WCCO Radio has named KARE 11 weekend anchor Cory Hepola as the new host of its 9-Noon show. He is expected to start on January 7—just days after his final TV broadcast for KARE.
After months of regular fill-ins including Blois Olson and Roshini Rajkumar since veteran radio host John Hines retired, Hepola's announcement comes as a surprise. The Perham, Minn. native worked for television stations around the country, mainly in sports, before landing what he called his dream job with KARE in 2015 and winning his first regional Emmy in 2016. Hepola says the radio opportunity came up quickly, unexpectedly, but just felt right.
“Over the last year, or 18 months, I’ve been trying to figure out where my interests were leading me,” says Hepola. “I just know I want to inspire people. I feel like that’s my larger purpose in life.”
A 94-year-old institution in the market, WCCO Radio continues to be a powerful revenue driver despite its aging audience. The opportunity to help the AM station connect with younger listeners intrigued 37-year-old Hepola. The question is: Can it be done? Is it possible to get the Netflix generation to tune in to AM radio? Hepola says yes—with time, and a heavy does of digital marketing.
“No one is sitting down to just watch TV, listen to radio or read print. They want it all. They’re on YouTube. They’re listening to podcasts on their own time. We need to meet people in their space,” Hepola says, vowing to take WCCO Radio to YouTube as well as Instagram and Snapchat.
The new 9-Noon show will cover a wide range of topics including news, sports, and politics. Hepola—a self-described happy husband, father of three and man of faith—says he will share personal opinions, but won’t pick sides.
“As I’ve looked at the national landscape, all I hear, all I see is divisive talk. I’m tired of that,” Hepola says. “Why can’t we have healthy discussions and talk to each other? We used to do it. We’re going to have rules on my show. The rules are: we’re not coming at each other, we’re not going to yell at each other, we are going to listen, and we’re going to talk this out.”
In a 2017 interview with Twin Cities Business, Hepola shared concerns about the future of local television news as we know it. “I doubt the 30-minute newscast has staying power,” he said. “Local news has staying power. Trusted facts have staying power. Storytelling is timeless.”
Hepola’s wife and former weekend co-anchor Camille Williams left KARE 11 earlier this year, but Hepola says viewers shouldn’t read too much into that.
“It just happened. Camille and I…we’re very ambitious, very driven. It was our dream to work together, and we had a great time. But then we started thinking, what’s next? What other challenges are out there?”
Hepola is not the only television reporter to make the leap to radio recently—he follows WCCO TV anchor and reporter Angela Davis, who left in September to start a new 11 a.m. show on Minnesota Public Radio. It launched yesterday.
Hepola’s non-compete with KARE prevents him from appearing on another television network for 18 months. But we likely haven't seen the last of him, and his perfectly coiffed anchor hair, on the screen.
“I don’t think my television career is over,” Hepola says. “That particular role—the everyday anchor and reporter, that’s over. I think there may be an opportunity for me to do television work, but in a different way. Right now, I’m all in on leading, building content, building a show and marketing and reaching more people. That’s my primary goal.”