Minnesota native Cory Hepola, a weekend anchor on KARE-TV, will depart the station next month to become morning host for WCCO Radio — a signal that the longtime institution is determined to maintain its "Good Neighbor" reputation.
"I told them that if they were looking for someone divisive, then I'm not your guy," Hepola said before Tuesday's official on-air announcement. "I'm going to do a positive show."
The station was purchased last year by Entercom Communications, the nation's second-largest radio network. There had been signs that it was searching for a pot-stirring, perhaps even volatile host to replace the relatively mild-mannered John Hines after he retired in September.
Andy Bloom, hired as WCCO's operations manager in April, had told staffers they needed to work harder to appeal to center-right listeners. Bloom was let go last month.
"There was never a plan to be a more political radio station," WCCO program director Lindsey Peterson said late last week. "Our mission has always been to play both sides. Cory wanted to be in a better position to connect with people. He's excited about taking phone calls on the air. He's an all-around good fit for a station like ours."
"All I ever wanted to do since I was 8 years old was be a TV journalist in the Twin Cities," said Hepola, 37, after laying his three young kids down for a nap. "But I feel like I accomplished everything I ever set out to do on TV. I'm ready for a new challenge. I'm looking forward to really discussing issues rather than just having 90 seconds to share a story."
Hepola is just the latest local TV personality to migrate to radio. Angela Davis, who served as an anchor and reporter at both WCCO and KSTP, started her own morning program this week on Minnesota Public Radio.
Davis also used the term "safe" to describe the space she plans to provide MPR listeners during her 11 a.m. weekday program.
"I'm looking forward to hosting a talk show that explores the issues that keep many of us awake at night, as well as topics that bring joy, laughter and hope," said Davis, who is replacing Tom Weber.
Many talk-radio stations across the country have combated sagging ratings by recruiting political pundits, the vast majority of them identifying themselves as conservatives. Hepola believes in his new employer's decision to stay the course.
"I think the tide is going to shift," said Hepola, who promises a mix of news, pop culture, local business and even science on his program, airing weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. "I think listeners want a place that feels safe, where they can express their thoughts and not be yelled at. That will be the No. 1 focus of this show."
Hepola's last day at KARE will be Jan. 6. He'll start at WCCO the following morning.
A graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., he grew up in Perham, Minn., and worked at stations in Fargo, Montana, New York state and Texas before coming home in 2015 to co-anchor "KARE 11 Sunrise." Last year, he began anchoring the weekend news with his wife, Camille Williams. Hepola said it was coincidental that Williams left the station in October.
Parenting will be a frequent topic on his new program — and don't be surprised if Williams chimes in.
"I should probably ask her first," he said.