KNPR pioneer was one man in Las Vegas who wasn't full of hot air

Meeting someone who says he's going to do something big in Las Vegas isn't exactly a rarity. But plenty of those promises don't materialize. The numbers of unfinished high-rises are obvious examples, and there are a few guys who buy casinos and don't do well despite their bold talk.

But early in 1980, I interviewed a likable fellow with a bushy brown mustache who told me he and his wife and several others were going to start a public radio station.

Our interview took place in a former janitor's closet at Silverbowl Stadium off Boulder Highway, the unopened station's unimpressive headquarters. As I left the humble site, I hoped he would pull it off.

Well, Lamar Marchese did the deed.

He and his wife, Pat, had developed the concept of a public radio station together as volunteers for four and a half years while Lamar worked for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District and Pat worked for the city of Las Vegas Cultural Affairs Department.

In March 1980, KNPR-FM radio went on the air. Lamar was no longer general manager of an idea; he was general manager of the first public radio station in Las Vegas.

Counting him, there were five employees. Some weeks he had trouble making the Friday payroll, but he never missed one.

When he asked a bank for a loan to construct a building, the bank said no, the station was too risky.

To this day, Lamar is grateful to gamer Bill Boyd, who personally signed for a $200,000 loan for the struggling radio station's first building.

The first few years on the air were the toughest, Lamar said Friday during a retirement party at the station's studios on the West Charleston campus of the Community College of Southern Nevada.

Pat retired from her job as director of Clark County Parks and Recreation on March 23, and the two vibrant 62-year-olds, who first met in the sixth grade in Tampa, Fla., and have been married 40 years, are going to sit in their rockers ... whoops, must be another couple.

This couple is planning a trip to Egypt, and they're going to use their retirement to satisfy their travel bug.

Today, the station has a $3.2 million annual budget, 32 employees and 140,000 listeners, and it has expanded its coverage throughout Southern Nevada and into Southern Utah.

Lamar delivered even more than he had promised, and how many people actually do that in the nonprofit world? Or even the for-profit world?

"One thing I am, if nothing else, is persistent," he said, looking back on his 27 years as general manager. "I always had great faith we'd get it done."

Pat said she never doubted he would pull it off because her husband is focused.

"He's always purposeful and knows what he wants."

KNPR was trying to be all things to all public radio listeners, offering jazz, classical music, news and humor. Lamar headed the effort to split it into two stations, one news and one classical.

The Federal Communications Commission took a leisurely six years to approve it, but in October 2003, the one public radio station became two. About 40,000 listeners now enjoy Classical 89.7 KCNV, while 100,000 listen to News 88.9 KNPR.

Over the years, I've met a lot of big talkers and a smattering of big doers. Lamar Marchese did something for listeners who, whether they contribute to the station or not, take for granted that the public radio stations are here.

Maybe someone else would have stepped to the plate, but Lamar and Pat Marchese, working as a team, whether officially or unofficially, since moving here in 1972 have improved Las Vegas' cultural life in many ways as mainstays of various cultural nonprofits.

In a yellowed news story from 1985, Lamar said: "One thing I have learned is that this town loves a winner. If you want to be successful, look successful, and you will find it easier to get community support. Look professional. Spend the money to put good artwork in your newsletter; don't put out mimeographed sheets. If you come off looking poorly managed, or like you're having financial problems, you're digging yourself a hole."

He was talking about cultural groups, but it's good advice for anyone from a proven winner, Lamar Marchese, a man who did what he promised.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at or call 383-0275.


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