When you are in the radio studio, listeners can text you and every host knows that sometimes you can get a constant barrage of semi-literate abuse, and although it doesn't really affect me, I still have to absorb it," she tells.
"I wasn't looking forward to sitting through that while the audience got used to me."
But that never happened.
"There were a few well considered emails from people who said they had tried to listen and I wasn't their cup of tea, which was absolutely fair enough," continues Kerre.
"I can only think the audience had enough notice I was coming that they had time to decamp, or perhaps we have a higher class of listener who doesn't resort to that kind of abuse."
She lived a splendid year travelling, but Kerre is stoked to be back on top of the ratings.
Kerre also found herself surprised by how much she loved being back on air and getting to know her listeners, who have turned out to be from a wide range of backgrounds.
"Just the other day, I had a call from a guy who had spent 21 years in prison and completely reinvented himself by training as a counsellor and behavioural psychologist, and he was amazing. I'll also get really erudite callers who teach me something about economics, politics or business, and then I'll get a gangster's moll ring in and dress me down for not knowing anything about gang life," she says.
"It's a broad spectrum of humanity which is fantastic. I don't want my show to be just one thing."
Personally, Kerre says she was also really glad to get back to work.
"I'm a peasant at heart. I think I need to turn up for work every day because an indolent life is not good for me," she laughs.
She's speaking a little bit from experience there. In 2018, she had a year off while her bosses allowed Leighton to work out his notice. Kerre calls it her "year of living splendidly" and she loved every minute of it, especially spending time with her grandkids who are overseas.
"To be honest, I would much rather be over in London with the grandbabies but that's not a reality," she says. "At least I've got the alternative joy of doing a job I love."
Kerre has a very special bond with her grandkids, Bart (2) and Theodora (seven months), which she nourishes with frequent trips to London, where her daughter Kate and her husband Ranko Berich live.
"In Bart's first year of life, I got to spend a total of six months with him, which was so fabulous, and I spent seven weeks with Kate and Ranko when Theodora was born last year to help them out."
Kerre aims to fly over twice a year for as long as she can, despite the trips being very expensive and the fact that she has a mortgage to pay off.
"But what on earth is the point of meeting two little kids you haven't got a connection with and saying, 'Hi, welcome to our freehold house!'?
"If you're looking at life priorities, my grandchildren and my work are where I'm at."
Kerre didn't really get to bond with Theodora last year, as she was primarily looking after Bart to allow Kate some precious time with her second child. To make up for that, she and husband Tom spent two weeks in southern Italy with the family in June.
"Dora is the funniest little human; she just glows and finds all the joy she can in life," gushes Kerre. "She never grizzles or cries. If she bangs
her head, she has a little cry and then she's back into the smiles. She's very self-contained and, to me, is sunshine personified."
Bart, on the other hand, is a chip off the old block, resembling his grandmother in personality and looks.
"Kate told me that recently they were at a little park just around the corner from where they live in London. There's a really cool guy there called Fred who runs a café, and they also have jazz sessions.
"Fred was playing the saxophone and Bart got up and mimicked him because he loves music, so he was swaying along and pretending to play the saxophone. When Fred finished, the crowd clapped and then Fred gestured to Bart and he got a big clap too.
"Kate said Bart realised the applause was just for him and the grin across his face said, 'This is fun, this feels good.' So he loves an audience, just like his Kui."
Kui is what Kerre's grandkids call her; it's a name the family came up with that's loosely based on the Māori word kuia, meaning an old woman.
Kerre shares a special bond with her grandchildren despite them living in London.
The bond between a grandmother and grandchild is a special one, and while Kerre knows she has a close connection with Bart, sometimes he has other ideas.
She and Tom had arrived in the south of Italy before the rest of the family, and went to meet them at the airport.
"I saw their flight had landed, so I tore off, leaving Tom to look after all the suitcases and my handbag, and ran to the arrivals area, pushing my way through to the front so that I could clap eyes on them. As soon as Bart and I saw each other, he just ran into my arms and I picked him up for a cuddle. The first thing he said was, 'Where's Tom?'" she laughs.
Kerre delighted in spending long summer days at the villa she hired for the family, which had a private beach where Bart learned to love water.
"At first, he wasn't having anything to do with it, he was a bit nervous, but it was perfectly safe with white sand underfoot and shallow. I'd be trying to encourage him into the water, saying, 'Come on, babe. It's lovely and warm', and he would say, 'No thank you. No thank you. Nooooooooo!'
"On the second day, his father took him in and from that point on, it was four swims a day – it was absolute bliss."
Kerre says leaving the family is always emotional, but her daughter told her early on that she didn't want lots of tears at the airport because it would upset the children.
"She's so right, and I had a 30-hour plane ride home and plenty of time to cry on my own, which I always do."
It's easy to see the mum-of-one is very proud of the job her daughter is doing as a parent.
"Kate's just turned 30 and I wish I could have mothered her the way she mothers her children," gushes Kerre.
"She doesn't fuss or hover, she just provides them with a calm and loving environment. I was a bit extreme and all over the show."
Like many young New Zealanders, Kate and Ranko are raising a family on the other side of the world without constant support from family.
"They've only got each other and have done such a great job of making a life for themselves without any assistance."
Back at work, Kerre is setting herself new goals now she has achieved her first challenge of keeping her radio show at number one in Auckland and increasing listeners.
"I want to lose the 10kg I put on during my year of living splendidly," she says.
"I still haven't done a proper ocean swim, so that is on the list, and I also want to get to grips with money. I've always been hopeless with money and, at the age of 54, I think I should be better.
"I want to get rid of my credit card debt, and just be more aware of my spending and saving."
Kerre says she's having a great year so far, and feels that she's managed to achieve living a life that's worthwhile and relevant – something that's important to her.
"I think, as a woman of my age, if you can enjoy your job, you're very lucky, and if you're around grandchildren, you're very lucky because you have worth and meaning.
"It's just a matter of carving out a place for yourself where you feel valued."

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