Reggie Hicks reflects on broadcasting’s growth in diversity

Editor’s note: this is the fourth and final piece in a series of Grady College alumni profiles celebrating Black History Month.

Reggie Hicks (ABJ ’80) takes pride in being first. He was the African-American to serve as membership director for Georgia Public Broadcasting, the first African-American to produce a call-in information program on public radio and the first African-American to run the Georgia Fund, formerly the Annual Fund, at the University of Georgia.

Even beyond the gratification in first achievements, Hicks values personal influence and is especially reminded of its merit during Black History Month.

“We may not all have our names on buildings or have streets named after us, but we have all made a difference to our family, colleagues and communities,” Hicks said.

Reggie Hicks with U.S. Representative and civil rights leader John Lewis.

Hicks, a public relations major with a minor in marketing, experienced an exciting era in Athens. As Herschel Walker was racing to endzones in Sanford Stadium, just across the street, Hicks and his peers were blazing their own trails with the help of Grady College.

“It was a public relations co-op I got through Grady in Atlanta that propelled me into my career in public broadcasting,” said Hicks. “Had it not been for the co-op, I probably would not have ended up in broadcasting.”

It was the beginning of a broadcasting career that opened many opportunities for many journalists and highlighted important discussions for audiences nationwide.

Hicks has helped to raise millions of dollars for public broadcasting, mostly in Georgia and Alabama, but nationally as well. He has worked with WCLK-FM in Atlanta in a variety of roles including general manager, program director and development director. Hicks was also general manager at WJOU-FM in Huntsville, Alabama. He was executive Producer of “PowerPoint,” a two-hour program addressing issues from a minority perspective. The show aired from 2000-2007 in 50 markets on NPR and Sirius Satellite Radio. Recently, Hicks was co-executive producer of “Change Makers,” a live national public radio millennial town hall special on race, culture and change. Other work on his illustrious resume includes the American Red Cross and Atlanta’s Apex Museum.

He says the broadcast industry has made great strides in embracing diversity.

Hicks is in post-production on a documentary following his fraternity brother’s fight against prostate cancer.

“There is competition for being diverse and trying to understand various audiences,” Hicks said. “It is opening up doors for minorities and our unique talents and cultural experiences that we bring to the table.”

Hicks admits many upper management and ownership roles in broadcasting lack diversity and it is a specific area where progress must be made. He says public broadcasting has done an adequate job of discussing and researching diversity efforts and that the industry is finally implementing plans for positive change and he sees a healthier national conversation emerging from years of well-intentioned inaction.

“We must be bold enough to ask difficult questions,”said Hicks. “Painful honesty and understanding are required to be serious about enacting proper change.”

Currently, Hicks is a consultant for public radio stations and is president and CEO of Straight Street Productions. He is in post-production of the film “If You are My Brothers.” It is a documentary chronicling Ralph Franklin, Hicks’ UGA Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother, and his battle with prostate cancer. While filming, Reggie was also diagnosed with prostate cancer. The documentary is scheduled to debut during prostate cancer awareness month in September.

This passion project is being produced to help other men confidently defeat illnesses with the help of their community. He says that kind of heart behind storytelling is the key to developing unity across any existing divides.

“We should understand people where they are and where they come from. You will be a much better communicator if you take the time to listen. Always put yourself in other people’s shoes.”

Grady College love story: Ben and Paula Bolton

Mentors often remind college students to maintain the bonds and relationships built during years on campus. Usually, they remind an audience how current classmates will be important to each other’s stories after college. This was especially true for Ben Bolton (ABJ ’14), from Savannah, Georgia, and Paula Rotondo (ABJ ’14), from Marietta, Georgia, who first crossed paths in Athens in February 2012.

The two were sophomores when they attended an initial meeting to become volunteer staff members for Grady Newsource, the college’s student operated television program.

“I knew right away there was something special about Ben,” Paula said.

“Paula was always sharp,” Ben said. “I enjoyed calling out her last name in the newsroom to joke with her.”

Ben and Paula both reported for Grady Newsource (left) and professionally after college (right).

They remained peers on the same track through broadcast classes and participated in many of the same student-oriented events. Their first off campus interaction happened at a Grady sponsored trip.

Ben was president of DiGamma Kappa, the official broadcasting society of UGA. He helped organize a group tour of CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Ben offered to drive a group in his car and Paula quickly volunteered to fill a seat. Those precious moments on the road between Athens and Atlanta became the foundation of their connection.

Ben and Paula on the DGK CNN tour.

“Ben played what I know now to be his favorite bands: Rush, Journey, Tom Petty and that era.,” Paula said. “I used that as an opportunity to try and win him over. My mom practically raised me on 70’s and 80’s rock, so I knew how to air drum my heart out.”

The two remained friends throughout their tenure in Athens and through the job search process.

“I remember a day where Paula was the lead producer for Grady Newsource and a potential employer was there to watch the show,” Ben said. “I was the director and had to execute her vision for the broadcast. I admired how Paula handled the pressure of the moment. The employer did as well because they later hired her.”

After graduation, Ben and Paula ended up in different states for their first jobs. Paula was hired as a multimedia journalist for WMAZ-TV in Macon, Georgia. Ben began working as a sports reporter for WAKA in Montgomery, Alabama.

They both fondly remember the dinner where they reconnected. Ben and a fellow Grady alumnus were traveling through Macon. They reached out to Paula to plan a dinner. Paula and her co-worker, another Grady alumna, joined for a Mexican restaurant meal. Ben and Paula locked eyes from across the table and their bond quickly flourished.

Ben proposed to Paula at Great Ocean Road near Melbourne, Australia.

“I remember feeling like a bolt of lightning was sent through my body,” Ben said. “I knew the conversations, jokes and energy we had that night was special.”

The Boltons got married in Atlanta on Nov. 16, 2018.

The two remained in touch and Ben asked out Paula for a date. From there, their journey led them together through theme parks, concerts, sporting events, international trips and many surprises to their wedding day on Nov. 16, 2018.

“If Grady had not provided us with the tools and opportunities it did, who knows if our story would exist,” Paula said.

The Boltons attribute much of their personal development to their time at Grady College.

“Grady gave me the opportunity to meet my future wife, become friends with her, discover her vast potential and eventually have a reason to re-connect with her down the road, which led to the blessings I have today,” said Ben.

The Boltons now live in Atlanta. Ben is a social media producer for Narrative Content Group. Paula is special projects manager at Edible Arrangements corporate.