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Dozen: Les Sinclair puts his heart where his mouth is

If money and time are in short supply, leave it to the will to find a way.

Les Sinclair has the will to help those who help others and he has found the way through his job as an on-air personality on the afternoon talk show “Charlottesville Right Now” for radio station WINA-AM.

“I come from a radio background, and my belief is that radio is the megaphone of the community. It is always local,” Sinclair said, sitting behind the controls in a broadcast booth at WINA. “The best way to make an impact on the community is one person and one thing at a time, and radio can really have an impact on those things.”

Many agree.

“Les puts his celebrity at work for good, lending his name and his presence to fundraising and awareness-raising events, especially as it relates to hunger across our region,” said Meredith Strohm Gunter, director of strategy and public engagement at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

“Les’ generosity inspires the same from others, to the good of our neighbors and to making our region a place that puts caring about all people at the forefront,” she said.

Gunter said the Weldon Cooper Center’s researchers appreciate Sinclair’s help in publicizing the organization’s findings regarding population changes, middle-skill jobs and energy plans, as well as its regional survey panel, BeHeardCVA.

“He asks the questions others would ask if they were in the room,” she said. “[He’s] our most valuable player in making our work accessible to the public and the community organizations and local governments we aim to serve.”

Sinclair’s efforts on behalf of nonprofits come in part from his childhood. His father died when he was 2 and the family struggled.

“I learned that there are kind people out there that helped people like us and I figured I could be one of those kinds of people,” he said. “There are ways to do that. You can give money. If you don’t have money, you can give time. You can help with the animals at the ASPCA. You can be one of the people who rock babies in the [neo-natal intensive care unit].”

Sinclair is known for doing all that he can. On one remote broadcast advocating for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Sinclair took his off-air time to personally approach grocery shoppers about helping the hungry.

“He really has a heart for our issue,” said Michael McKee, CEO of the food bank. “He grew up of modest means and understands what it’s like to be struggling. He sees folks in need and he understands our issues and he tries to do something about it. He’s does a lot and he’s done a lot for us.”

Helping others on-air also helps him, Sinclair said.

“It’s cool to see things grow. When nonprofits reach out, I try, if I can, to say yes,” he said. “These people also magnify my position by allowing me to communicate their stories. It creates listeners, as well as informs listeners of the important work the charities and nonprofits do in our community. I really want to help the community and the nonprofits, and I help myself and the station at the same time.”

Sinclair made Charlottesville his home in 1996, coming to the area from Maryland. He joined WQMZ-FM and immediately started working with area nonprofits. He has helped Martha’s Market, a fundraiser for breast cancer care at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, and the Women’s Four Miler to continue to grow.

“I thought, and still believe, that if I could get involved in these causes and talking to people about them, that the people would listen,” he said. “If we could get exposure for them, it would work out well for them and for us.”

One of his first efforts in Charlottesville was broadcasting live from the annual Toy Lift Christmas drive.

“That was the year that the hydraulic lines broke on the bucket truck and I was stuck up there for a while until they could figure out how to bring us down,” he laughed. “I’m a bit of an adventurer, so climbing out of one bucket and into another while 40 feet in the air was pretty exciting.”

A talk radio fan since it arrived on the scene in the 1980s, Sinclair said his time with the late Nancy King on “Charlottesville Live” showed him how effective the medium could be.

“I saw how talk radio could make a difference in people’s lives, and working with Nancy King was awesome. She taught me how to talk with people and how to pull their stories out of them,” Sinclair said. “As my duties here expanded and my time at the radio expanded, I knew I couldn’t give my time personally to help. But [the station owners] allowed me to use the radio and my time on air as a megaphone, and they’ve worked it out in some shape or form to continue to do that.”


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