I just heard the sad news that New Zealand radio announcer / TV host / actress Kerry Smith has died. Like many, I didn’t even know she was sick but had read she was on leave from her 10am-2pm slot on radio station The Breeze. It turns out her leave was due to the spread of melanoma and it is terrifying to be reminded just how quickly it can take someone’s life.
I only spoke to Kerry about half a dozen times and that was mostly right at the beginning of my radio career in the late 90s, early 00s on what was then called Easy Listening i. At the time I was guesting on Love Songs ‘Til Midnight with another departed icon of New Zealand broadcasting ,Peter Sinclair, while Kerry was on breakfast.
When I started in radio Kerry was co-hosting with her longtime sidekick Geoff Rooke (or J.R as he was called – why not “G.R” I never found out) and then someone she would later work alongside again in her final years, Mark Leishman.
It’s when I think of people like Mark, a genuinely nice person who I did get to know reasonably well, that you realise just how small the industry is in New Zealand and just how many people will be saddened by her passing. Even if you were in my position and didn’t know Kerry personally, you will know plenty of broadcasters in both radio and TV who did. So my condolences to them and of course, Kerry’s family.
My lasting memory of Kerry Smith is very much like the majority of New Zealanders who would have never met her but either watched her on TV or listened to her on the radio. For me, it was an interview she did with Cliff Richard in the Radio i studios back in 1991 when she was at the top of her game as a radio announcer. I remember her politely grilling Cliff about being “reed slim” and him discussing his diet secrets. Years later John Taylor who was Kerry’s then boss told me Cliff fans were cramming the door to the radio station trying to get in. That’s a huge testament not just to Cliff, but so too Kerry’s popularity.
So with that, I thought I’d make a brilliant but largely forgotten Cliff Richard song the Song of the Week. I played this to Raylene Ramsay (Easy Mix and Coast Program Director) a couple of years ago and she loved it, saying she hadn’t heard it since the 70s. The song is from an era most Cliff Richard detractors don’t even know exists, that of 1976-1983 when Bruce Welch, Alan Tarney and Terry Britten made Cliff stretch his vocal range and sing songs with a bit more grit, rock and R&B. From 1977, here is Hey Mr Dream Maker, this time as a tribute to Kerry Smith, all about dreams and loves lost and with quite possibly the most beautiful acoustic guitar playing of any Cliff Richard song.