Working The Waves: an interview with Sarah Pepper of Hot 95.7

The Collegian’s Entertainment editor, Femi Aborisade, recently had the opportunity to interview a few local radio personalities. He met with Sarah Pepper of HOT 95.7 and Corey Foley and Greg Thunder, hosts of the morning show, “The Foley & Thunder Show” on 100.3 The Bull. 


Femi: You are the morning radio host for Hot 95.7, right? Femi: What is the name of your show?

Pepper: It is the Hot Show with P.K., Sarah Pepper and Ivan.

Femi: What sort of flavor do you bring to the radio?

Pepper: I think I bring honesty, humor, and a little bit of spunk. I have always had that since I was a little kid. Having a genuine, honest personality is just who I am. The biggest compliment I get is, “You sound exactly you like you do on the radio!” I think that is a huge compliment because it means who I am in my regular life is exactly who I am on the radio.

Femi:  You have a program where you ask people what they are doing or have seen in the courtroom?

Pepper: It is called “What you doing at the courthouse?” and I have been doing it for ten years, which is a long, long time.

Femi: What is the craziest thing you have heard someone do in the courtroom?

Pepper: They are all pretty crazy. My favorite was a man who claimed he was bitten by a brown recluse spider… That is his story and he is sticking to it. Whether he was genuinely bitten by a spider or just on drugs, we do not know. He passed out at a fast-food restaurant and the next thing he knew, he woke up in jail; he blames the spider. True story.

Femi: You also have a segment where you help people with bills?

Pepper: Yes, I pay bills. People can submit them online and, if they call back within the allotted time after I announce their name, their bill is paid.

Femi: Wow! How much money do you think you have given out?

Pepper: Oh, gosh. That is a really good question. I am not sure. Lots… I do not balance that checkbook, which is a bonus. We have been paying bills now for years; the station launched five years ago, and we have been paying bills for three and a half years, I think.  It has been a long time.

Femi: You started in Indiana, right?

Pepper: I did. I graduated from Bolsa University, which is where David Letterman went to school. I went to the Letterman School of Communications. I tried to split my time in college working a lot, so I didn’t get an internship because I was paying for my own education.  When I got back to Indiana, no one would hire me because I had no experience. I could not get experience without getting a job first, so I went back to waiting tables.

One Sunday night, a man came in with his wife about fifty minutes before we closed. “You have got to be kidding me,” I thought as I carded him, only because I card everyone. When I did, I saw he was from New Orleans, Louisiana. I asked him what he was doing in Evansville, Indiana, and he said he had come in to re-launch a radio station. I said, “Oh, that’s fantastic! Which one?” and he named a radio station that was not very well known in town.

It had kind of gone downhill, and I was like, “I am going to give you the best advice: Get back in your car and drive back to Louisiana, because this is not going to work.” He enjoyed the fact that I was brutally honest, and we joked back and forth like old friends.  He gave me his cell phone number, I called him, and I had a job interview scheduled for that next Thursday. I cut pizzas on Thursdays and Fridays, though, so when I went to my interview, I had my kitchen outfit on, complete with pizza sauce stains and bit of sausage.

Feb11 was my first day as a producer of the Booker and Diane Show on the Hot 96 in Evansville, Indiana. From there, I worked my way to being the producer, to being the promotions director; I left for a little bit and was the entertainment reporter for NBC; I went back to Indiana as the morning show co-host, and then the producer and I both moved to Houston and were together for eight years.

Femi: Does Indiana have a special set of radio reporters or entertainment people?

Pepper: No, Indiana is basically set up the same way Houston is, only it is a bunch of smaller markets. I came from a city of a 127,000 to a city of millions; there were more people at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo than residents in my hometown. I mean, I graduated eighth grade with fifteen other people; it was a very, very small town. Everyone knew everyone, so the first day I was on the radio, everyone was calling my mom at home: “Cindy, your daughter is on the radio!”

It was really hard to leave that because it was the comfort I grew up in; I was a hometown kid. It is hard to leave and start somewhere new, but Houston has been amazing about opening their doors with open arms. I feel like I should have been born a Texan because I love this city so much.

Femi: So what is the best thing about being a Texan?

Pepper: The best things about being a Texan are the Houston Texans, Dynamo, the Houston Astros, and the other sports in this town. I am a huge sports fanatic and I played sports all my life, so I love going to the games and I love being a part it; there is always something to do. If you are bored in this town, it is because you are not looking hard enough; there is always something to do here. There is always somewhere amazing to eat, and I discover new restaurants all the time. I just discovered Shade, actually! Have you ever eaten there? Shade is in the Heights and it has the best scallops on this corn stuff! The dish has a fancy name, so I knew it was going to be good. Shade is amazing; one of the best meals I have ever had in Houston.

Femi: Wow, okay. Have you been to Torchy’s?

Pepper: Torchy’s Tacos? I love Torchy’s Tacos! I have my friends drop me off there because it is so hard to find parking there. You seriously have to drive around to find a parking space. My friends drop me off at the door, I order the food, and they find a spot to park. I love it there, I go about three or four times a month.

Pepper: Oh, I haven’t had that. That is how you know Houston food is good, though: they put it in a vehicle and just follow you around. That is how you know how good it is. Eat it now!

Femi: What is your favorite genre of music?

Pepper: That is a crazy question! I ride the MS 150 every year and, because I have an external speaker, I will just plug my iPod and listen to different songs. I will switch the music from Tim McGraw, to Lady Gaga, to a Christian rock song, to something else, and people that are riding next to me will look over be like, “What is going on?” I love FUN, though; if I had to pick one artist right now, it would be FUN. “Carry On” might just be one of my favorite songs.

Femi: Interesting thing: I heard that “We Are Young” was initially going to be used by Kanye West.

Pepper: Really? I have not heard that. See? You taught me something!

Femi: Yeah! He wrote that song for Kanye West first–

Pepper: And then?

Femi:  Kanye did not like it, so he gave it to FUN.

Pepper: And that is how FUN. got it.  I love that song.

Femi:  It is pretty interesting. Do you have any other musical interests?

Pepper: Every type of music! From classical music to rap, to hip hop, to Katy Perry, to Imagine Dragons, to David Matthews. I love Dave Matthews; I love all of it. I have just always loved music.

Femi: Have you met any of them?

Pepper: I have never met Dave Matthews, but he is on my list. I have met FUN and they were amazing. I get to go to the Grammys every year because CBS is nice enough to send me to cover the Grammys on Radio Row. I have met a lot of interesting artists there, most of whom become huge a year or so after I meet them.

Femi: What is the greatest thing about being a radio host?

Pepper: The greatest thing about being a radio host is that you are actually in the Staples Center. You are doing your broadcast at a table like the one we are at now and you can hear Paul McCartney rehearsing for the show fifteen feet away. You get to hear everyone rehearsing, and you are a part of that entire week. Plus, I love music and I love what I do, so being able to experience both is awesome. I often have long, twelve-hour days, and then have to get up and do the show. In the mornings I have to be up 2 a.m. because I have to do the show, but it is totally worth it, especially when you get to go to the Grammys.

I think the greatest moment for an artist is when you are sitting at a concert and you can see what their music means to them. I saw this with Adam Levine when he was here with Maroon 5, actually. He was standing on stage, singing, and the audience started to sing back to him. You could tell it caught him off-guard, and he just kind of looked up… I think at that moment, he was reminded that he was no longer a kid practicing in the garage, hoping people would sing his songs one day; in that moment, 18,000 people were singing his song.

Moments like that get me every time. When people sing an artist’s words back to them, it gives me goose bumps; I think that is one of my favorite parts of the show. I saw Bruno Mars when he was here for the rodeo, and it was the same way. Those artists are just kids who dreamed like all of us did; the only difference is that they get to live their dream every day. Femi: You do some philanthropic work, correct?

Pepper: I do a lot of charity work.

Femi: I know you participate in the MS 150.

Pepper: I do participate in the MS 150. My good friend’s sister has Multiple Sclerosis, but I also did it because I thought it would be a good ride and a fun experience. I just ran the half-marathon for Bo’s Place here in Houston, an organization I became associated with after my brother passed away in 2010. I thought it would be something good, and right after that was the MS 150. My riding partner, Blake Hayes [from Mix 96.5], and I do the ride together every year, and by “do it every year,” I mean “we start out together and then, because he is super athletic, he kind of takes off.” He always waits for me at lunch, though, which is very sweet of him.

Femi: That is very sweet of him.

Pepper: Yeah, I love Blake. The MS 150 is a really fun ride, though; you meet a lot of people. There are around 30,000 people on the 187-mile road to Austin. The feeling you get when you finally make it to Austin is the closest I will ever feel to being an Olympic athlete. It is very cool.

Femi:  Have you done any others?

Pepper: I help the Leukemia Lymphoma society, and I was the woman of the year in 2012. I raised 50,000 dollars and promised that I would shave my head. I always try to keep good on my promises, so 20 women from the Houston area, Ivan, our producer, Blake, and I shaved our heads for Locks Of Love; I talked most of them into it when they got here, and all twenty-three of us left this room bald.

Femi: How long ago was this?

Pepper: I did this June 7, 2012, and I kept it short because I am still on the nominating committee for Woman of the Year. I had a candidate this year who raised 64,000 dollars and I think the winner raised 138,000 dollars. The total amount of money raised this year was around 910,000 dollars, I believe.

I support this organization because I lost an aunt to Leukemia when I was fifteen years old. You get a grant in your name if you raise fifty thousand dollars, so when I reached that level, I named the grant after my aunt in honor of her death. I also work with Susan G. Coleman Race for a Cure, as well as March of the Dimes because my niece was a two-pound baby. I try to do a lot of stuff for Houston because Houston does a lot for me.

They get up and spend every morning with me, so the least I can do is help them out; I have been given an opportunity and a voice, so I use it the best way I possibly can. I slept at IKEA for an entire weekend to collect toys for Toys for Tots, and we finally reached our goal of 30,000 toys at about 5 p.m. that Sunday.

Femi: Was it one of those benefits where you are in front of a huge pane of glass?

Pepper: Yeah! It was like I was a cow at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and I did an entire broadcast out there the entire time. They set me up with a whole room full of IKEA furniture I didn’t have to put together, and I was even able to bring my dog with me. I had Swedish meatballs to my little heart’s desire because IKEA bought me food everyday. Overall, it was a really fun and amazing experience.


Entertainment, Featured