Consider her the anti-Martha.
Sure, Robin Swoboda’s return to local television includes plenty of cooking segments and studio guests. But, along with those morning-show staples, there are the outright quirky moments: a man screaming his way through a chest wax, a fake advertisement boasting guests of the show stay at a rundown hotel near the station and — on the day we visit her — an unplanned flash of the host’s winter-white leg during an exercise segment.
“I haven’t shaved them,” Swoboda later says with a trace of embarrassment as she sits down to talk about her career on and off local television, and the circuitous path that has brought her back. “The show is [broadcast] in high definition. I hope nobody saw that.”
Campy, comfortable and off-the-cuff is a good way to describe Fox 8’s “That’s Life,” which premiered in January and pits the longtime local TV favorite against syndicated domestic diva Martha Stewart in the
10 a.m. weekday slot.
Where Martha has a celebrity guest host, Swoboda has a “counter crew” of studio visitors and a miniature schnauzer who freely roams the set. While Martha inhabits a flawless television environment, Swoboda wants to bring real life into her viewers’ homes.
“People can watch Martha Stewart for perfection,” she declares. “We have something far more exciting to offer.”
The 48-year-old mother of three made a name for herself here during the mid-1980s as co-anchor of WJW’s 6 and
11 p.m. newscasts. She left in 1991 after the Cleveland Browns released her husband, punter Bryan Wagner, and he signed with the New England Patriots. When the family returned to Cleveland following Wagner’s 1995 retirement from the NFL, Swoboda reappeared on Fox 8’s 6 p.m. newscast, but left the job three years later so she could be home when her first-grader returned from school.
But by the end of 1998, Swoboda was back on the air as co-host of NewsChannel5’s “The Morning Exchange” to help pay the bills after her husband left his post-football career as a financial planner to earn a teaching certificate. When the long-running morning show ended in 1999, Swoboda was moved to the co-anchor’s chair on the station’s 11 p.m. newscast, only to relinquish it a year later.
“It was not worth the generous six-figure salary,” she says of the late-night experience. “I was tired in the morning, and I wasn’t home at night.” A gig at 95.5 FM The Fish as a morning-drive personality, which Swoboda took in 2002, fit the family’s schedule perfectly, until the children switched to a school with a later start time than the Brunswick system where Wagner worked as a physical-education teacher. Swoboda again gave her notice so she could get the kids ready each morning.
Then last spring, Fox 8 approached her about hosting a morning show geared primarily toward women — “an hour of learning stuff, laughing and hanging out with really neat people” while the kids were at school. She says it’s an on-air job that allows her to cut loose and just be herself.
“I’m very grateful for all the years I had in news,” Swoboda says, “but I liked this better.” She says she came up with the show’s name based on the ups and downs everyone faces, noting she is no exception.
“I’ve had great, high-profile, high-paying jobs, and I’ve sold my jewelry just to pay bills,” she says. “I’ve been thin, I’ve been not-so-thin. I’ve had a big house, a little house. That’s life, and that’s what the show is about.” — Lynne Thompson