Las Vegas Radio History:  1940-1980

Listening to Las Vegas radio since 1963 and being employed in broadcasting since 1971, I have accumulated quite a bit of information on the relatively brief broadcast history of this once dusty town in the desert.  There's a smattering of Wikepedia articles on individual stations; none are complete plus they don't give enough background to the many colorful individuals who have worked behind the microphone and on the microphones. This website is by no means the definitive history of Las Vegas radio, but I hope to inform and give the rest of the world a handle on this town's radio past, focusing primarily on the first 40 years of 1940-1980.

In memory of Sam O'Neil, a broadcasters we lost way too soon.

God now has his voice back by his side.


 

"Boss Radio" airchecks from the 60s*

 

"Big Switch" 1968

 

 

 

"Little Saint Nick" -

Klassy 100 version 1987

 

FM93 "The Key" Jingle 1990


KLUC "3 in a Row Radio" ad 1971. Aircheck from 1980


 

"The Home of the Good Sports" KLAV 1976


KITT-FM Aircheck 1985


"Klassy Music Survey" 1986
KFM 102 1982

KVEG AM/FM 1971


Where are they now? The DJs, newspeople, and unsung radio heroes from out of our past!


Your source for broadcasting news (and tower information) in the northeastern U.S. and Canda

fybush.com

#1: KENO-AM 1460

November 1, 1940

Before there were radio stations in Las Vegas residents had to listen to the closest signal they could pick up, Los Angeles AM's were the first choice and at night other strong signals could be heard from accross the country.  That changed November 1, 1940 when Maxwell Kelch signed on Las Vegas' first radio surviving station, KENO-AM. Max was an MIT graduate and brilliant business man.2  He garnered support from local businesses who contributed to the "Live Wire Fund."

Las Vegas actually had a station prior to KENO's sign on, KGIX-AM was close to downtown on Stewart near 12th street but it had gone dark.  In his application to the FCC for call letters, they felt certain the "vanity" calls KENO would be denied, so their first choice was KLVN with KENO as second choice.  The commission regretfully informed Kelch their first choice had been assigned to a ship at sea, so KENO it was.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal in their story "The first 100 people who shaped Southern Nevada" tells the story of the station's beginnings

KENO's first broadcast facility was the old Meadows Club, which Laura Belle dubbed "The extinct nightclub." It had been built in 1931 by gambler Tony "The Admiral" Cornero on the Boulder Highway at the site now occupied by Montgomery Ward. The construction permit was issued March 25, 1939 and granted June 5, 1940 for 100 watts & 250 watts limited service on 1370. The federal realignment of radio stations moved them to 1400 a year later.

Shortly after he opened El Rancho Vegas in 1941, casino man Tommy Hull made Kelch an offer he couldn't refuse.

"Max, if I moved your radio station, your tower, everything, to my property, would you move over there?" he asked. Kelch agreed instantly. It was free studio space in a high-visibility location. Hull got a good deal, too. Every 20 minutes or so, the announcer would identify the radio station, and note that it was "broadcasting from the grounds of the fabulous El Rancho Vegas." Later, Kelch built a new studio on the Strip, just north of where Circus Circus would later stand.1 It's not known if Tommy actually did move the tower from it's location behind Montgomery Wards on East Charleston, but from 1947 through the 1980's the site remained active and was home to KLAV until it was moved to Owens and I-15.

After WWII a new service was opened up with the FM band and KENO lit up the first FM staiton in Las Vegas in 1947 at 103.9 mHz with .36 kw. Las Vegas was no  longer a one-station market with the arrival of two competitors in KLAS-AM at 1230 and KRAM at 920, both signing on in 1948. On July 10, 1950 KENO was granted permission to increase power from 250 to 1000 watts and move up the dial to 1460 kHz with a directional antenna array.

In 1955 the Kelches made an offer to the employees to buy the station, and Manager Merle Sage, Edward Oncken, and Ralph O. Dow took over. "Price:  $87,000, with 5K down from each of us."2 That ownership only lasted for two years, for on On June 20, 1957 a group led by KING/Seattle Owner Gordon B.. Sherwood assumed majority control of the station. The FM license was allowed to expire, as there were hardly any receivers to listen to it at the time. The KENO-FM in 1977 was actually KENO's company acquiring an existing FM at 92.3, which had the calls KTRI.

On April 27, 1960 the station filed a construction permit with the FCC to move from the El Rancho to the Northeast corner of Paradise Valley and Flamingo Road. Less than two months later the hotel burned to the ground on June 17, 1960. They moved to Paradise and Flamingo road with a three-tower directional array. That building was later painted with red, white, and blue stripes, when KENO enjoyed it's most succesful years, ratings-wise. In the 1950s KRAM played Elvis and Rock 'n Roll, but during the 60s and into the 70s, they were a monster. 

On June 11, 1965 the present owner Lotus Broadcasting Corp. assumed control; just over a year later they applied for a power increase to 5,000 watts day/1000 watts night. On the air, the station made a big deal of it, time checks were all called "KENO Big Switch Time" and liners, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the switch is on!" On December 11, 1970 approval was given for a move to 4660 South Decatur near Tropicana. 

A listing for a 1964 KENO "Good Guys" music survey on Ebay sums up these golden years: KENO was the legendary Top 40 station for Las Vegas, competing with KRAM in the 60's and KLUC in the 70's. This Color Channel 146 KENO Fabulous 40 survey is from 12-26-64 and has a listing of the KENO DJs (Good Guys) at the bottom; Coffee Jim Dandy, Mark Lane, Dave Ambrose, Corky Mayberry, Paul Jones & Jeff Colson. Later arrivals at "color channel 146" were Scott Morgan, Len E. Mitchell, Don Adams, and Jimmy Walker.  Colorful personalities like Sam Cougar would host the night show in the early 70s, his spots for "Cougar's Den" were memorable.  The "Wild Man" Bill Wescoe would take over the nighttime slot.  Overnights were handled by Rick Phillips in the mid to late 70's, a shift we called "Midnight to Gentry" as often it did not end at 6am, program director Scott Gentry (now the owner of KJUL) had a habit of oversleeping so Rick would sometimes hang on for an extra hour...or two.  Norm Seeley was the news director. 

Scott would make sleeping in a permanent thing in the late 70's as Jefferson Stone would take over wake-up duties (Jefferson's brother is Shadoe Stevens), Bill Alexander afternoons, and R.W. Stevens moved across the hall from the FM to do nights.

In 1948 a construction permit was granted and at 103.9 KENO had the station's first FM signal.  In later years this simply vanished, and it's not clear what became of this station.  In 1977 Lotus Broadcasting acquired 92.3 which was KTRI; initially labeled "K-92" it was Vegas' first album-oriented rock (AOR) station.  Staff members included Steve Summers mornings, Randy Lundquist, George Thomas, Lynn Justice, Rick Diego, Steve O'neal, Gary O'Niel, Bill Bauman, Jerry Clary, and Keith Stewart. 

Farther up the dial a pop-oriented KFMS-102 would flip to album rock in the late 70's, KENO also felt pressure from KLUC which finally beat them in the ratings in 1979.  Album rock was dropped for a pop-oriented format, consultants implemented more changes, and the station struggled for an identity.  K-92 became "KENO-FM" then FM KENO 92 until 1981 when it returned to it's rock roots with a call-letter change it retains to this day:  KOMP.  Originally they had hoped to be KMOB or "The Mob" but in those days the FCC would not allow it. 

KENO-AM today retains those famous call letters and the transmitter site is diplexed with sister AM KBAD (formerly KORK) near Vegas Drive and Rancho.  The format is Spanish Sports.

 

3-24-39 First C.P. for a new station to be operated on Frequency - 1370 kc Power - 100w;250s-LS

 

Las Vegas Radio Stations 1940-1980

Calls

Frequency

Sign on yr

KENO-AM

1460 (1370,1400)
1940

KLAS-AM (KLAV)

1230
1947

KRAM-AM (KRLV)

920 (moved to 1340)
1947

KORK-AM (KBAD)

1340 (moved to 920)
1951

KBMI-AM (KFMS / KSHP)

1400
1954

KRBO-AM (KLUC)

1050
1956

KTOO-AM (KVOV/KDOX)

1280
1956

KLUC-FM

98.5
1963

KVEG-AM

(KNUU)

970
1963

KRGN-FM (KFMS / KWID)

101.9
1963

KORK-FM (KXPT)

97.1
1963
KVEG-FM (KENO / KOMP)
92.3
1966
KLVM-FM (KJMZ / KMXB)
94.1
1971
KQRX-AM (KDWN)

720

1975
KEEC-FM (KUDO /KEYV KQOL/ KPLV)
93.1
1980

A gold mine of information was found online, Radio's Online Library with scanned images of Broadcasting yearbooks from 1946-1979.  This gave me the sign-on dates, ownership, management, and facilities of the Las Vegas stations.  In the 1950's practically every station was in a strip Hotel:  KENO in the El Rancho, KRAM in the Riviera, KLAS in the Desert Inn, and KORK in the Thunderbird.  In laters years KVEG AM/FM  would call home the Castaways Hotel, The Marina & Tropicana Hotels KUDO 93.1 FM, KLUC AM/FM called home the Frontier Hotel. 

 

Most of the factual data I obtained from this online resource.  The rest comes from working in this market for 38 years, my first jobs were at the first two stations to sign on in Las Vegas, KLAV and KENO.  The recollections from memory may have some inconsistencies but I'm confident I'll get feedback from someone who will correct me. 

The temporary replacement antenna for KEYV-FM 93 atop Mount Potosi which was built in 1993 following a devastating fire which destroyed the transmitter building which then housed The Key, KJUL 104.3 and KFBI 107.5.  The mountain top site's first tenant was 107.5 which is licensed to Pahrump. the original call letters were KLVV

 KXTE  08/12/1996
 KFBI  01/14/1993
 KUDA  11/10/1988
 KLVV  05/05/1986

from the FCC FMQ FM database query

Vegas Radio Bits&Bytes

.  This story came from Gordon Atterberry, who was KLAV's chief engineer in the early 1970s.

Gordie took me out to the KLAV transmitter site which used to be behind Montgomery Wards on East Charleston, a site which had quite a bit of radio history--it was the first location of Vegas' first radio station KENO-AM in 1940. Collecting dust in the corner of the building was a long box which looked very much like a jukebox, with the Seeberg logo on the front. There was no coin slot in this 'jukebox' though, for it had a similar function but different application: it was KLAV's automation equipment from circa 1960.

"King KLAS" was the station's slogan Gordie said, reflecting the call letters of the station at the time. Sometime in the late 50s the station went top-40 and had pretty good success, taking on KENO and KRAM who were the market leaders..they even beat them in the ratings, Gordie said. Then new owners came in and decided to automate it, get rid of the disc jokeys and installed a jukebox to play all the records. But in 1960 radio without live people wasn't accepted, the ratings tanked and the owners ended up losing the station and had to sell.

I haven't found any more evidence to back up Gordie's story about what was possibly the first automated station in Las Vegas, and the first of many "Top 40" wars which would come. But the dusty relic which looked like a jukebox did offer some proof that decades ago, a trend which would later become widespread in the industry had beginnings in Las Vegas around 1960.


"3 in a row radio" 1968


 

Radio Bits and Bytes--California Airchecks 1983:  Las Vegas

  I received some inspiration for an update to this site while rummaging through old airchecks of mine, finding a real goldmine: California Airchecks: Las Vegas 1983. It's a time capsule of Las Vegas radio on a Friday night and Saturday morning the late fall of '83.

On that tape, "Superhit KLAV, A Frontier Media Station, Morgan Skinner, President!" The jock on the tape is none other than Floyd Thackery aka Jack Daniels who we just lost February 1st--he went by Jay Floyd Daniels on "Superhit KLAV." Radio-Info boards poster "Jay F" wrote, "I heard that when Morgan Skinner arrived at KLAV he made the jocks change their air name if it had any connection to drugs or alcohol. "Jack Daniels" was no longer acceptable. Chris Colson (Jeff's brother) went by the name Christopher Haze and changed it to Chris Carson (which he then used for several years doing overnights on KLUC). Jeff Colson went by the name "Jay Stone" on KLAV, he wasn't there much longer after Skinner arrived."

Also on this gem of early 1980s Vegas radio is Brian Christian sitting in for Mike O'Brian evenings on KLUC. OB would later move to mornings and Brian became the regular 6-10pm host. Brian hosts the top 10 countdown with Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" at #1. Newcomer KMZQ 100.5 had just signed on and you hear Jeff Burke on "The New Q-100 KMZQ," promoting Rebel Footbal which was coming up - a major factor in getting 100.5 on the air was getting the lucrative broadcast rights for UNLV's Rebel Footbal team. A bonus on the "Q-100" segment is hearing Jeff Colson's promo. Beau Weaver is on 1460 KENO-AM, Jeff Allen was sitting in for regular evening talent Charlie Morris on KOMP (Charlie was hosting the "Stray Cat Strut" contest at the Brewery.) It's an interesting set of songs on the 1983 KOMP which featured, among others, "Church of the Poisin Mind" by Culture Club, "Too Late for Love" by Def Leppard, "You're the One" by 38 Special, "Don't Cry" from Asia, "Nowhere Man" by the Beatles, and "Hold Me" by Fleetwood Mac. And heard on KUDO, KENO, KOMP, KLAV, and KLUC, "This mention brought to you by Fairway Chevrolet."

The very first segment features yours truly George Thomas on KUDO "93-Kudo K-U-D-O From the fabulous Marina Hotel." It was a great trip down memory lane.
 

Radio Bits and Bytes - From KRBO to KYDZ, 1050 T0 1140 AM

With the recent change in formats and call letters for 1140 AM it got me thinking about the history of this portion of the AM dial. The former AM counterpart to KLUC-FM 98.5 began as a daytime-only station at 1050 on the dial as KRBO in 1956. "Rainbow Incorporated" and Joe Julian owned it and hence "RBO." Mike Gold bought the station in 1963 and changed the call letters to KLUC and moved to the New Frontier Hotel--along with it came an FM sister station. In 1968 came a major upgrade in power to 10,000 watts and a move up the dial to 1140. The AM and FM would simulcast until the AM split apart from the FM and took on a new identity with new calls: KMJJ. "Magic 11" became a very popular station with talent like Charlie and Harrigan, Rick Shaw, Steve Goddard, and Bill Balance. None of these folks actually did their shows in Las Vegas, they taped them on reel to reel and board ops played them back from studios in North Las Vegas, first on McDaniel street and then on Lake Mead Blvd.

KMJJ would flip formats and become hard-rockin' KRSR, "The Krusher." They picked up the calls KZAP when the Chico, California station dropped them in 1992, but was short-lived as they returned to KLUC later that same year. By 1993 the music format was history and the format changed to "Casino Radio" with the calls KXNO: "Give us 20 minutes, and we'll give you Las Vegas" It was keyed primarily to people travelling along the I-15 corridor with its 10kW daytime signal and directional nighttime pattern.

The lights were turned out in the Casino and Sports Fan Radio came to town with KSFN in 1997. Sports Fan folded and the station returned to music with "Crusin' Oldies." The station headed into the new century with a return to talk-- Hot Talk to be specific, with Don & Mike, Tom Leykis, Loveline, and the return of Johnson and Tofte to the radio in the morning. Another shift in direction would come with a return to sports with "Sports Radio 1140."

March 3rd heralded marked the return of music to 1140 with Kids Radio KYDZ. Core artists on the station include Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, The Plain White T’s, David Archuleta, and Miley Cyrus. The station is promoting itself as “For Kids, By Kids” and will feature on-air product produced and voiced by local children.
 

1 LV Review Journal, "The First 100 People Who Shaped Southern Nevada" http://www.1st100.com/part2/kelch.html

2 Bud Weil, who worked with Maxwel Kelch at KENO 1949-1955 and started the local MUSAK franchise with him

 *Vintage Radio Photographs courtesy of Allen Sandquist aka "Roadsidepictures"

This page presented as a public service by George Thomas Apfel

Corrections and more classic Las Vegas Radio information are welcome!

georgethomasapfel at gmail dot com.

Born on Sunday February 1, 2009

Updated November 11, 2010