How Cory Hepola's past inspired his new direction in radio

"What I've taken from my own career is that people need voices out there that are saying positive things."

Jared Goyette
January 03, 2019 - 8:37 am
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As Cory Hepola prepares to begin his new job as WCCO Radio's newest host Monday, taking over the 9 am to noon slot held by John Hines for most of the last ten years, he expects a lot of support — but also some skepticism from his peers.

"A lot of people are going to be asking me this question — 'You're just hitting your peak in television, coming off winning awards. Why would you make that career choice?'" he said during an interview just before the announcement was made official.

It's not a decision he's making impulsively. Over the last 18 months, Hepola says he grew more frustrated with the divisive nature of our country's politics and media discourse, especially as the midterm elections heated up. He began to think that he might be able to do something different.

When the opportunity for a hosting position at WCCO Radio appeared, he jumped at it. Hepola's a Minnesota native—he graduated from Perham High School,  class of 2000,  and went to Concordia College in Moorhead, graduating with a degree in Communications and Mass Media in 2003. He knows what those call letters represent. "It's iconic in this state, it almost gives me the chills," he said. He also saw it as an opportunity to make his mark in a new way. 

"I think when you look around, for four years now, we look at news/talk radio and it is divisive and it’s people yelling at each other and I think we've hit a tipping point," he said. "People don't want that anymore. I'm tired of this divisive nature. I'm tired of people being angry at each other and yelling at each other.”

He plans to take a different approach.

"People want a spot where they feel like, 'Okay, my voice can be heard,' and why can't we be that? At the end of the day we may disagree, but we're going to both be heard and maybe, just maybe, there's a chance that we’ll agree on things and then we'll also come together."

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Hepola is clearly talented. Those awards he alluded to include two regional Emmys for Outstanding Anchor in 2016 and 2018, with five additional nominations. But, no matter how good he or his plan looks on paper, there is still a chance that he might not be as good at this radio thing as he hopes. Or, his show just may not resonate with audiences in the way he thinks it will. And, as Hepola is well-aware, radio, much like TV, is a tough business. You can be the nicest, hardest-working, most well-liked person in the office, but if your ratings tank, your show will eventually be canceled and there's a good chance you'll be out of a job.

Hepola and his wife Camille have three kids, and he had a successful career in TV, so why would he take the risk at jump to radio? What does he say to all those questions from skeptical friends?

He takes a philosophical approach. "We only get one chance here in life, you know? And isn't it better to do interesting things? I feel like like you don't realize your full potential until you step outside of your comfort zone," he said.

There is also his past to consider. Hepola isn't afraid of the risk of failure because he's been there and worked his way through it. He told me his story in a coffee shop in the Wedge neighborhood of Minneapolis. Hepola looked the part of a TV veteran, dressed sharply in a white shirt, plaid blazer and well-fitting jeans. As he recounted his career path, one moment in particular stood out.

It was during a time when, as a new father, he unexpectedly lost his job and nearly gave up on his career in journalism.

Jared Goyette, WCCO Radio

Corry Hepola and Dave Lee after he appeared to announce his new show on WCCO Radio. 

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In 2012, when Hepola moved to Houston to work at Comcast SportsNet, he thought he was taking his dream job. Media can be can be a fickle, unstable industry to work in, but Hepola had good reason to believe he was on sure ground. The company he worked for had solid backing, as it was a  partnership of Comcast, the Astros and the Rockets. Such regional sports networks had proven successful across the country.

He and his colleagues did good work too, garnering 32 Emmy nominations in two years.

But, as the Houston Chronicle reported, while “quality was high” at the network, the profits were not, with hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. In September of 2014, the company laid off 75 of its 115 employees as part of bankruptcy proceedings, the Chronicle reported, including Hepola.

The timing wasn't good — his son, Cormac, had just been born. In less than a month, Hepola went from being on television everyday to being a stay-at-home dad, changing diapers.

"I had the birth of my first child, which is the most amazing, beautiful moment of my entire life, combined with the worst professional thing that could've ever happened. I got laid off from a dream job," he recalled.

He threw himself into being a dad  — he spent his day feeding his son bottles, playing with him and reading to him. When needed, he rocked him to ease his crying.

He looks back on those moments fondly.

"I'm so thankful for that now, it was such a sweet time and we have such a neat bond because I've been there every single day," he said.

Nap time meant work time, with a baby monitor close by.

"That's when I could get to work on emails and calls. I just kept networking and thinking, ‘Okay, today's my day.’”

As the months ticked by, he started to wonder if it was time for him to reconsider his career path.

"Four or five months in, I started to think that it was getting to the point where I was going to have to take something that could be a large step down that ladder or get out of TV," he said.

But then came interest from KARE 11, and we know how that story turned out.

"When they called, I cried. It was one of the best days of my life. It was like 'We're coming home," he said.

That experience informs what Hepola wants to bring to the WCCO airwaves.     

"My career's been extremely difficult. I felt failures all along the way and there are times when you feel like you just don't want to keep going. Sometimes getting out of bed is like, 'I don't understand and I'm scared and I'm fearful.’”

Hepola continued.  

"What I've taken from my own career is that people need voices out there that are saying positive things, that are saying, 'You can do it. Look, I did it....  I've been through it, I've experienced the same things, and I've had these same feelings.’ And so at the core of what I want to build with this show is that positive, inspiring message."

Follow Cory Hepola on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  And then, while you're are it, also follow WCCO Radio on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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