Brandon Hickman’s powerful voice booms through the speakers into thousands of cars and homes every weekday on Coast 97.3. The hard-working DJ known as “Bigg B” takes his listeners on the “Bigg Ride Home” every weekday starting at 3:00 p.m. But on-air work is just part of the impact Hickman has on people’s lives. Yes, he entertains here and across the southeastern part of the United States. But, he also volunteers. He mentors. He promotes. He supports. He sponsors. He very rarely sits still.
“I think I get that a lot from my Mom and my grandmother,” Hickman says. “They did a lot of stuff, whether it was church or community or school. I think it was important for them to make sure that they showed me that anything you do, you’ve got work hard for. If you’re going to work hard, you’re going to give it your best and sometimes that takes a little extra.”
Extra is the norm for Hickman. Outside of the studio, you can find him volunteering his time at the Community Boys and Girls Club, mentoring youth on what they need to do to be successful in school and in life. The same advice and guidance Hickman received growing up, which he credits for leading him on a path to success.
“I say it all the time that if it wasn’t for the Community Boys and Girls Club, I probably would be going in your house,” Hickman says. “It gave me a place to be constructive. It gave me a place to be creative, and a place to learn. It was a safe place, too. It was a safe haven. If there was something going on, I could go in the Boys and Girls Club and stay out of it.”
Hickman had dreams of owning his own business as a child growing up on Wilmington’s northside. He credits Adolf Richard, a dormer director at the CBGC, with helping launch his first business, and talks about it at 6:50 of the podcast.
“He said ‘come with me’, and we went to the old Parker’s or Hill’s on Market Street,” Hickman remembers. “We went there and he bought a gang of hot dogs, a gang of buns, some chili, ketchup and mustard. He said ‘sell these in the back, and you can pay yourself per hour’, and I had my own little business in the back of the club.”
Music was part of life before Hickman became “Bigg B”. He remembers his mother Lillie Ann playing music in the house growing up (Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire were favorites), and he played in the band at New Hanover High School. He had music on his mind at Norfolk State University, minoring in music media along with his major in business and entrepreneurship. Hickman followed in his Mom’s footsteps, teaching school in Charleston after gradating from NSU, until he moved back to Wilmington in 2001. Hickman was volunteering at the boys and girls club when he heard about an opportunity at the radio station. That part of our conversation comes up at 11:45 of the podcast.
“Coast was looking for a street team,” he remembers. “At that time I had a group of kids that was doing parties at the boys and girls club. We had written a grant to The Source hip-hop magazine about marketing and entrepreneurship that the kids were interested in. At that time it was Coast’s tenth anniversary. So we got the kids together, I called up and talked to Sandra (McClammy) who was over the street team. I said ‘Sandra, I’ve got a group of kids already ready to go to do street team for you.”
Hickman’s team became the station’s team. Managers asked him to help with the team, and also asked if he was interested in doing a weekly on-air shift playing “old school” records. “Bigg B” was born.
“I was like ‘yeah, I know some of the records. If it’s 90s, yeah, put me in!’ The rest was history. That’s how we started,” he says.
Shouts to Williston Middle School and Noble Middle School for being 1st and 2nd in the BHM Quiz Bowl!Thanks for having me host this year! pic.twitter.com/JYriWfnSUt— BIGGB1906 (@IAMBIGGB) February 25, 2018
“Bigg B” was everywhere at the beginning. Parades, fundraisers, school visits. Anything he could do to raise his on-air profile, he did. He eventually became the Program Director at Coast, deciding which songs make the on-air playlist and helping create programs like “Limelight”, which features songs from local artists trying to break into the industry. Hickman says being from the Wilmington community, knowing the audience as well as he does, is a plus when it comes to the PD duties.
“That helps me out a lot, to see a climate and what’s going on,” he says. “Deciding ‘should we play this record? I don’t know if this record is going to work. I don’t know if it’s ready for us yet. Let’s test it out and we’ll see if we play it’. It helps out a lot that I’m from Wilmington, and a lot of times that does not happen in corporate America. They don’t put you in a position because your ‘from there’. They put you in a position because you’re the right person. So I kind of won on both sides.”
Knowing the community well played a big role in Hickman founding Urban Promotions, with the goal of providing entertainment for the African-American community. Hickman and McClammy saw the need instead for a “Teen Summit”, sparked by a rash of murders and the need for young people to speak out to city leaders. Urban Promotions became the vehicle to bring the parties together. He talks about it at 19:45 of the podcast.
“Instead of doing the entertainment aspect of it, we kind of did the social part of it,” he says. “That took off, and so we said ‘hey, we’re going to do a teen summit every year’. We’re changing it now that it’s ten years old, we’ve got to change the way we talk to the youth because it’s not the same.”
Hickman also launched another community effort following his Mom’s passing in 2011. Lillie Ann Heggins taught for more than 40 years in several school districts, including New Hanover County. She influenced thousands of young lives during her career. None more than the young man she raised to succeed.
“Her thing was ‘your education can change a situation’,” Hickman says. “I heard that every morning coming from a teacher. I heard ‘where’s your math homework?’, that was the first thing, and ‘education can change a situation’, and ‘wake up you sleepy head’ because that was me every day.”
Hickman and his wife Suprena developed the idea that became Port City Rip the Runway. It brings together local entertainers, DJ’s, models, stylists and business owners in a fun fashion show format. Proceeds from the event go to fund the Lillie Ann Heggins Scholarship Fund, helping local students attend college. Hickman talks about the importance of the event to honor his mother’s life work at 28:00 of the podcast.
“When we went to clean out Mom’s house, there was ten bags of shoes,” he says with a chuckle. “Ten 55 gallon bags of shoes. There were eleven bags of clothes. We were like ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do with all this stuff?’ Hemmed and hawed, and then finally said ‘let’s try it’. She (Suprena) said ‘let’s do it on your birthday. Is that meaningful?’ I said ‘yes, because this birthday I won’t get that call ‘wake up sleepy head’. I won’t get that. Let’s try that’.”
They tried it, and it has become a huge success. It has changed the lives of young students, helping them secure a college education. Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman has helped countless recording artists in similar ways, giving them the opportunity to showcase their records and songs to a much wider audience. “Bigg B” has met with students of all ages, telling them hard work pays off. He’s mentored young men and women along the path of achieving success. His message is constant, that Better is Possible.
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