It’s clear when you spend time with Tanya Wilks and Steve Graham that the KOFM breakfast announcers enjoy what they do – and who they do it with. Conversations are punctuated with laughter, anecdotes flow freely and the esteem in which they hold each other shines clearly through their answers.
On the eve of KOFM’s relocation to a new state-of-the-art facility at Honeysuckle on June 26, intouch Magazine sat down with the Newcastle radio stalwarts to find out more about life behind the microphone, why they love being on air – and just what it’s like to wear man nappies!
intouch: Hi Tanya and Steve, thanks for taking time out to have a chat today. Both of you have been on the air for decades now, at various radio stations and with a number of different cohosts. But how did you get your start in radio in the first place?
Tanya: I did work experience from Raymond Terrace High to 2HD because I wanted to be a journalist, so they let me play around in the newsroom. I kept coming back on holidays and they eventually let me stay. A lot of harassing, but I got the job, straight out of school.
I always wanted to do radio. I had a little Coke bottle radio that my Nan gave me and I used to take it into bed and listen to it and I was just fascinated that people could be all over the place and tell you what they were seeing and that honestly impacted me. Being in Raymond Terrace, I thought a big day
out was crossing over the river into Newcastle, so to hear voices from all over, I was fascinated by it.
I started in the newsroom and I was the copywriter, they called it the creative writer back then… but my first on-air show was a night time request show when I was 17.
Steve: People still talk about it (laughs), I can’t repeat what they say, but people still talk about it.
Tanya: But being 2HD, I had to keep ringing my Mum or my Nan going ‘What is this song, who sings this song?’ – I didn’t know what they were talking about, there was no INXS requested let me tell you.
Steve: That is such a hard thing to believe, that at 17 you were broadcasting to a 50-plus audience basically, wow. Tanya: The amount of covered coat hangers I would get for Christmas was brilliant, loved it (laughs).
intouch: How did you find the age gap between you and your listener demographic?
Tanya: It probably should have been more challenging than it was, but I was more focused on doing what I wanted to do, so that was exciting. I had no idea half the stuff I was talking about or playing.
But I think finally we’re in the best possible place for both of us now, it’s great, our audience is us. We’ve met in the middle because I was old (listener demographic), Steve came from young (NXFM) and we’ve met at a perfect time in life.
intouch: How did you get into radio Steve?
Steve: I’m a late bloomer, I was about 25. I’m a professional fisherman by trade, I owned a trawler at 21, I bought it off my dad, it was a family business in Brisbane. And then I realised, cause I left school early, that I’d done about seven or eight years working 365 days and I thought there must be something else out there and I literally came home to Mum and Dad and said ‘I’m going to sell the trawler and move to Mackay’ and they said ‘Why?’ and I didn’t have an answer for either.
And that’s literally what I did, we sold it, and I got that money, and I moved up to Mackay because I had one friend that lived there. I bagged fertiliser, and I worked in Just Jeans shops, I did all of this sort of thing and then one night I was at a pub, and all of my mates said ‘Do that stuff you do at work’ because they had a talent thing, you’d win a six pack. I got up on stage and I was supposed to do five minutes - they had to drag me off after about an hour - and in the crowd was the guy who owned the local radio station and he walked up to me and said ‘Mate you’ve done this before, have you done any radio?’
I went ‘Of course I had’ – I had no idea. Then I went into the radio station and did some audition tapes and I never heard back from them again (laughs)… I can’t imagine how bad I must have been because I had no idea. After that I moved back to Brisbane and I saw this ad that said ‘Air TV’ and it was a radio course or something. I thought I liked that experience (in Mackay), I’ll go and do that. I was in the course, it was a three month course and in the first month they got me a job at 4GY in Gympie doing nights. I did nights for three weeks, then they put me in drive.
I was in breakfast I think
four months after starting
in radio period because I
was really cocky. It was
called 4GY and I’d always say
‘You’re listening to 4G-why
am I still here?’ because
I hated Gympie and that
to work in my favour.
It still does.
I never dreamed I would be in radio, not for a second, never even crossed my world and here I am.
intouch: What is it that both of you really love about radio?
Tanya: I’ve always loved the immediacy and being able to communicate anything, everywhere with anyone. To me, TV, what a hassle, print takes its time whereas radio, the immediacy has always been so appealing.
One minute this morning we’re in London, then we’re over in Perth with old people that used to be on an ad on TV, but I love that.
Steve: From a breakfast show point of view it’s like having coffee with your friends but there just happens to be 150,000 friends at the table. And that’s kind of a bit like what it’s like because the audience are on our show a lot with phones and things like that, that’s what I love about it.
Social media makes us far more accessible now, they’ll write to us right after we’ve said something, it’s very much more accessible these days than 10 years ago, we used to cross our fingers didn’t we, ‘Hope that worked!’
Tanya: Another situation this morning we were talking about, straight away listeners were contacting us via various social media platforms going, ‘Hey guys, heard you talking about this, how about this, I’ve got this or I can do this’ so the connectedness that social media brings has just lifted radio, which is why I think it’s even more relevant than it’s ever been to be quite honest.
Steve: You can get music from anywhere, but you can only get the people you like to listen to (on radio), that’s it, that’s the only difference between the whole world now. I think radio and shows and personalities, that’s your only point of difference now.
intouch: Radio is a lot about personalities and how well the hosts mix with each other. How hard is it to get that chemistry right?
Steve: It’s been embarrassingly easy for us, it really has. We knew each other a longtime before we did a show together but it’s embarrassingly easy to the point where we can look at each other and know what we’re thinking and we did that from the first week.
Tanya: It’s not like that for,
I would say, a majority of teams because they are, like pop groups, some of them are quite manufactured, they probably don’t want to be working with the person they are working with, so it’s quite forced and it comes through.
Whereas as Steve said we knew each other, we liked each other, we got along really well and had fun outside of radio so it was like a glove, really easy.
Steve: We surprise ourselves still now though with how in-tune we are.
intouch: Why do you think you work so well together on air?
Steve: I think and I was actually thinking about this last week, what I like in this partnership s that Tanya’s brought out in me something that I’ve never done in radio before and I think I’ve brought out something in Tanya that she’s never been. So what I think our partnership has done is I can get a bit deeper into things now, or I can talk a bit more newsy now and Tanya’s brought that out of me. I’ve probably brought out the stupid in Tanya (laughs), but I mean that in a really nice way, like just be silly, come on. Not that (Tanya wasn’t) before and not that I didn’t do serious before but I think we’ve brought out the best in each other of that.
intouch: How much of your conversations on air and the topics you cover are planned beforehand?
Steve: I think it’s about 70-30 (unplanned to planned) because that’s how in- tune we are, I’ll look and just go ‘I’ve got this thing’ ands he’ll say ‘Ok, cool’, because of our trust.
Tanya: It’s that word, trust, that exists between us, you have to trust the person, and we do, to know that they’re going to go in a direction and you can follow through.
Steve: Follow through, that’s it, it’s like supporting, it’s like backing each other, if you’re going there I’ll come with you, rather than if you planned it - we don’t do this - but in younger teams they’ll plan a break and then if someone wanders off they spend too much time worrying about the fact they’ve
wandered off, how do you get back to the plan. But then again in fairness we’ve been doing this for so long whereas the younger people have to learn that. It’s trust.
That’s the one thing that breaks my heart that someone might think that (it’s scripted). Sometimes we might have something on the board and the song will be ending and I’ll lean in and say ‘grapes’ or Tanya will go ‘I just saw this’ and I’ll go ‘OK’ because of that trust.
intouch: How long have you been working together as cohosts?
Steve: How long love? (laughs) You know I always forget.
Tanya: This is our fourth year.
intouch: It actually seems like a lot longer than that because of how well you work together.
Steve: That in itself is a great compliment. We’ve said occasionally we shouldn’t take this for granted, not that we do, but sometimes you can. We’re used to having, from a broadcasting point of view, what people can’t buy, or as you said earlier, slap together and pray for, so we shouldn’t take it for granted, it’s good.
intouch: You look at actors, and they obviously have a different personality when they’re in front of the camera. Do you have a different personality in front of the mic?
Steve: Sometimes the boss wishes we did (laughs) – no, we really don’t.
Tanya: Wouldn’t that be exhausting, spending your whole career pretending, I don’t mean in bite-sized piece like actors, I mean for most of your day and then going out and putting that on, no.
Steve: Oh, that would be horrible. Nic, our EP (Executive Producer) says that’s what she is most asked. ‘What are they really like?’ would be the most common question. If you try to be someone else, one day you’ll wake up, and you won’t be, and then you’ll be busted – it’s a really bad path to go down.
intouch: You both seem like you really love what to do and you want to go to work, which is a rare thing to find. How do you feel about having been in this industry for such a long time?
Tanya: That is so true and I think we said it either today or yesterday, how fortunate we are to do what we love with people that we really love and get along with – that’s not crap, we actually love working together and doing our thing. You can’t often say that.
Steve: And because again, back to trust or whatever or because we think alike, there’s never too many issues of ‘I won’t do that on the show’ or ‘I don’t like where this is going,’ we just don’t have them and if we did I think we would be pretty quick to let each other know. So you avoid conflict straight away by just being honest, or, in our case, not knowing what we’re saying, it’s too late anyway (laughs) – I didn’t like what you said then. What that thing back then? All too late isn’t it.
intouch: Finally, do you have one fun memory that sticks out from your time together?
Tanya: Yes! This time last year when we launched Give Me 5 For Kids we did it from atop a very, very tall scissor lift, we were up in the middle of nowhere for the whole morning at Hunter Stadium and they would not bring us down until we reached a certain target of money. And people were brilliant, truckies, mothers, kids were dropping money in our bucket, but because (Steve) drinks a lot of coffee and because he’s got a 40-something-year-old man’s bladder he wore man nappies for the entire show (laughs).
Steve: (deadpan) And it changed my life, I’m wearing them right now, you might have noticed I haven’t gone to the toilet once during this entire interview.
Tanya: Occasionally I’d be yap, yap yap and then I’d think ‘Ok, he’s having a wee’ (laughs).
Steve: (deadpan) It was the greatest day of my life, I wear them to the pub on Friday night now, and people are like ‘How does he do it?'
intouch: Did you talk about that on air?
Steve: Yes, which goes to show that yes, I have no shame. Probably normally you’d think this would be something you’d keep on the quiet – but no, and with Tanya there was no chance. It’s funny, as you asked that question, I can’t (think of a funniest memory because) every day this girl makes me laugh somehow and I mean it, because she’s a nutter…
Tanya: He means that in a nice way.
Steve: And I do, in the way (that) we both think differently, like as much as we’re in-tune we both come from different thought patterns and there’s not a day where, and I mean this off air, that at some stage we haven’t had a belly laugh tear (from laughing) that hard… the funniest moment for me is turning up every day.
Tanya: That’s very sweet, vice versa.
Steve: It’s true though, we laugh everyday, even tired and cranky, somewhere in there (we laugh). I remember I said to Tanya when we started ‘I promise to at least once a day somewhere’ – remember that? –‘make you laugh out loud, somewhere once a day I promise’.
Tanya: You haven’t broken it yet.
Steve: Oh there’s time (laughs), but I got the same in return. Funny moment is everyday. But I’m glad (Tanya) thought of me wearing a nappy for the magazine interview– thanks for that (both laugh uproariously). ■
This is an edited version of an interview intouch Magazine conducted with Tanya and Steve. You can laugh along with the Breakfast team on 102.9 KOFM from 6am weekdays. Many thanks to the people behind the scenes who made it possible for us to have a sneak peek into the amazing new studios and offices at Honeysuckle for our photo shoot. Photos by Brent Leggett & Chris Woolley from Skeye High Photography