Doug McConnell, host of Bay Area Backroads, launches interactive travel website focusing on American West
By Kathy Chin Leong
Local celebrity, Doug McConnell, the voice and face of KRON’s Bay Area Backroads television series is also a family guy. Married to his wife Kathy for 26 years and father of two boys, ages 23 and 15, the resident of Corte Madera spoke to BAFT about his career, favorite places to travel, and his new baby-OpenRoad.TV, a website devoted to travel in the American West.
BAFT: Hi Doug. Tell us a little bit about your career in television.
DM : I’ve been host and senior editor at Backroads for 14 years since 1993. We’ve picked up a new sponsor so it’s now called Nissan Bay Area Backroads. Prior to that, I was on a show called Mack & Mutley . It was a popular program about people and their relationships to animals. We had a lot of warm and touching stories. My cohost was a little dog called Mutley who could ski and scuba.The show ran six years, and it got picked up on Discovery Channel and aired four nights a week and ran in 80 countries.
BAFT: Are you still going to be on Backroads now that you have OpenRoad.TV?
DM: I’m still gone two to three months a year on travel with Backroads , and the show has been on the air for 22 years since 1985. As I understand, it is the longest running regional series that’s shot in the field, in the nation’s broadcast history. I plan to stay with the show.
BAFT: Tell us about the idea you had for the new website and your plan for it.
DM: A few years ago, I negotiated with Channel 4 so I could get rights to use the footage library someday. So we have saved everything we have shot for Backroads . We have access to raw tape that has never been broadcast.We have 1,500 stories all edited in the library. About 75 to 80 percent of the material is still relevant. On the website, we always show stories that are not dated. We went back through everything and updated stuff. Also there is footage of people who passed away, and we checked with the families to make sure it was appropriate. Some stories are recent, and we are adding new things daily.
BAFT: What is the difference between your website, www.OpenRoad.TV, and the Bay Area Backroads website, www.bayareabackroads.com?
D.M.: On the Backroads site, they take current shows and put them up there. Ours is a much more complex offering. We have a less localized flavor. You can go to our website, and you can use it to plan a trip and virtually explore interactively. We have started with about 73 stories. We add new stuff everyday, and out goal is to allow people to have fun traveling the west including Alaska and Hawaii. It’s called The Traveler’s Video Guide to the American West. We want people to explore the west with us.
BAFT: How does that happen?
D.M.: We want to develop a community of people. First, there are those who love our show, and there will be more web readers. We want people to give us suggestions, and we want people to send stuff to us either in text or video. We will put it in context. Our goal is to put together a community of interest, and it will be a valuable resource. It’s important to hear what our visitors have to say. We will be developing communications back and forth, host forums about nature and parks, for example, and chat about them.
BAFT : Will you be showing only material from Backroads ?
D.M.: It will be both valuable stuff from the show library, and increasingly we will shoot more of our own. Plus, we are hopeful that visitors will send us articles and footage, and we will credit their videos and stories with bylines. We have lots of photos on our website, and we credit the photographers. We put the spotlight on everybody.
BAFT : What else does your website have?
D.M.: We make places accessible with interactive maps. If you want historical travel or adventure, you can search by that. Besides the video and related content, you have useful links to organizations and sites like yours.
BAFT: How long did it take to put this project together?
D.M.: It’s been about two years now. It is more challenging than I ever thought it would be, but it is worth it. I love TV, but this adds more of the interactive aspect to it. There is so much I want to do.
BAFT : Why is the emphasis on the American West?
D.M. : Our real domain and strength is the West, and I know it really well. Our library is richest in the west. The west is one of the most diverse places in the world. It is a $135 billion market.
BAFT : What else sets it apart from the television series?
D.M.: On the website, I will offer a series of trips with a touring company. We are beginning to offer these around the west. I will get to go on some of them. It’s called Doug McConnell Open Road, and it’s like a travel club. I develop the itinerary. This summer we will have a trip to Hawaii including Kauai and Big Island. Then we have a couple to the back country of Yosemite and trip to Alaska where we will get up close to humpback whales in Glacier bay. Next year, we’ll go to New Zealand.
BAFT: Switching topics, where do your kids like to go?
D.M.: Their favorite place is Hawaii. Locally, my boys love Yosemite. My son Patrick loves going to Alpine County, the least populated county in California. It’s South of Lake Tahoe. We go to a historic road house called Sorenson’s Resort. They have a real environmental ethic there. He always wants to go up there for his birthday, so we go and rent a cabin, have fun and play in the snow and goof around like mad men. It’s great.
We also go to Grover Hot Springs, and we get in the hot pools and cold pools. On the last day of the 3-day trip we make sure to go to South Shore Tahoe to play video games. We also go to Granlibakken Resort and go sledding and throw snowballs. It’s great fun for families. You see lots of parents and their little kids together.
You can catch Doug on Bay Area Backroads every Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m. on KRON each week. Check out his new website to experience the American West at www.OpenRoad.tv .
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