FeaturesPride in the Media

PRIDE IN THE MEDIA: Drive-Time DJ

Sarah Pepper mixes motherhood with her top-rated morning show.

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Pride in the Media is an ongoing series on local LGBTQ media personalities and ally representatives of queer-affirming local media outlets.

For 11 years now, Sarah Pepper has been helping her radio audience endure the horrors of Houston’s morning rush hours. There’s little question why the on-air personality at several top stations has been her listeners’ first choice to help launch their new day. Pepper is energy, honesty, and charisma incarnate.

A morning drive-time DJ is not the job for a chill Austin-esque sort, or a phlegmatic personality. Pepper has been successful largely because she is a blazing beam of sunshine in Houston’s pre-dawn hours—sort of an on-air shot of espresso for sleepy morning commuters.

Pepper grew up in Evansville, Indiana, in a single-parent household with two siblings. Never once does Pepper recall hearing her mom complain as she struggled to put all three children through private school. Her mother provided the model for Pepper’s own energy, good temper, and work ethic.

Following graduation from high school, Pepper studied at Ball State University’s Department of Communications in Muncie, Indiana, where David Letterman is an alumnus. Pepper worked every job she could secure, including several waitressing jobs, to put herself through.

In 2008, she was offered a position at a radio station in Houston. She snapped it up and never looked back.

“I love Houston and Houstonians. The city is so welcoming, and the people are so accepting. It is a great city for anyone in the LGBTQ community. It is a great place for all people. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” she states.

Her latest on-air gig is at Mix 96.5 KHMX’s The Morning Mix, which airs Monday through Friday starting at 5:30 a.m. In early April of this year, she took a leave of absence to rest and recover from a severe respiratory infection. That was followed by the early arrival of her baby girl, Parker Drew Pepper.

As a self-identified sexually non-conforming woman (“I am not a fan of labels,” she says), there is no wife or husband in Pepper’s foreseeable future. More important to this radio personality is her new baby that now commands all of her time.

“While I was still pregnant, a girlfriend and I had lunch. She had children already, and explained a mother’s love to me like this: ‘When you have a baby, you’ll find that your heart now lives on the outside of your body.’ My friend was so very right,” Pepper says.

Still, her journey to motherhood was not easy. Pepper wanted to be a mom, but time was flying by. In her late 20s,  the avid child advocate started to meet with adoption agencies and foster-care providers. She decided on a medically assisted pregnancy using in vitro fertilization (IVF). During IVF, a woman’s harvested egg is fertilized outside her body with donor sperm and then returned to the uterus by a trained physician.

“I decided to do IVF because I [had always] felt that I wanted to be a mother. I figured I would be married and have children by age 35. That is not the way things panned out,” Pepper stated.

In 2015, she had her first IVF implant. The attempt failed, but she then became pregnant on her second try. Fifteen weeks later the mom-to-be miscarried, and it devastated her.

While deeply personal losses such as this are normally private events, Pepper’s natural honesty compelled her to share the journey with her listeners. In less than a week, she heard from thousands of them—men and women—who had been through similar trials and losses. Each message gave her courage and cheered her on. Collectively, they inspired her to keep trying.

It took nearly three years, but in 2018, she was finally pregnant again.  Pepper kept her listeners fully informed all along her rocky road to motherhood. Many of those listeners have become her close friends.

What did she learn from it all? “I’ve always loved my mother, but this has made me love her ten time more!” she states, laughing.

“I have done some difficult things in my life, but being pregnant has been the hardest thing by far. It’s a whole new level of tired—and a new level of chronic back pain. I understand that there is joy, too, but I have a new respect for any woman who has ever carried and delivered a child.

“You women are rock stars!” she tells her radio audience. “You all are my heroes! They should erect statues to every one of you. And the men, too—so are the men who have helped with it all!

“And another thing,” Pepper continued, “you store owners who have ‘Expectant Mom’ parking spaces in front of your locations, a lot of people don’t realize how hard those extra steps can be. I promise, you store owners will have my business for life!”

As young Parker Pepper approaches her second month of life, we look forward to the on-air return of Sarah Pepper. The date has not yet been determined, but Pepper’s listeners can be sure that they will all share in the next leg of her journey through motherhood. By all accounts, it will be a great one. 

This article appears in the June 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Kim Hogstrom

Kim Hogstrom is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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