Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Welcome to yet another “last installment” of Big Trip 2011! Just when I thought I’d excavated everything I could from the archives of that jaunt across Arizona through New Mexico and Colorado, I realized that I’d left out the beginning of the trip, which included a couple of quick studio tours that we’re featuring in this week’s (really!) final installment.
As with so many of the Southwest trips we feature here, this trip began at the end of the NAB Show in Las Vegas – and unlike most shows lately, where we’re lucky to catch a bit of daylight exiting the hall at the end of the day, 2011 found us escaping the hall, at least briefly, and visiting a few friends who work in Vegas broadcasting.
The closest broadcast facility to the Las Vegas Convention Center is actually within walking distance (an unusual thing in sprawling Vegas!). When KLAS-TV (Channel 8) made its home at the Desert Inn hotel way back in 1953, the area along what’s now Desert Inn Road and Convention Center Drive was just coming into bloom as the center of gravity in Vegas shifted from downtown to the nascent Strip. The Desert Inn had a big golf course and plenty of open land where a TV station could be built, studio, tower and all, and that’s how KLAS ended up where it is. But in the decades that followed, the Desert Inn closed, the property began to be divided, and what was once an open area way back behind the hotel became a smaller piece of land bounded by the new “Channel 8 Drive” that connected Convention Center Drive to the limited-access expressway that Desert Inn Road had become.
The original KLAS building ended up getting remodeled and expanded multiple times, and today you’d never recognize the original 1953 building (if there’s even anything left of it) inside the large, modern KLAS building tucked in here off Channel 8 Drive.
The transmitter is long gone, of course; a while back, we showed you the Black Mountain/Mount Arden site where the KLAS tower has been for more than four decades now.
Within the building, the focal point now is a two-story atrium newsroom from which KLAS’ top-rated newscasts are produced. If it looks less than bustling here, it’s only because we stopped by off-hours, visiting KLAS news photog Nick Pantazi (who got broadcasting in his blood growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana as the son of sports anchor Dean Pantazi.)
There are two studios here, one for commercial production and one for KLAS’ extensive news schedule – and there’s something very unusual out back. You’d never know it driving by, but inside the high concrete-block walls that surround the KLAS compound sits a little green concrete-block ranch house, a vestige of the old Desert Inn days out here.
Station legend has it that this unassuming house (now used for storage) had a colorful past: the story goes that it was used as a hideaway by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who of course lived in Las Vegas for much of the 1960s and owned not only the Desert Inn but also KLAS. Among Hughes’ eccentricities was a passion for old movies, and it’s said that when he couldn’t sleep late at night, he would arrange for movies to be dropped off at KLAS and played for him – and sometimes even replayed when he was in the mood. (The station wouldn’t even have been on the air 24/7 back then but for this very important audience of one and his odd sleep schedule.)
If you happen to hop on Desert Inn going westbound from Channel 8 Drive, you’ll find yourself on a freeway that passes under the Strip and over I-15 without exits; the next place you can turn is west of the interstate on Valley View Drive, and right at the corner of Valley View and Desert Inn is where we find our other stop.
The city’s ABC affiliate, KSHO (Channel 13), joined the fray in 1957, operating at first from the old El Rancho hotel/casino. At some point after the El Rancho burned down in 1960, channel 13 relocated to Valley View, where it built both a studio and a tower, and while the transmitter later relocated to Arden, the studio stayed here. Channel 13 eventually became KTNV and ended up in the hands of Journal Communications, which embarked on a big project just a few years back to build a brand-new KTNV studio just south of the old one, which was then torn down for parking.
The new KTNV is built around an open plan: there’s a spacious newsroom that opens right into the studio that’s at the center of the layout. Edit booths and a control room also open right off the newsroom for an easy workflow.
That studio, we should note, does double duty: in addition to housing KTNV’s newscasts, it’s also home to “Morning Blend,” KTNV’s infotainment hour that airs in midmornings…and that’s hosted by Shawn Tempesta, a veteran of Boston and Providence radio who’s now out here, himself pulling double duty as both “Blend” co-host and as the afternoon guy on CBS Radio’s KMXB (Mix 94.1).
Thanks to KLAS’ Nick Pantazi and KTNV’s Shawn Tempesta for the tours!
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And don’t miss a big batch of Santa Fe/Los Alamos IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: TBA