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Image: Discogs

The investigation began, as so many do, on Reddit. “Found a vinyl record with songs about Houston at an antique shop,” one “M3RKin_badly” wrote in the Houston sub-Reddit online forum. “Apparently, there was a competition with KRBE in 1982 to create a song for Houston … I recorded the songs from the vinyl if you would like to hear them.”

We would, and we did (thanks, M3RKin). And 20 seconds into the opening track, “Houston Is My Home,” we knew we needed to know more. The oddly wistful song begins the way most cheesy ’80s sitcoms do, with overly earnest synth production that gives way to the first verse, crooned by a female voice reminiscent of Karen Carpenter’s. I can see the skyline of this crazy town, she sings. Watch the 610 slowly take its homeward traffic round…

We decided to contact the song’s creator and vocalist, Diestie Savage. Given her obvious love for the city, we assumed she was a lifelong H-Town resident likely to turn up somewhere like The Woodlands or Cypress.

Not even close. Known today as Dee Epperson, the singer lives in Rigby, Idaho, (population, 3,945), where she teaches voice lessons and owns a recording studio, having moved there with her husband back in 1991.

When she got over her surprise at hearing from us, the now 57-year-old was happy to reminisce about the time when she was just 22 and reluctantly recorded a number for the local pop station’s contest, a search for the definitive “song of Houston.”

Young Savage was already a lifetime performer at the time. She’d learned to play guitar, drums, and ukulele in early childhood; at 4, she’d sung and danced in front of crowds across the country with her family’s Polynesian touring group. As such, she told us, she’d grown up “everywhere,” but, in 1982, was living in Houston with her father, who’d relocated here for a plumbing job at the height of the city’s development boom. Dad was also her agent; she was touring and had just finished her debut album.

Understandably, perhaps, Savage was a little irritated when her dad kept insisting she enter a radio contest. But the day before the deadline, she dashed something out in just 15 minutes, recorded it, and, the next morning—after her dad shook her awake—delivered it to KRBE eight minutes before the contest closed.

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Diestie Savage (now known as Dee Epperson) won a local radio contest in 1982.

It was a recent arrival from Dallas, meanwhile, who’d hatched the idea. Ken Rundel, the station’s brand-new program director, launched the contest after realizing that, for whatever reason, the nation’s fourth largest city had no official song. Reached over the phone in—wait for it—Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Rundel told us he’d had no idea whether anyone would even enter, and that when hundreds of submissions flooded in, he’d been stunned.

“I didn’t know anything about Houston, but I was impressed,” said Rundel, who is still on the radio and, he admitted, a bit hazy on events from 30-odd years ago. He does remember that, unable to narrow the field to six finalists, KRBE judges settled on a dozen songs for listeners to vote on. And overwhelmingly, they preferred a melancholy little ditty about a swiftly changing city, by one Diestie Savage. Little did they know that her longing-filled voice was new to town.

And all my dreams shine brighter here in
Houston, Than any other place I’ve ever seen.

My restless eyes have wandered and my weary heart has
roamed, But Houston is the only place that I can call my home.

“She was a worthy winner,” Rundel recalled. “I was not only impressed with her singing and her writing, but just her as a person.”

Over the next year, “Houston Is My Home” was often featured on KRBE and even made an appearance on VH1, and the station put Savage on billboards across the city. “I think it helped to clarify what talents I actually had,” she said, “that it wasn’t a fluke, I wasn’t this overnight success.”

Thirty-six years later, the song holds up as a love letter to a bygone era, when the Astrodome was still one of the world’s wonders (Savage herself once performed there). When Harvey hit Houston, Epperson said, she was reminded of her old song as she watched harrowing televised scenes of the city she still loves to visit.

We wanted to know: After nearly a decade here, then so many years away, is Houston still partly home?

“No,” Epperson said. “It is my home.”

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