The late 1950s were a groundbreaking time with Elvis' first show at the New Frontier, the first class at UNLV, the grand openings of the Tropicana and the Stardust hotel-casinos and the first signal from “Lucky 13!"
As we celebrate 65 years in Las Vegas, we're taking a look back at the very early days of KTNV-TV.
“We marketed ourselves as cowboys and Indians. Howdy, partner, the old west. Well, that changed in the 50s and 60s,” says Robert Stoldal."
"From the air, Vegas looks like the small town that it is. 35,000 permanent population. 7 million is the temporary population. 7 million tourists that annual pull in by bus train and plane and leave $122 million dollars gross.”
“The Sands Hotel, the Dunes Hotel, the Last Frontier became the New Frontier Hotel, the Sahara. So we dropped that cowboy and Indian marketing and image. And that's really when channel 13 was born, as Las Vegas was moving into more of a modern perspective," says Stodal.
"Lucky 13” or KSHO-TV took to the airwaves on May 4, 1956, broadcasting from an antenna on top of the brand-new Fremont Hotel."
"13 started in its first year or so as a movie station. It showed films. Sometimes the same film would be seen in the morning, the afternoon and evening. So the different working shifts would be able to see the see that film,” according to Stoldal.
The station was started by a newspaper publisher Morris Zenoff. He ran the Boulder City News and Henderson Home News.
"In the late 1940s, he saw an opportunity in television."He seemed like just a person that believed in in in Southern Nevada, the community of Las Vegas and Henderson, and was a positive part of the community. He brought that positive energy. I don't care what you're doing, if you're going to start a television station in the early 1960s, you have to have a lot of energy and a lot of belief that you see the future,” says Stoldal.
Stoldal started his career in television at "Lucky 13" in 1964. As a fill-in sportscaster and weather anchor. He says Zenoff sold the station shortly after he established it in 1956 and it switched hands between a colorful group of owners for several years. Stoldall says it was purchased by business people who saw opportunities for advertising.
Eventually, it was sold to Television Corporation of America for $200,00 and the station moved to the El Rancho Hotel. But, in one year, the company cashed out and left the station to three familiar Las Vegas names — Nathan Adelson, Mervyn Adelson and Irwin Molasky. They were able to buy it for just $70,000.
Stoldal says the Molasky family was primarily into real estate and development but saw the TV station as an opportunity. The Adelsons and Molasky sold it though just two years later and the station’s finances took a dive.
It filed for bankruptcy in the early 60s. On top of that, the FCC pulled KSHO-TV’s license. But, in an effort to keep “Lucky 13” on-air the commission opened the door for another “only in Vegas” cast of characters to run the station temporarily.
Comedienne Phyllis Diller was one of those who applied to own the station but was denied.
The new group of owners moved KSHO-TV into what used to be an old refrigeration warehouse near Valley View Boulevard and Desert Inn Road and the changes kept coming.
“The town is in a constant state of change and development. So you can always remember yesterday and yesterday was something different in Las Vegas than it is today and and will be tomorrow. That's part of the excitement of Las Vegas,” according to Stoldal.
Back in the day, Dr. William H. Bailey was a civil rights activist and a loving father and husband. But he was perhaps best known as the emcee at the historic Moulin Rouge and the host of the "Bob Bailey Show," one of the first Black-hosted television shows in the country. It aired right here on what was then "Lucky 13."
Bailey got his start in Sin City in 1955 as the star singer for Count Bassie at the Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge was the first integrated hotel-casino in the United States. His wife Anna was one of the casino's legendary dancers.
"They could tell when we went down to Fremont Street, that we're the girls from the Rouge though. I guess it was the way we walked, the way we carried ourselves," said Anna Bailey.
They saw the oasis in the desert and that was the Moulin Rouge. So he just explained it as it was, just so beautiful," said Kim Bailey, Bob and Anna's daughter. She says after the Moulin Rouge shut down just 6 months after opening, her father saw an opportunity to take his talents and his message to television.
The show started on KLAS under owner Hank Greenspun. But in 1957 after the station went under new ownership, Bailey moved to "Lucky 13" under our former call letters KSHO. It was a variety show with music and laughs from the likes of Redd Foxx.
Bailey's daughter Kim says she remembers being there to see her dad in action. He used to take her on set as a little girl and she even made some memorable cameos on the show!
"Sometimes he would put me in one of the shots right beside him. And I was only maybe 5 or 6 and I was chewing gum and pulling my gum out and right in the camera lens," said Kim.
Kim says her dad's legacy at Channel 13 is his sense of community and inclusivity.
"I think he opened the door for that embrace between media positive representation of all people. And because so often now you hear people say, oh, the media, there's the media that but it was very different here for us because it was fair. It's authentic and fair. And I think that Channel 13 is definitely a representation of that," says Kim Bailey.
Bob Bailey went on to be the Equal Rights Commissioner in Nevada. Throughout the years he also helped countless minority businesses in Las Vegas get off the ground. Bob Bailey also has a local elementary school named after him.