If you’ve lived in Oregon long, chances are you’ve visited a place you learned about on "Oregon Field Guide."
For 28 seasons, the show has transported audiences to just about every corner of the state, from a trek in the Wallowa Mountains to a stroll around the town of Dufur. And the man behind it all? Steve Amen, the host of the show since its first season on OPB TV in 1989.
Steve is retiring this year; the next episode of "Oregon Field Guide" will be his last. To commemorate the occasion, he sat down with OPB to tell us about his nearly three decades on the show and to talk about what comes next.
Q&A with Steve Amen
OPB: So, who are you?
Steve Amen: I'm the luckiest guy in the world. I am. Everybody tells me that. And I know everybody thinks I'm insane. "You're quitting the best job in television." And they're right! But it's time.
OPB: And you helped create "Oregon Field Guide," right? How did that come about?
Steve Amen: Well, it was initially the idea of a fellow who worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife — Bruce Craven. And he brought it to us. But (the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) really wanted just kind of a nice travelogue. They didn't want any controversy. They didn't want to look at any real environmental issues. ... And that really wasn't what OPB was about.
I knew that if I wanted to do a story that dealt with the environment — and we looked at some of these really complex issues — that I wanted to make sure that we told as unbiased a story as we could. So that was sort of the genesis of it. That was our approach, and it's really what we thought that the viewers wanted, too.
OPB: Did you have a feeling the show would take off like it has? Did you ever think you’d be here celebrating 28 seasons?
Steve Amen: I had no clue. I thought this would be a really nice gig for three or four years. But the viewer response was amazing. I mean, we knew within the first year that we had hit onto something right. We have incredible — and I'm not just sucking up to you, because I don't have to, I'm leaving — but we have incredible viewers that are very, very intelligent. All they want are the facts. Give them the facts and let them decide for themselves. You know, we don't need to tell them how to think. We don't want to tell them how to think.
OPB: Not everyone knows you grew up in a small town. Has that influenced your approach to the stories you tell on "Oregon Field Guide"?
Steve Amen: Well, I grew up in beautiful Torrington, Wyoming, the sugar beet capital. And we were dirt poor. One of our claims to fame is we were one of the first in our neighborhood to get an indoor toilet with running water. We hunted sometimes to eat. We grew most of our food in a garden. I mean, I understand that type of thing.
When I came out here and I was working, living with people, you know, in Portland, they had no concept of what it was like to be doing that. We wanted them to feel that, you know, to see what it was like. And that's a lot of what our stories were doing, was to open up that conversation.
OPB: What are some of your favorite stories from past seasons?
Steve Amen: Well, in our very first year, we did a story on a woman named Robin who had cerebral palsy who wanted to go rock climbing. And I will never forget that story and the impact it had on me. I was just so overwhelmed with this woman and her determination to overcome these challenges that she had been dealt, you know, and to rock climb. And she did it with such courage and such class. I mean, it really, really stuck with me.
Another of my favorite stories from years ago was a profile piece on Everett Metzentine, a wagon maker. He was such an amazing person. He had this incredible work ethic. And we're looking at, you know, sort of the work that went into creating these amazing wagons, but his personal story was just so intriguing, too, that it really carries you along.
OPB: Is it hard leaving the “greatest job in television” behind?
Steve Amen: I couldn't leave "Oregon Field Guide" if I didn't think that it was in a great place. And I truly believe that it's in about as strong a place as it can possibly be. First off, Todd [Sonflieth] is still here. Been here from the very beginning. And I have great shooters in place. I have great producers. But I also have Ed Jahn, who has been doing this show for 17 years.
OPB: Right, Ed Jahn is taking over for you as the executive producer of the show.
Steve Amen: He's produced some of the greatest specials that we've had: "Unprepared," "Silent Invasion," you know, "Glacier Caves." He now only gets what "Oregon Field Guide" is about, but he really embraces the new world that we're entering into. He understands that much better than I do. He is the perfect person to take "Oregon Field Guide" to the next level. Believe me, "Field Guide" isn't over because I'm gone. Far from it. I mean, it's going to blossom even more.
OPB: Any final thoughts?
Steve Amen: All I can really say is just to thank all of you folks for — on a personal level from me — for making this such an amazing 28 years on "Oregon Field Guide." I never thought it would go this long. I never thought it would be this fulfilling, that it would be such a huge part of my life.