Nancy Dobbs graduated from Sonoma State University with a degree in political science in 1977, then cut her teeth writing speeches and press releases for former state Assemblyman Barry Keene.
But her political career took a swift detour when she was hired to help plan and launch a public TV station in the North Bay in 1981.
"That job was going to last six months," Dobbs said, sitting in her small office at the studios of KRCB-TV Channel 22 in Rohnert Park. "Now, it's 30 years later."
From the time it went on the air in December 1984 — the premiere program was a Nova-series show, "Spacewomen" — Channel 22's focus has been on serving the residents of Napa, Marin and Sonoma counties.
"In 1984, when we went on the air, we were serving 250,000 who didn't have access to public TV," she recalled. "But they could get us."
Over the years, Dobbs moved up from planning coordinator to station manager. She currently serves as president and CEO of the PBS-TV station and the National Public Radio station, KRCB-FM (91.1), which was launched in 1994.
"She's incredibly smart and has an incredible memory," said Una Glass, executive director of Coastwalk California and a longtime friend. "That's part of why she's been such a great CEO for KRCB. She remembers all those volunteers and donors, and their kids' names."
But her keen intellect is balanced by a soft, gracious manner that's refreshingly old-fashioned, Glass said.
"She's very committed to causes and doing good in the world," Glass added. "She definitely believes in change, in a way that many people have abandoned or given up."
As president and CEO, Dobbs' responsibilities include managing the 45-member staff, the budget, all the major fund-raising and community outreach. Her challenge in the current media climate is carving out a role for the TV station that keeps it relevant.
"Now, people can get almost anything, everywhere," she said. "We need to engage with the community in a way that's unique so we become indispensable."
To do this, she looks for issues that people care about, then partners with other organizations and people to provide programming.
Community health is one of the issues that hits home for Dobbs, who served as a staff consultant for the California State Assembly's Health Committee with Keene.
In conjunction with Sonoma County's Health Action Council, KRCB-TV has developed a health-based initiative over the past seven years, making TV and radio programs that target achievable goals.
"People think in terms of the numbers of doctors and beds," she said.
"But what really affects people's health is, do they have parks? Are there stores with fresh fruits and vegetables?"
Under Dobbs' direction, KRCB-TV also has earned a growing reputation for its environmental coverage.
Now in its sixth season, the Emmy award-winning series "Natural Heroes" has been picked up by more than 60 percent of the public TV stations in the U.S.
"That's a genre no other station has taken up," Dobbs said. "That reflects who we are here in Northern California."
Dobbs was also the driving force behind "Rebels with a Cause," a film that KRCB produced in 2012 with the help of Marin filmmakers Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto.