PERRIS – Pep Fernandez ignores the pain of a recent pinched nerve in his neck and sits up straight in a quiet television studio.
Fernandez rocks a black sport coat, faded blue jeans and Vans sneakers. He has a 5 o’clock shadow. Normally low-key, he switches to full Pep mode when the camera turns on.
“Welcome to the Inland Sports Show everybody, it’s Wednesday night at 6:05 and we appreciate you tuning in,” Fernandez tells listeners. “A lot of football is coming your way. We have the new University of Redlands football coach Jim Good. He will join us live. We also have Minnesota Vikings’ running back Alexander Mattison, the pride of Cardinal City, he’s also joining the show …”
Voice booming and hands moving, Fernandez asks Temecula Valley football coach Bert Esposito about the coming season, picks Good’s brain about his roster, and quizzes Mattison about playing in the National Football League and his sidelight, rapping.
It’s must-see fare if you’re an IE sports fan.
“I think Pep is what is good about sports at all levels,” Esposito says after the show. “He is such a good person and has the respect of everyone I know. I think what he does for the high school community is such a positive. We need Pep Fernandez.”
We have him, as we did Saturday, June 19, in San Bernardino when Aquinas High defeated La Costa Canyon 57-41 for the Southern California Regional basketball championship. The title was a first for the small, parochial school and of course Fernandez was there.
“Nick, as a senior, you win CIF, you win the state title -- it can’t get any better than this, right?,” Fernandez says to star forward Nick Hopkins.
Flagging down guard Sheldon Grant, Fernandez says, “What’s up, Sheldon? You’re a four-year starter, a CIF and state champion as a senior. You couldn’t draw up a better finish to your high school career, could you?”
A day earlier, the Redlands resident was in Long Beach covering three section championship baseball games. Included was Citrus Valley’s historic victory against Cajon.
“Blake, first off congratulations for Citrus Valley’s first section baseball title,” Fernandez says to star Blackhawk pitcher Blake Griffin. “On the mound, at the plate, were you feeling pretty good today?”
So it goes, as the upbeat Humboldt State grad rolls from one event and show to the next. He chats up players and coaches and delights seemingly everyone in his path.
“Pep has brought his own unique style to sports reporting in the IE,” Beaumont High football coach Jeff Steinberg said. “He’s incredibly personable and such a genuine guy. It feels like he’s a neighbor.”
Fernandez grew up in Cottonwood, a speck on the map of Northern California that had, as he puts it, “no stoplight, one bank, a Foster Freeze and cow pastures.”
“It was small-town living, but I loved it,” Fernandez said.
What he didn’t relish was the part-time job his parents got him post-high school, milking cows at the Ewing Dairy in Gerber.
“It sucked,” Fernandez said. “My shift started at 3 a.m. and the dairy was 45 minutes from our house. “I was asking myself, ‘Is milking cows really what I want to do with my life?”
Fernandez played four years of soccer in high school, so the sports background was there. He picked up a journalism degree with an emphasis on broadcasting in college, then began his career.
Stints at a string of television stations followed, beginning with KAEF-ABC in Eureka. He went from there to Chico. Then Redding. And then to Bakersfield before landing in Riverside. That’s where a former Riverside Press-Enterprise editor, Louis Amestoy, tapped Fernandez to ignite the TV/web department.
Fernandez began the award-winning Inland Sports Show in 2014 and added a weekly sports show on IEMG-TV3 in San Bernardino.
He also picked up a twice-weekly segment on KCAL 96.7 and started announcing UC-Riverside and Cal Baptist University men’s and women’s basketball games.
Remarkable is that all these are mere side hustles. Fernandez’s regular job is as a public information spokesman for Riverside County.
“I often record my show for KCAL at 6:45 a.m. and then go to work,” Fernandez said. “I go to a game after work, so there are a lot of 15-16-hour days. I couldn’t do it without my wife. And coffee.”
Mrs. Pep is Tara Fernandez, a children’s pastor at the Redlands Christian Center who is related to Redlands Bowl royalty (her mother Sandy Wallace is a past president).
Tara is a former Redlands High cheerleader. Her great-grandparents, Victor and Bernice Heath, attended the school in the early 1900s. They were later Redlands High custodians, including working in the ancient girls’ gymnasium — still standing — that boasts a game clock with a moving hand.
The couple has two daughters, Alana (15) and Noelle (12) and a de-facto daughter in Chinese foreign-exchange student Lucy Cai, who has lived with the family for four years and just graduated from Arrowhead Christian Academy.
“Pep is super goofy,” Tara said. “When the kids were little, after a bath they’d get in their jammies and he’d pick them up and sing this burrito song – ‘Baby burrito, baby burrito, yum, yum, yum.’ And they’d squeal with laughter.
“He’s really an introvert, though. If he was at a party, he might sit in a corner and you’d have no idea what he does. But you put him in front of a camera and he’s loud and funny and gregarious and just Pep.”