PERHAM, Minn. - He was a small-town boy with big-time dreams … and now the self-made man is changing course.
Cory Hepola, a Perham native, is leaving his weekend anchor position at KARE 11 in Minneapolis to start his own radio program from 9 a.m. to noon on WCCO Radio in January.
Hepola, 37, wrote down his goal to work on-air in Minneapolis when he was in middle school in Perham and kept it on his bedroom wall throughout high school and college. “I kept it as a reminder of where do I want to go? What’s the bigger purpose? And to always have a positive attitude,” he said.
“Cory is one of the hardest-working, goal-setting, individual kids I’ve ever been in contact with,” said Perham basketball coach David Cresap of his former player.
After Hepola didn’t make the top team as an eighth-grader, he told Cresap he’d be the conference MVP by the time he graduated. Five years later, that happened. Hepola always said he wanted to be a high-level newspaper or TV guy, Cresap said. “Sure enough, he reached his goals. He’s a top-notch kid. Top notch.”
The perseverance he showed in high school helped him keep his head up while he navigated numerous ups and downs in his career. It took hundreds of applications, including an estimated 350 rejections, two layoffs and stops at stations in Fargo, Montana, New York and Texas before achieving his dream to work in Minneapolis. Along the way he asked himself if he’d already peaked and if it was time to look for something else.
“Fear can keep us from our destiny and our full potential and to keep us from helping others,” he said. “The only thing we have to fear is those internal, negative thoughts. We are good enough.”
Hepola’s mom, Diane, has a memory of her son exercising his journalistic talents early on. After his little cousin got a microphone and recorder for Christmas, Hepola took it and interviewed everyone while they opened gifts, asking what they got and what their favorite was.
“It was pretty crazy to look back at how he just grabbed that up,” she said. “He always liked having the microphone.”
Diane said Perham is really good at encouraging and supporting the young people in town. “He always felt that growing up,” she said. “You can have your parents to support you, but when there’s people out there in the community, that’s huge.”
Erin Anderson, Perham's athletic director and Hepola’s former youth director, said the energetic Hepola has always been very driven. “From a young age he’s someone who had his mind set on certain goals and was driven to excellence,” Anderson said. “He has great passion in everything he sets his mind to.”
After co-anchoring with his wife Camille at KARE for four years, WCCO Radio reached out with the opportunity to take over for the retiring John Hines. “I could’ve played it safe, and I could’ve just said I’ve had a great career and let’s see how this goes,” Hepola said. “Isn’t it better to be interesting? Isn't it better to take chances and take risks and go, ‘You know what, I have something more to offer in a different way?’ It’s all for an authentic purpose, so let’s go for it.”
Hepola says working alongside Camille was a lot of fun, but he’s looking forward to a different schedule. After being together for over 11 years Cory and Camille have never had the same day off. “I’m very pumped,” he says about the prospect of spending more time with each other outside the office and with their 4-year-old and 2½-year-old twins.
But for now, there are no new sticky notes on his wall that declare something other than what lies straight ahead of him. Hepola said now his goals are focused on WCCO.
“I want to be able to make a difference,” he said. “I have this vision for where we want to go at WCCO radio, not only to inform and inspire. We want to be able to try new things and do things differently and be creative.” Hepola said his show won’t just exist over the airwaves; his themed content will be available on a variety of platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and podcasts.
Hepola envisions his radio show bringing in many different voices and covering a wide range of topics, but unlike many radio or TV personalities, he will not play into controversy or fuel flames for ratings. Being a man of faith, he said he has got a bigger and more noble goal of bringing people together and making a positive impact through his job.
“If you’re looking for divisive, that’s not me,” he said. “We’re coming to a tipping point in our country, people are exhausted by fighting and extremes we’re getting to.”
Hepola would tell anyone in Perham looking up to him now to dream big. “Nothing worthwhile comes easy,” he said. “Go out there with a positive attitude every day and to learn and be creative. You might set in your mind ‘this is what I have to do’. As you go along that may change and your goals might change along the way, too. Don’t just think these are the rules. You got to think outside the box.”
And as Hepola prepares to hit the radio airwaves under the WCCO call letters he grew up idolizing, he’s excited that the gig will allow him more room to be him — the ultra-positive, driven, substantive leader that he hopes can make a difference in the state and the town he loves.
“It means even more being from the state,” he said. “I need to get the state of Minnesota tattooed on my arm and have a little star where Perham is at. I love it so much,” he said “It’s because of the people here. I love coming home.”
Hepola is on KARE 11 every Saturday and Sunday at 5, 6, and 10 p.m. Beginning Jan. 7, he can be found from 9 a.m. to noon on WCCO Radio, which also streams live online for those outside the broadcast area.