From humble beginnings: Nevada Public Radio marks 42 years on the airwaves
Thursday is Nevada Public Radio’s birthday.
The station went on the air 42 years ago in a janitor’s closet in the Las Vegas Silver Bowl.
In 1998, the station moved to its current location on the Charleston Campus of the College of Southern Nevada. That was made possible through a major grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
We wanted to celebrate like this two years ago, for our 40th anniversary. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and celebrating just as casinos and businesses were closing wouldn’t have been right. So on March 24, we’re taking a look back ... and ahead.
Nevada Public Radio was founded by Lamar Marchese. He worked at the library at the time, and his wife worked for the city of Las Vegas. They started the process in 1975 and it took four more years before it launched.
“Originally our studios were 800 square feet and previous was a janitor’s closet at the Las Vegas Silver Bowl. We were actually signed on from there on March 24,” he said. They were still constructing the building on Sam’s Town.
Marchese said Bill Boyd was their “angel,” who helped them launch. “We were at 5,000 watts and we signed off at midnight.”
Did everyone think he was crazy? “Yeah, a little bit, and maybe I was, but I’m tenacious.”
Marchese said they got federal funding from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, and later from the Arts Council, Nevada Humanities and individual contributors.
They operated KNPR from the Sam’s Town parking lot for 18 years. From there, they approached the College of Southern Nevada and the Board of Regents signed off on the idea.
Though he retired in 2007, he’s still on the volunteer governing board for Nevada Public Radio.
“It was my baby,” Marchese said.
Gwen Castaldi, 70, was a longtime journalist in Las Vegas, launching State of Nevada in 2003. She’s now retired in Texas.
In the early days of the program, she said they had two employees responsible for booking guests and doing research. “It took a while to really get a feel for it,” she said. She said they covered a wide range of topics, including Yucca Mountain, Bureau of Land Management growth, gambling, leaders of color in Las Vegas, cultural arts – many of the topics we still cover today.
“We really wanted to be able to have a program that would educate especially new listeners, people who are moving to Las Vegas who knew nothing about who we are, and what we might be in the future,” Castaldi said.
Before starting State of Nevada, her coverage on the Mob led to her role in “Casino” (1995). “What an era to be there and to be able to cover all that,” she said. “It did make an interesting turn on Las Vegas history, adding another era to the original pioneer families and how they all establish … all the days way back.”
Castaldi retired in 2005 from journalism but shed light on the early days of radio in Las Vegas and the technical challenges therein. “I think reporters are so lucky these days to have phones, a satellite, the ability to reach people instantly where you couldn't back then and get information out faster.”
“To me, the big thing that wasn't there when I first came on board was really the local connection,” said Chris Murray, a longtime KNPR supporter and board director emeritus. It became a daily program engrained in the community, “a community resource. … To me, it's the gold standard,” he said.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR KNPR
Mark Vogelzang started this month as KNPR’s new president and CEO. He came to the West after managing public broadcasting stations in Asheville, North Carolina, Maine and Vermont. Earlier in his career, he was part of the team at WHYY in Philadelphia that took Terry Gross and Fresh Air from a local program to a national program.
He said he moved to Las Vegas as his home base to be with his fiancé, who he plans to wed later this year. He said he sees the value in KNPR but also where he can help it grow.
“I've known about and appreciated Nevada Public Radio for a very long time. I've known Lamar for many, many years, and admired what you've done here. I think this is really a renaissance time for public broadcasting,” he said. “We're needed now more than ever.”
He said his priorities will be building the base of support for KNPR, getting new stations through rural Nevada, and expanding our journalism.
“Much like a college president, or university president, my job is to raise the funds to support what the listeners and the institution needs for the future,” he said.
He’s worked in public radio for nearly four decades. Every day, someone new comes into the station, with new ideas, thoughts, challenges, “and you’re the center of the action,” he said.
If you’ve joined us in the past 42 years, we’d like to say a hearty thank you, and we hope you stick around for our exciting future. If you’d like to support us, click the “donate” button up top.
Lamar Marchese, KNPR founder, first general manager; Gwen Castaldi, founder and first host of State of Nevada; Mark Vogelzang, president and CEO, Nevada Public Radio