It’s been 14 years since they were heard on Perth radio but Zara and Troy Swindells-Grose still get recognised. The couple, together for 28 years, were two-thirds of the Zara, Troy and Bernie (Brittain) show on Hit 92.9 (formerly PMFM) in the early 2000s.
Nowadays they are based in Melbourne, and speak at events across the country with their businesses Humour Australia and Great Talk, and say fans still approach them.
“We still, all of these years later, get birthday presents from listeners and people still stay in contact with us,” Zara told AAA Weekend.
The trio were tasked with replacing Gary Shannon, who had been on air for more than two decades before, and co-host Jane Marwick.
“I thought we’d get welcomed with open arms but it wasn’t quite that,” Zara said.
“People were a bit like ‘Who are these monkeys?’... We dropped in our first ratings to seventh position and we fought for every point to get it back. It took a good 18 months until we were in a good position and then another year until we were No. 1 in our demo.”
Zara says the show’s success was because they shared the “good, bad and the ugly” of their lives. But behind the show’s characters “Pierre the angry Frenchman” and “Moondoggie from Mullaloo” the pair have disclosed challenges with management.
Zara revealed she would sit in the car crying some mornings because of the workplace culture at the time.
“It was very tough,” Troy said.
“I took everything personally because I wanted it to be a brilliant show that the community really felt connected to,” Zara added. “ Back then it wasn’t great. In our four years we had eight different bosses.”
“That was immediate bosses — the program directors,” Troy said.
Zara added: “Each one was like ‘Right I’m going to change everything, I’m going to fix it’. And you’re kind of there going ‘Well it’s going all right actually’.”
“I don’t know what it’s like now, ” Troy said. “But it seems if you had a win it was all down to management, but if you had a loss it was all you.”
One of their most remarkable moments was being on air during the 2002 Bali bombings.
“When the Bali bombings happened all of the parents, of those kids who lost their lives had no where else to go in Perth,” Zara said.
“They didn’t know what to do and they came and spent the entire week at the radio station and we just sat with them. We got hundreds of emails every week of people just in desperate need ... I felt really overwhelmed by that because you can’t help everyone.”
“People (felt) like they are reaching out to you, they don’t understand the layers of management, politics behind the scenes that you have to fight through to get things done,” Troy said.
Despite lucrative salaries, they resigned, admitting they “lost their sense of humour”.
“We’d just gotten tired of the struggle, of the constant push against and the push back. And we went ‘We can’t do this any more, it’s not good for our health’,” Troy said.
“I remember the moment I was lying on the floor in the lounge room and I went ‘We’ve got to quit and we’ve got to do it tomorrow’. It felt like such a moment of clarity,” Zara added.
Troy said their last 12 months were quite “adversarial”.
“I don’t know how much I want people to know about this,” Zara said. “When you quit, normally you go ‘I’m quitting and I finish next week and you’re out of the building’. We gave them a year’s notice and we couldn’t tell anyone.”
“They’d come in and go ‘OK you launch this big promotion tomorrow’, stuff you’d normally be involved in, all of a sudden they were just dictating,” Troy said.
Zara confronted the general manager at the time Gary Roberts for only taking out the Mix 94.5 team for ratings lunches.
Despite the challenges, they said they loved the job and weren’t pointing fingers. “It takes two to tango. It’s 50-50,” Troy said, who suffered clinical depression for two years after. “We definitely struggled psychologically for a while and I think a lot of it comes down to youth. I turned 30 on air in Perth and I’ve just turned 48 this week.”
Their new gig, Great Talk, delivering inspirational talks, can change everything.
“One Great Talk might’ve completely changed the direction of our lives and we would still be doing the job we loved which is radio and working with the community,” Zara said. Krystal Sanders