Six months ago, Rory Higgins was knee-deep in snow. When he got ready for work in the morning, his multiple layers of clothing would barely keep him warm enough as he braved the -30-degree Celsius elements.
“It was a terrific place,” he says.
After four years of running a small radio station in Alberta, Canada, where freezing temperatures were a given, Higgins was ready to go to the other extreme – the desert.
Six weeks ago, the new drive-time radio host for Abu Dhabi Classic FM, run by Abu Dhabi Media (which also owns The National), set foot on local soil, which he describes as “the exact reverse” of Canada, even though there are “some similarities”.
“It was a desert prairie, really, just with grass.”
Higgins is no stranger to travelling. His parents worked for the British Foreign Service, which took him to places so weird most people would need a map to locate them. Or perhaps a dictionary. And as an adult, he says, the travel bug just wouldn't go away.
But it is the first time the Briton has lived in the Middle East, which he says is “very interesting so far”.
He started his career in Brunei, Borneo, wedged somewhere between the South China Sea and Sarawak, Malaysia.
Working for Radio Brunei was a far cry from what he could have done with his university degree in agriculture, but he always wanted to work in radio.
He says his degree, however, has proven to be quite useful on occasion.
“In situations where I have interviewed some professor of biochemistry, they say, ‘wow, well you seem very well informed'.”
The travel bug and his career as a radio journalist have taken him around the world to places such as Hong Kong, Kenya, Cyprus, Germany, Afghanistan and even a bit of freelancing in the UK.
Now, Higgins is Abu Dhabi Classic FM's new addition to the presenter pool, as the station starts its expansion. He says his new position is a nice change from small-town Canada, as the audience is bigger here.
“It's nice to hear from people. I get more feedback. What's quite cool about the setup here is that there seems to be a whole mixture of people who listen.” Higgins says it is a good “alternative to the other stations, as this is different, musically”.
His show is a mixture of elements, including news reading and daily updates from the different sections of The National's newsroom. There are live interviews with various artists and competitions in which listeners can win prizes such as overseas trips and five-star hotel stays.
And naturally, there is a never-ending playlist of classical music, which includes musicals, operas and film soundtracks.
“It is not strictly heavy-duty classical music. There is a demand for light classical music and we get a lot of requests for specific Dutch classical music, for some reason,” he says.
To Higgins, his UAE stint looks set to be equally as terrific as Canada, just different.
“Abu Dhabi is becoming a cultural centre. It feels like it's growing, there's interest and we're doing something different than the other radio stations,” he says.
“We have fun here. It's all about the music and the arts.”
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