A senior member of the West Kootenay media is re-inventing himself, again.
Glenn Hicks, the news director at Juice FM and its sister stations for the past 12 years, has decided to leave his job and take the UBC rural teacher training program in Nelson.
Hicks, his wife Jane Sinclair, and their then-five-year-old daughter Sarah Jane moved to Nelson in 2004. He and Sinclair had both been working at high-level jobs at the BBC’s 24-hour news network, he as an international sports reporter and presenter, she as a business reporter. Before that, they worked as television news anchors and producers in South Africa.
The work at the BBC was challenging and they were successful, but the pressure was too much.
“The work was very high standard,” Hicks says. “You always had to be on your game because somebody is just dying for you to stumble to take your game away from you. That is what gives you the edge, that is what makes you good at what you do.”
But the overtime, the shift work, and the long commutes were too much, especially with a young child. So they researched a new life by Googling ‘best small town in Canada.’ (Hicks was born in Canada but left at age five.)
To Nelson, sight unseen
“We saw the Nelson website, best small arts town, thought it looked quite civilized, and that is why we came,” he says. “Sight unseen, never seen Nelson, never been in BC.”
They booked the Dandelion Bed and Breakfast on Carbonate St. and ended up staying there for 54 weeks because they couldn’t find housing so decided to build one.
“After a few days in Nelson we realized this is paradise. Then we thought: what are going to do now?”
Hicks received his first Canadian paycheque only a few days after arrival.
“The lady next door to the B&B, Mary Anderson, was painting her house and having trouble finding someone. I knocked on her door and said, ‘I’ll do it,’ so I painted her house. That is how you reinvent yourself in Nelson: in week one, find a ladder, paint a house.”
A few weeks later he was hired as news director at BKRadio, one of Juice’s previous names.
Asked if reporting at a small town radio station seemed unglamourous or dull compared to his past high-end journalistic life, Hicks says “Not for a moment. It has been fascinating getting to know so much about the entire region. My family has never lived in a small town, and we thought that would be a good idea to bring our daughter up here. I walked in to BKR saying, ‘If I can help I would be delighted.’ So no, I had no sense of being bigger or greater.”
Working in a rural area engenders a sense of community responsibility, he says.
“You can spend a lifetime interviewing, grilling, giving people a hard time for the BBC and the South African Broadcasting Corporation, in news and sports, and you might never see that person ever again. Now, in a small town, you might want to give that person a hard time as well, as long as it is honest and decent, but you are going to bump into them on Baker St. the next day. You have a far greater sense of responsibility.”
Hicks carved out a niche in Nelson as the moderator of choice for all-candidates meetings, most recently in the 2015 federal and 2014 Nelson municipal elections, using a format that owes a lot to his television background.
“I love hosting those events. It’s a format I have worked on. I try to bring out the best in candidates in the edgiest way possible, and I’ve had nothing but praise from 99 per cent of the people since I did it first 11 years ago. I would like to continue to do them if they will have me. I always say if all the candidates like me a bit less at the end, I have done a good job. They come to me at the end and shake my hand and say ‘You were equally hard on all of us.’ And they all tell me it was fun.”
Sinclair, meanwhile, since arriving in Nelson, took the Women in Trades program at Selkirk, contributed her theatre background and talent to local stages, worked as a freelance writer, trained as a real estate agent and sold houses for a couple of years, then got certified as a teacher and worked for two years in a dangerous area of Cairo. She spent the last year teaching on a reserve in northern Alberta.
Reporting on apartheid in South Africa
Before they moved to London when Sarah Jane was a baby, Hicks and Sinclair worked for the South African Broadcasting Corporation from 1986 to 2000 during historic times that he likens to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“I was there during apartheid and during the unravelling of it and the celebration of the end of it, as a news broadcaster. When I started, the name Mandela was not allowed on the air, and if I mentioned the African National Congress, you had to put it in quotation marks and preface it with ‘banned.’ That was an was an edict, and I worked under that.”
Hicks says his TV station intercepted several letter bombs intended for him and Sinclair. Police believed white supremacist groups sent them.
He remembers the national joy at the fall of apartheid.
“It was brilliant, how fantastic, the euphoria, the amazing shots of Mandela walking out of prison with Winnie, his then-wife. We said, ‘Hey, we have a free nation here, we can talk about all the political parties, we can mention his name, we can broadcast the history of this country and talk about the future.’ And I got to do all of that, right through until Mandela’s election as president and until he stepped down. How extraordinary!”
Why did they leave South Africa?
“Lack of personal security for a young family even though it was a great time for South Africa. If it was just me and Jane, no issue. But as soon as you have a kid you think differently. Many people were building the walls higher, putting electric fencing in, paying for the next highest level of armed security. It was time to get out.”
Sarah Jane Hicks, now 20, graduated from L.V. Rogers and is now in her fourth year at UBC’s theatre program.
“I would recommend raising a child here to anyone in the world,” Hicks says. “What a place.”
Hicks says now he wants to give back by teaching other young people. He has mentored many young journalists in his newsroom and enjoys the role.
“Now I want to get in on the supply chain of communicators even earlier. I want to get to them when they are still in school. This might sound idealistic, but in a world saturated by social media, hand held technology, the new digital realm — yes, that belongs in the real world but I am scared it is taking away young people’s ability to communicate face to face, verbally, write for the spoken word, present well, have confident conversation skills. Why teaching? I want to get in there and remind them by all means use your devices but don’t lose your capacity to engage, converse, present, debate, write.”
How have people reacted to this 52-year-old veteran journalist going back to school?
“Everybody who is finding out this news says, ‘Wow, I am so jealous, how can you do that?’ I say, ‘Just do it.’ They say, ‘Yeah, man, bring what you’ve got to the party. I’m sure the kids will appreciate it.’”
Hicks, whose final day at the radio station is Wednesday, received formal acknowledgement for his work last week from the Regional District of Central Kootenay and Monday from Nelson city council.