Celebrity News

Sunrise host David Koch reflects on his enduring legacy – and the moment it almost came undone

‘It’s the job of a lifetime'.
Loading the player...

His name is synonymous with Sunrise, but when he started on the show 21 years ago, David “Kochie” Koch was barely hanging onto his job.

Speaking to TV WEEK after announcing he was leaving the popular breakfast program, the co-host reveals he was almost fired for trying to change the structure of the show. It was the early 2000s and Sunrise was struggling to get off the ground.

He is leaving Sunrise after 21 years.

(Image: Instagram)

They had only a five per cent share of rival Today’s audience and hadn’t quite figured out how to bring the show to life.

“No-one watched us, not even the executives,” Kochie, 67, remembers. “Our offices were in a demountable in the car park. But it allowed us to experiment, fail and experiment again.”

Kochie was a finance reporter and had no intention of continuing with the show when his three-month contract expired. He’d agreed to fill in when host Chris Reason fell ill, but a spike in viewer ratings led to him being offered the position full-time.

It wasn’t an easy sell – “I didn’t care that much about doing it because it was a straight reading show,” he says – but with the prospect of Melissa Doyle joining the show, and a new producer, Kochie saw an opportunity.

Kochie saw an opportunity with Melissa.

(Image: Instagram)

He even dared to ask for a bonus when Sunrise achieved 50 per cent of Today’s audience, followed by another when they beat them.

“It took seven months to reach 50 per cent and 15 to 18 months to beat them,” he says proudly. “We always knew we could develop a show that was special.”

The team then agreed to change the introduction of the show to “Sunrise with Mel and Kochie”, dropping their surnames and formalities. But Kochie’s determination wasn’t well received.

“We almost shook up the culture of Channel Seven, because there was a huge pushback,” he says of changing the introduction. “The news director at the time had a conniption, claiming we were undermining the news brand of Seven. We had to fight to keep it.

“Twelve months later, the managing director [at the time] said I had too much of an opinion and recommended to the board that they sack me. Kerry and Ryan Stokes [the father and son who ran Channel Seven] overruled it.”

Loading the player...

In 2003, newsreader Natalie Barr and sports presenter Mark Beretta joined the show and have been there ever since. As he calls time on “the best job in the world”, Kochie says they’re the ones he’ll miss most.

When the shock news of his stepping down broke, messages of support poured in from his colleagues, rival networks and the public.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Kochie says. “Nat describes me as an older brother – and I still see Mel regularly. [Today host] Karl Stefanovic sent a classy, respectful note, which is a reflection of the human he is. There’s always been a strong rivalry between Sunrise and Today, but an enormous respect too. It’s been nice.”

During his time on Sunrise, Kochie has experienced more than most. From co-hosting the show with US pop star Katy Perry (“the most gorgeous lady”) and broadcasting from Antarctica, to being on the ground for the retrieval of the two trapped miners in Beaconsfield in 2006 and in the war zones of Iraq, his list of achievements is long.

Kochie got to meet Katy Perry.

(Image: Instagram)

But perhaps it’s the stories behind the camera he’ll remember most, such as his involvement with Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off The Streets program that came about after the 2005 riots in Sydney’s Macquarie Fields. Then there are the chance encounters that led to big things.

“On a plane to Bundaberg [in Queensland], I was sitting next to a young man who had cerebral palsy,” Kochie recalls. “And as a result of that conversation, I introduced him to Paralympian Kurt Fearnley. Now, that man, Rheed McCracken, has won multiple medals at several Paralympics [in wheelchair racing].”

But for all of his achievements, it came with sacrifice too. Kochie admits that “TV strips you bare” of anonymity and that not everyone who watches him is a fan.

“We get lots of physical threats,” he says. “I’ve been stalked by bikies to the point where police had to patrol the house. That particular bikie was shot in a gangland war. But it goes with having a profile. It’s the physical vulnerability that you sometimes get nervous about.”

Kochie in the war zones of Iraq.

(Image: Instagram)

Kochie says his wife Libby and their children – Brianna, Alexander, Samantha and Georgina – have shown him a life removed from the public glare.

“I was in my mid-forties when I took this job, so I’ve lived a full life before TV,” he says. “I have a close group of friends, four kids – who are all married now – and eight grandchildren. I’m married to a lady who is the greatest nurturer and has no interest in TV. [Laughs]. You can easily get sucked into the bubble, but my family has ensured that doesn’t happen.”

With a future of flexibility on the horizon, Kochie is excited to work “business hours” and put his focus into other ventures, such as the Port Adelaide Football Club, of which he’s chairman, and his finance and media businesses.

“Also, Lib and I are at that age where if we want to take a few months off to travel, we can,” he says. “It’s important, at this stage of my life, that we make the most of it.”

Loading the player...

Kochie already has advice for his successor, who he laughs will be “younger and better looking than me”.

“You’ll get people who love you and those who dislike you, but always stay true to yourself,” he says. “You’re in people’s lives for more than three hours every morning. You can’t fake anything, or an opinion, because you’ll get found out.”

As the sun sets on his time on Sunrise, Kochie has no regrets about signing off.

“I’ve loved doing this and am incredibly proud of it,” he says. “I’ve always acknowledged that the show isn’t dependant on one person – it’s much bigger than that. It feels like the right time to step away, but I will be forever grateful.”

Related stories