COLUMBIA — Paul Pepper said it had been a dream of his to host a variety show like "Pepper & Friends" since he was 8 years old.
In 1982, after years as a commercial announcer and weather forecaster for KOMU, Pepper’s dream finally became a reality, and a gathering place for members of the mid-Missouri community was born.
“I think it’s a very, very important voice of Central Missouri,” Pepper said.
On Sept. 18, the one-hour weekday show will come to an end in a cost-cutting move by KOMU.
Still, over the years, many of the people Pepper interviewed have become more than just interview subjects.
“A lot of those guests have become my friends,” Pepper said, naming journalists, dog trainers, musicians and chefs whom he and co-host James Mouser have come to know very well.
Pepper said for his 25th anniversary at KOMU, Mouser organized a surprise show for him. He brought in all of the guests from the past 25 years to be on the set, which was an episode that Pepper said was “very heartwarming.”
For his part, Mouser said he always enjoyed having new guests on the show, emphasizing the variety of characters that appear.
“We run the gamut, I think, in local community television,” Mouser said.
Mouser recalled an episode when a circus chimpanzee named Zephyr came to visit. Sitting between him and Pepper, Zephyr turned and punched Mouser in the nose. Mouser remembers Pepper found the incident funny rather than traumatic.
“Here I am, getting almost a nosebleed, and he was just laughing, laughing, laughing,” he said.
Mouser said the show has served as a way to be involved in the Columbia community, and many people want to be on the show to share their message. He’s disappointed the show is ending and thinks it’s a loss for Columbia because it’s a voice for the community.
“I know what the show has done for the community because the community is such a large part of the show,” he said. “That voice is going to be silenced, and it makes me sad.”
Marty Siddall, general manager of KOMU, said it’s unfortunate the show has to end, but a show like "Pepper & Friends" is increasingly rare because of the cost of production.
“As the economy has declined, I’ve needed to take a closer look at every aspect of the TV station’s operations,” he said.
Siddall, who worked in Indiana before joining KOMU 10 years ago, said every network affiliate in Indianapolis tried to get a variety show running, but it couldn’t work financially. But the station recognized how hard Pepper and Mouser worked on the show and that it had community value and tried to keep "Pepper and Friends" running.
“We are proud of our community service heritage here at KOMU, and part of that included 'Pepper & Friends,'” he said.
Viewers are also sad Pepper and Mouser are leaving.
Columbia resident Kay Allen expressed her disappointment with the decision, saying the show helped keep residents informed of local events and information, which reality television and syndicated programs cannot do.
“I really, really think that any other kind of syndicated program just cannot bring us the local flavor and the personality,” she said. “It just can’t.”
Pepper said the show ran so long because of his and Mouser’s dedication alongside viewer and sponsor loyalty. He’s received a lot of e-mails and phone calls from viewers, and many are sad about the decision.
“They feel like it’s their show, too,” he said.