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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?"

<b>Environmental issues</b>

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.

The film is based on former Hop Kiln Winery owner Marty Griffin's book, "Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast," chronicling the hard-fought campaign to block development projects along the Marin-Sonoma Coast.

"We raised $7,000 to make it, and we premiered it in October 2012," Dobbs said. "On Earth Day, over 500 stations around the country aired it."

Born on Feb. 22, 1948, Dobbs bounced around from the West to the East Coast while growing up.

She ended up graduating from high school in Coral Gables, Fla., then attended UC Santa Barbara during the turbulent years of 1968 and 1969, leaving early due to the distractions of the student protests and anti-war riots.

In 1972, she moved to Sonoma County with her first husband, Sonoma State University political science professor Don Dixon, and finished up her degree at that college. In 1977, the couple had a son, Ian, who now teaches astrophysics at New York University's Abu Dhabi campus.

In 1978, another SSU political science professor, John Kramer, went on sabbatical at the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy and discovered a public-access channel that had been assigned to the Rohnert Park-Cotati area.

When he returned to Sonoma County, Kramer organized a board and applied for seed money to launch Channel 22. In 1981, the board hired Dobbs to raise funds, find a location, determine equipment needs and prepare an application to the FCC.

In the beginning, Dobbs was dubious about whether she wanted to have anything to do with television.

"I didn't like what TV has done to us, how it divides and isolates us," she said. "The biggest evolution for me has been the realization that media can in fact be a stimulating, engaging component of the community."

With help from Kramer, who became her second husband in the early 1980s, Dobbs has nurtured KRCB-TV Channel 22 from wobbly startup to full-fledged broadcasting corporation with an annual budget of $2.8 million.

Kramer designed and built their home near Freestone, where Dobbs planted a garden and Kramer planted a vineyard. The couple raised a daughter and a son, as well as Dobbs' son from her first marriage.

When Kramer was diagnosed in July with a rare and fatal form of brain cancer, their two children — Annie, 29, and Andrew, 23 — helped take care of him. He passed away in February.

Despite her loss, Dobbs feels grateful to have been able to nurture a media organization and a family at the same time.

"It's fantastic that my husband and I were both involved," she said.

<i>You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.</i>

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