After three decades on air, Tracey Donaldson's voice is familiar. When the Weekly catches up with her in her Auckland studio, where she's just finished her regular daytime show at Gold FM, the chat immediately turns to the people she's interviewed. It's a real who's who: The Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran, Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi, Courtney Love, Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe… the list goes on.
Her favourite? Not what you'd expect. "The Beach Boys are fabulous, and I love Madonna and Britney Spears. But my favourite is Sir Cliff Richard," she laughs. "Interviewing him would be my dream!"
Tracey lives in Auckland with her husband, music manager Ashley Page (they married at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 2007), and their dogs – miniature pinscher Tiny, Italian greyhound Lily, and most recently, Alfie the chihuahua. Hers is a great life, and one she is very grateful for – because but for a stroke of luck at age 17, it would never have happened.
"My first job was at a Hamilton record shop called Tracs," says Tracey. "I'd been there about six weeks when a guy came in one day and bought a huge bunch of CDs. The next day, he came back and bought a load more. I asked him why and he said he was starting a new radio station called The Rock. I said I'd always wanted to work in radio, so he told me to make a tape of myself."
That night, the excited teenager grabbed her boombox and recorded a few voice breaks. She handed it in and a few days later, she was hired to host the midnight to dawn shift.
"We went live on December 1, 1991," she recalls. "I was two months out of high school! I was just in the right place at the right time."
Tracey stayed on at the record shop, working both jobs. "I'd go home, have dinner, get a couple of hours' sleep and go to the radio station," she tells. "It was magical, but scary too – the station was in a dark building down by the Waikato River and I was on my own."
Tracey gradually moved from the "graveyard shift" to the evening show, finally landing her dream spot – the day shift. "A lot of people in radio want shows like breakfast or drive-time, but I always wanted my own one-woman music-based show."
When her father bought her a ticket to London for her 21st birthday, Tracey hopped on a plane for her OE.
"I went to London thinking I'd be away about six months, but I stayed five years. It's a Kiwi rite of passage!" She worked for several record companies, often working on reception, booking travel for artists such as U2 and Mötley Crüe.
"I loved reception," she enthuses. "I often think if I quit radio, I'd be a receptionist. It's the heart of a company – everyone loves you."
When her visa expired, Tracey returned home to discover The Rock was now a national radio station in Auckland and they wanted her back. She didn't hesitate and worked there until 2014. Then at 40, Tracey made the decision to move on. "I loved The Rock, but I'd done one show virtually my whole life," she explains. "The Sound's studio was next door to mine, so it made sense to move."
Five years later, Tracey lost her job. "It was out of the blue," she says. "I hadn't realised how disposable you can be. I had a fantastic relationship with everyone, I'd been at the company for ages, my shows rated well – but my contract wasn't renewed. That really knocked my confidence."
Luckily, Tracey was quickly hired by NZME, hosting shows at Mix FM and Radio Hauraki, before taking on her current role at Gold FM. "I feel like I've aged up to each station!" she laughs. "I remember in my 20s thinking 50 was old, but I turn 50 next year and I still feel 25!"
For her birthday, Tracey will be indulging her other passion – US politics.
"I'm obsessed with American politics, especially the Kennedys," she says. "I've been to Arlington, where Jack and Jackie Kennedy are buried, and I've been to Georgetown and Washington and sat in the booth and had dinner where they got engaged. For my birthday, we're going to the Kennedy Compound at Hyannis Port in Massachusetts. Then my bucket list will be done."
But right now, Tracey's happy exactly where she is. "I just love music," she reflects. "I have the best job I could wish for. I've been very lucky."
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