By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Apr 29, 2011 at 9:06 AM

If the only Brad Hicks you know is the one you see on FOX 6 news every night, you're only getting part of the story.

Hicks, a northern California native, admits he doesn't take his job too seriously, and sometimes, his sense of humor shows. But Hicks has a contemplative side, too. He came close to competing in the Olympics as a cyclist but a life-changing moment suddenly ended his racing career, and he is concurrently working on several dramatic novels.

Indeed, Hicks' story is more complex than it appears at first glance, and we had the opportunity to delve into it in this latest Milwaukee Talks. Your bio online is so interesting that it almost seems made up, but did you know that the first site that shows up on Google when you search for "Brad Hicks" is about a guy who lists his hobbies as "sex," "pirates" and "art?" I'm assuming that's not you.

Brad Hicks: If this is the same guy, he's all over the place. Of course, most people are interested in at least two of those.

OMC: But your story is only slightly less intriguing. Tell me the meandering path that brought you to Milwaukee.

BH: I got my bachelor's and master's in geography. I was a PBS and National Geographic kid growing up, and I loved documentaries. I thought the world was cool. I went to Texas A&M in 1989 to get my Ph.D. in geography, but my thinking was, I'll be a geography professor and have a cushy lifestyle, maybe become a documentary filmmaker. When I got there, I was already burned out on it. These geography professors thought what they were doing was important, but it's not important, it's just interesting.

As a kid, I loved watching the news on television. I thought it would be neat to do what (an anchor) does, without knowing what he does, but I wasn't one of those kids who always wanted to this. I wanted to be an astronaut or an astronomer or a soil scientist. I thought, why don't I just get into the television business and try to start making documentaries that way?

I wrote this dissertation proposal about how the media stereotypes the world but had no intention of doing the dissertation. As a Ph.D. student I could then force my way into any classes needed for my dissertation, so I could get into a senior-level broadcast journalism class. A professor pointed me to a fellowship that placed me at CNN in the summer of 1990. I put together a demo tape that summer and I never went back to Texas. I never told them I was leaving, I just vanished.

From CNN, I landed a job in Pennsylvania doing a farm report at 5 a.m. I didn't know anything about farming, had never been on a farm in my life. Fortunately, after a year, that show was canceled, and they moved me over to news. I just enjoyed it, it came easy to me. They gave me an anchor job, and I've been anchoring weeknight newscasts since 1995.

OMC: Then where did you go?

BH: I went to San Francisco in 2000. I love wine, and I was out shooting a story and thought, I should start a wine show. I created "Wine Country Living" that I hosted for a while, then I came here in 2004.

OMC: Isn't that sort of the opposite direction for news people?

BH: Well, I was just doing the 5 o'clock newscast and reporting nightside. And NBC came in purchased the station and made wholesale changes, and they got rid of me.

OMC: You've been in Milwaukee for seven years. Do you like it here?

BH: Yeah! I had a couple other job offers when I decided to come here. I flew in here in September and saw people running along the lake, chilling out at Alterra on the Lake. I was sitting there when I decided I was going to take this job. It's proved to be every bit as good as I expected.

OMC: Any similarities between Milwaukeeans and people from San Francisco?

BH: In Milwaukee, if you were Downtown and you saw someone dressed as a pirate, you'd be like, wow. In San Francisco, it's just someone who likes dressing as a pirate.

OMC: Did I read that you were attacked by rabid dogs in India?

BH: In the summer of '84 when I was 21, I was going to go to China, but I had a pen pal girlfriend who moved back to India. I thought I'd spend the summer with her, and took a train across the country, and ended in this village on the west coast of India. I saw all these statues with Ganesh, holding a cross. Being a geography nerd, I had to document this cultural landscape by taking pictures. I was on a jungle path, and all of a sudden, these two dogs out of nowhere just got me. I walked a mile back to the house in the village, all bloody. We would never find these feral dogs, and there were no phones in this village, so we took a motorcycle back into town. One of the uncles of this girl was a doctor, and we spent the day walking to all of these clinics ... and we could not find any of the human rabies vaccine, just the horse one. He found someone in Bombay and flew it down. The doctor reached into a pie tin of used needles that smelled like vodka, shook it off, and it all turned out fine.

OMC: And you were almost an Olympic cyclist?

BH: I was really into cycling, and I still am. I always had this battle between my intellectual side and my athletic side, and felt they couldn't live in harmony. I was a bit of a pothead in eighth, ninth and 10th grade. I got arrested in Europe, in Austria, and spent a night in a Salzburg jail. I got back from the trip and was tired of getting in trouble and being paranoid about the cops.

Christmas Eve of 11th grade was the last time I smoked pot. We had enjoyed riding our bikes up in the mountains in the Bay area to get high as kids, and I found that I really just enjoyed being on the bike. It was a great way to avoid the peer pressure, and it became a passion. In the summer of '88, I qualified for Olympic trials in Houston in three events.

OMC: I take it you didn't make it to the Olympics?

BH: Something strange happened on the way to the trials. The intellectual side of me took over. In the back of my mind, I had always been curious about what it would be like to go to the funeral of stranger. This wasn't some sort of a morbid curiosity thing, my mind just works this way. It just so happened that after I qualified after the trials, I read that a student at UC-Davis had been killed in a car crash, so I went to her funeral, taking copious notes about my feelings and my emotions about being at the funeral of a stranger. The long and the short of it is that I never raced a bike again.

OMC: So, you had a life-changing moment at that funeral?

BH: I recognized that I had devoted so much time to training. All I did was study and cycle. At this funeral, I realized that I would never get to know this girl. How many other people would I not get to know because all I did was study and cycle? I still continue to ride for fitness and enjoy it more than I ever did.

OMC: You're pretty introspective, but also a somewhat silly guy in a very serious business. Am I characterizing you fairly?

BH: I think you nailed it. It's a bit of a contradiction, I guess. On one hand, I don't take myself seriously at all, but I do take what I do seriously – to a degree, but not to the point that I let it freak me out. It's a balance, I guess. On my Twitter account, I used to have a saying, "Deep down, I'm a very superficial person."

OMC: Yeah, on your Twitter photo, you're stuffing a Chinese steamed pork bun in your mouth ...

BH: Those are awesome, but you can't get them here. Are you saying I should change the picture?

OMC: Not at all. I'm just saying it looks pretty different than most TV anchors' profiles.

BH: I have no Ron Burgundy gene in me whatsoever. However, there is a time and place when you have to take it very seriously. When the news is serious, you take it seriously. It's kind of like being a pilot. When the pilot is landing the plane, they're focused, they're not screwing around, but the pilot may be a total comedian when he's not sitting in the cockpit. I don't know.

OMC: Do you like anchoring or reporting more?

BH: Wow. People have asked me that. I like them differently. It's like asking whether you like red wine or white wine. I love them both. Each brings a different thing to my life. Being a news anchor, I think, is a very easy job. That's why I don't complain about it. We have the privilege of presenting to the public what is a culmination of a hard day's work of a lot of people. I take that part very seriously. And we're an advocate for the viewer, making sure we answer their questions. I love the reporting side because I love the writing and the creativity.

OMC: Speaking of writing, you dabble as an author, too?

BH: I have 12 different books I'm champing at the bit to write. A few years ago, I started writing a book called "Matchbook." In a nutshell, it's about a 10-year-old inner-city African-American kid who has fallen through the cracks of life and lives with a prostitute, heroin addict aunt and a drug dealer, and the story is about how he changes the life of this biracial man, who has always denied his African-American heritage and roots.

OMC: This sounds serious.

BH: It's a pretty intense story. I've cried writing this story. It's dramatic and emotional. It's gotten bit sidetracked, because four years ago, I started researching my family's genealogy, and oh my God, is that addicting. I have a room of research and I'm trying to compile all of this because my two older brothers are terminally ill, and I want to finish this while they are still with us.

OMC: What does social media mean to TV news? How is it changing your job?

BH: I think it's the equivalent of the birth of radio and its relationship to what it did to newspapers. It's a game changer, and we know that. The way we collect and convey information is changing, and the immediacy is improving. Everyone sees live trucks with the masts – those things are going to be gone in a few years.

OMC: Can Milwaukeeans expect you to stick around for a while?

BH: They should. I didn't come here as a stepping stone. I've been in the business 21 years, and have worked at three TV stations.

OMC: And one of them you left involuntarily.

BH: That's not a lot of movement in my business. I have never been a grass is always greener guy. I had a very comfortable and productive situation when I was in Pennsylvania. I left that for the bigger market and all that comes with it. If I have any professional regrets, it's that move. One of the reasons I decided to come here in '04 is because this TV station felt a lot like the place I worked at in Pennsylvania. People want to come to work here, people like working here. That's what I was looking for, and I found it. Milwaukee is home now.

OMC: And you're a Packers fan now?

BH: O.M.G. Big time. When I moved here ahead of my wife, I walked into a Target and had to pick up a hat and gloves. I called her and told her I was the only person in the store not wearing Packers stuff. We sort of laughed, but since then, many trips to Lambeau. I don't miss a game. I love it.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.