If you happen to be starting your morning prior to 6am daily and have the radio on, you may very well hear Rowena Duncum’s cheerful voice come across the airwaves, as she starts her day as the host of The Country Early Edition. This strong, independent AgWoman says she basically ‘runs the guy that runs The Country’ as she carries out her main role as the executive producer for Jamie Mackay’s The Country radio show.
When asked what she actually does on a daily basis, she was quick to throw in a cheeky remark “More than my workmates Jamie and Lashes – that one’s for sure!”
Rowena is proud to be the producer of the longest running rural radio show in New Zealand (which celebrated 24 years earlier this month). Along with pushing the buttons to take the show to air at midday each weekday, she also contributes to the show’s direction, hunts down people for interviews and tries to keep the show’s host Jamie Mackay in line.
There are always some great work stories that come out of the show on a weekly basis and Rowena’s first off-site broadcast at this year’s Waimumu field days was no exception. An AgWoman of class, who can transform from heels to gumboots at the flick of your fingers, Rowena nearly took the show off air with her hair straighteners. “Luckily, we got the power and subsequently the connection back to our Dunedin studio, back up and running with 53 seconds to spare!”
If keeping The Country crew in-line isn’t enough, Rowena also hosts her own show from 5-6am weekdays and crosses into NewstalkZB’s ‘The Hour’ each day to highlight rural issues to an urban audience in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. It’s also not uncommon to see her appearing as either an MC or a reporter at rural events all around the country.
When Jamie’s away MCing conferences or leading Tony Laker’s Farming and Footy tours, you will also hear her hosting the show on her own. This is something she didn’t think she would be capable of two months ago!
So why does Rowena do what she does? Simply because she loves it. She finds each day exciting, rewarding, terrifying and satisfying all at once, but says she couldn’t imagine a job more suited to her dual passions of agriculture and broadcasting.
Don’t tell Jamie Mackay, but she believes she works with one of the best teams in New Zealand. They have access to all the major players in the agricultural world, get to break big stories and showcase New Zealand’s primary industries to urban and rural Kiwis, as well as the world. Rowena says it’s really rewarding when they get to fight for the underdog, or if times are tough, to build morale, like with their ‘Famers are Good Buggers Too’ series in the leadup to last year’s election. The series showcased farmers who were doing great things not only for the economy, but also for the environment at a time when anti-farming sentiment was at its highest.
Rowena says she is honoured to be the first female staff member on the show in 24 years and believes women are an integral part of agriculture, so “It’s damn well time we were represented in rural broadcasting too!”
Rowena’s journey to where she is today may be seen by some as being a sucker for punishment! She says she has always seesawed between broadcasting and farming. It’s just taken 11 years to finally land a role that combines the two! Despite being raised by two teachers, she has always loved farming.
As an enthusiastic nine-year- old, Rowena would get up at 5am in the holidays and trot along behind Poppa (technically her cousin’s father-in- law) in the cowshed teat-spraying. She had names for all the cows (Bluebell, Clara, Daisy, Tom, Dick and Harry…it was years before it clicked that if they were in the milking herd they were all female). She was also known to crawl in the kennels with the dogs and talk away to them.
Fast forward a few years and Rowena’s school holidays and long weekends were spent with her cousins on dairy farms in Rerewhakaaitu, then Maruia.
Her first job at NZME was while she was still studying, not realising she would find her way back there 11 years later!
At one stage Rowena decided to turn her back on radio, to take up a Contract Milking position in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Returning to NZ 18 months later, she continued dairy farming in Taranaki, while still working for NZME on a casual basis. Frequently, that meant milking in the morning, then racing to court to cover a murder trial. She recalls once discovering cow shit in her ear after looking in the court’s bathroom mirror during a recess.
In 2013 she was named the Taranaki Farm Manager of the Year in the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards in what she describes as a pivotal moment in her life. Not only was it a tremendous honour, but the first time she really began to make connections in the rural sector and as a result developed a lot of strong friendships.
A short stint saw Rowena return to NZME briefly in 2014, but she missed farming so much she jumped back to the ag scene as an Farm Solutions Manager for LIC. The company’s 2016 restructure resulted in her again returning to NZME as a Rural Business Development Manager, and then earlier this year she transitioned into her current role.
Rowena remarked “I’ve often called myself NZME’s ‘Boomerang Employee,’ but I won’t be going anywhere this time!”
She describes what she does as her dream job! Every day is different and tests the absolute limits to her abilities…and occasionally her patience! Rowena is constantly being thrown out of her comfort zone to face new challenges head on. However, this resilient AgWoman believes she is just so lucky to work with such an experienced and supportive team that back her 100% and really give her the confidence to give anything a go.
Rowena is “Proud” to be an AgWoman and says, “we bloody punch above our weight”. We couldn’t agree more - Jamie and Lashes sound like they have the most reliable and talented producer that they could ask for. Keep up the great work Rowena and we look forward to hearing your wisdom across the airwaves again soon, even if it is some cheeky pot shots at your team.