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TV photographer goes on talk show

Rick Chandler

Heads up, people. Sally Jessy Raphael is in town, and she means business.

The talk show hostess will join forces with Mike Conway and KMTN-TV on Friday in South Lake Tahoe, where a segment will be taped for the nationally syndicated talk show on the topic “Close Calls With Death.”

This is a subject Conway knows all too well. He survived a brush with death two years ago while doing a live report at a major wildfire near Kingsbury Grade.



“Most people around here know the story,” said Conway, owner of KMTN and originator of local shows such as “Live From the Lake” and “Resort Report.”

“I was reporting on the big Autumn Hills wildfire at the base of Kingsbury Grade two years ago. I got caught in the fire, and suffered second- and third-degree burns over most of my body.”



Conway and a firefighter were engulfed in flames when the U.S. Forest Service truck they were in failed to start. Conway was wearing protective gear, but a fireball – which took 45 seconds to pass over the truck and was estimated at 840 degrees – was hot enough to peel the paint off the truck and melt most of Conway’s fire suit.

“It was scary. But I got it all on tape,” Conway said. “I kept the camera rolling all the way up until the fireball hit.”

Locally, Conway was classified as both heroic and foolhardy. But his footage caused quite a stir on the national scene, with Conway making appearances on “Live With Geraldo Rivera,” The Discovery Channel and ABC’s “Shooters,” among other programs.

Since arriving in 1974, Conway has helped put Lake Tahoe in the national spotlight. KMTN’s new 3-hop microwave system beams live images of recreation and ski conditions to most corners of California and Nevada. In addition, popular programs such as “Live From the Lake” are fed to affiliates in Sacramento, Reno, San Francisco and Los Angeles. KMTN’s remote WeatherCams and SkiCams are also carried on newscasts in San Francisco and Reno on the Fox Network. In all, KMTN reaches 7.7 million viewers a day.

Friday morning’s Sally Jessy Raphael “live on tape” segment will be fed to KABC-Reno, then transmitted by satellite to New York. It will originate from the KMTN studios on Lake Tahoe Boulevard, and have the feel of a live show. It will be broadcast sometime next week.

“We’re going to feature the firefighters from the Lake Valley Fire Department, who will tell their story (concerning the blaze),” Conway said. “There will be fire equipment parked at the studio, and we’ll do the show outdoors.”

Conway has made a little money appearing on national TV over the past two years, but he has donated all of it (“a few thousand dollars,”) to the Lake Valley department.

“They’re great guys, they do such a good job,” Conway said. “I’ve been out on about 35 wildfires over the years, so I see them in action all the time. It’s primarily a volunteer fire department, and they’re always in need of new equipment and things.”

Producers were not sure what time taping would begin today, but estimates centered on 9 to 10 a.m. And if you’re interested, Friday’s topic on Sally Jessy is, “It’s Your Bachelor Party or Me.”

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