He will be honored in October with a Bay Hero Award
Doug McConnell’s inviting voice and irresistible smile have captured hundreds of thousands of TV and internet audiences for more than three decades, taking them on incredible journeys throughout the San Francisco Bay and Northern California.
He recently took viewers on a tour of the San Francisco Bay Trail during a segment of OpenRoad with Doug McConnell on NBC Bay Area – KNTV.
“We’ll follow the trail as it passes through the heart of the San Francisco waterfront, past wetlands alive with nature, and next to the campus of a Silicon Valley giant,” he told his audience.
With a camera rolling, he guided them along the trail, describing the Bay’s polluted past and revealing scenes along the 356 miles of restored recreational public pathway. He captured families, dogwalkers and workers commuting to the city on the byway he calls “one of the greatest recreational treasures in Northern California.”
McConnell is a tireless advocate for open space and parks and goes way beyond the work he gets paid to do to promote protection of the environment, said Michael Rosenthal, who has produced shows with McConnell since the 1980s.
“He is one of these rare people who is still as enthusiastic about what he is doing as he was when he started,” Rosenthal said. “He’s really interested in people and in their stories. It’s not an act.”
McConnell’s California legacy began in 1983, when he moved back to California after spending a few years building up his reporting and environmental experiences.
Born in Santa Monica in 1945, McConnell’s family moved to Northern California when he was 8 years old, giving them easy access to the Bay area, Yosemite and other places to enjoy the natural beauty of the state. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Pomona College, then a master’s degree in political science at Rutgers University.
Over the years, McConnell has worked in television on both coasts and taken on several other challenges. He helped organize the first international youth conference on the human environment that held in Canada in 1971, then he moved to Alaska to work on land issues. While in Alaska, he also traveled around the country to help produce a photo documentary book on coal mining communities for the Jimmie Carter White House.
Then McConnell fell in love.
He met Kathy Taft in Alaska and they got married. The couple moved to Seattle, where he worked for King TV. But California and his aging parents brought him home. Now the two, who live in Marin County, have two grown sons and two granddaughters.
Since their return in 1983, McConnell has been giving the public access to the wonders of Northern California and beyond.
“I had a real passion for getting up in the morning and going out with a camera to meet people I wouldn’t get to know otherwise; learn things I wouldn’t get to learn otherwise,” he said.
His environment stories have garnered Emmys and numerous other awards locally and nationally.
“He’s been in the business for a really long time and he is one of these rare people who is still as enthusiastic about what he is doing as he was when he started,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a joy to be around him because he really is as he appears on TV.”
Rosenthal and McConnell have spent many years together producing stories, including15 years on the old KRON-TV’s Bay Area Backroads, a popular program that ran until 2009. They’ve covered just about every environmental story you can imagine.
They pulled on waders, camouflaged their faces and slogged through wetlands to tell the story of a wildlife photographer.
They spent more than a year getting permission to do a story about the Farallon Islands that are 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco, a wild place where seabirds find refuge and seals come to breed.
A boat called the Shady Lady got them close to the islands, then they had to jump into a little dingy and from there climb up on a giant inner tube that was suspended from a crane on the island. It wasn’t easy.
The waves were coming in and out, so the boat was going up and down, Rosenthal said. “And these are waters that are heavily populated by great white sharks, and you have to pick the right times to jump on the ring and grab the rope,” he said.
They made the leap and got the story.
McConnell’s timing didn’t work out as well when the two were shooting a show that involved riding an elephant. McConnell was leaning down with a microphone and slide down the elephant’s trunk and onto the ground. That scene didn’t make the show.
“There is a reel somewhere of that spectacular fall,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal could tell lots of stories about McConnell, including ones about the many times McConnell has volunteered to help organizations that work to restore and preserve the environment and the wildlife of the San Francisco Bay area.
McConnell’s stories educate the public on the work that is being done, work that is in progress and work still needed. He gives viewers tours of the places they can visit and enjoy, places they had no idea even existed.
“He’s raising awareness,” Rosenthal said. “People come up and thank us.”