Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Supported by

Las Vegas News Bureau provides a glorious look into the city's past

The atomic mushroom cloud from The Priscilla Test, part of Operation Plumbbob, raised over Fremont Street on June 24, 1957. Las Vegas News Bureau photographer Don English accidentally captured this iconic image when he slept in and had to rush downtown to capture the blast on top of the drugstore. English recalls that he looked up, 'and by gosh all of a sudden there was the mushroom cloud right between Vegas Vic and the Pioneer Club, absolute perfectly in the center.' This famous image was published around the world and won 'LIFE' magazine's 'picture of the week.'
Las Vegas News Bureau
The atomic mushroom cloud from The Priscilla Test, part of Operation Plumbbob, raised over Fremont Street on June 24, 1957. Las Vegas News Bureau photographer Don English accidentally captured this iconic image when he slept in and had to rush downtown to capture the blast on top of the drugstore. English recalls that he looked up, "and by gosh all of a sudden there was the mushroom cloud right between Vegas Vic and the Pioneer Club, absolute perfectly in the center." This famous image was published around the world and won LIFE magazine's picture of the week.

In 1949, the Desert Sea News Bureau was born. Three quarters of a century later, we know it better as the Las Vegas News Bureau. For many in its early years, it was a window into Las Vegas, and an enticement to visit. To us today, it’s a reminder of some glorious yesterdays.

Max Kelch planted the seed. He owned KENO radio in 1944 when he became president of the Las Vegas chamber of commerce. He figured when the war ended, Las Vegas might need to promote itself more. He started the Live Wire Fund and asked other businesses to contribute between one and five percent of their gross receipts for the year. They made 84,000 dollars. They used the money to hire an advertising agency to market Las Vegas.

They started with J. Walter Thompson, a big agency. They weren’t happy. They tried West-Marquis, but that agency only took care of advertising. Las Vegas leaders wanted someone to publicize their town. They turned to Steve Hannagan, who also worked for the Union Pacific. That was important. The railroad already employed Hannagan and paid half of his $50,000 a year. Hannagan knew tourism, since he had done campaigns for Sun Valley, Idaho, and Miami Beach. He and his agency set up the Desert Sea News Bureau to take photos, write articles, and

publicize Las Vegas. Interestingly, Desert Sea referred to Lake Mead, which was a popular attraction for casino visitors as well as recreation enthusiasts. And a lot of the early publicity focused on outdoor activities.

Hannagan’s agency didn’t last long, but not because it wasn’t doing a good job. The Union Pacific withdrew the subsidy. The Chamber of Commerce decided Hannagan’s contract was too costly. So the chamber took the news bureau in house. In 1955, it became the Las Vegas News Bureau. It, and some of its staff, became icons.

For example, Don English, the longtime photographer. One day he took a photo of a cloud between downtown casinos. It wasn’t a cumulo-nimbus. It was a mushroom cloud. The News Bureau did promote aboveground atomic testing as a tourist attraction.

There was another famous photo. If you ever saw the musical Guys and Dolls, you may know the song, “The Oldest Established.” It’s about the oldest established, permanent floating crap game in New York.” The Sands Hotel put a crap table in its pool. The News Bureau sent out the shot English took of swimmers playing the game.

Other News Bureau legends included Don Payne, Donn Knepp, and Milt Palmer, among so many others. They worked closely with a generation of brilliant publicists … Harvey Diederich, Dick Odessky, Herb McDonald, Al Freeman, Gene Murphy, Jim Seagrave, and many more.

They worked together, and celebrities were almost always happy to help. The photos ranged from Elvis and Liberace exchanging instruments to a showgirl holding posters for candidates. They called Miss Bea Sure N. Vote.

Today, the News Bureau and its seven million photos are part of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. News Bureau photos and videos show up in a lot of news stories and documentaries, and sometimes in local exhibits. They remind us of the days when what happened here … was sent around the world.