Nevadan at Work: Booted off the air, Letizia finds success on streets

Tom Letizia started his career in the 1970s as a disc jockey with a bad habit of talking back to bosses. Over three years, he learned radio and television skills on the job at several stations in Las Vegas. He switched careers from radio disc jockey to television advertising salesman.

In 1974, he walked away from the security of a good salary as a top TV ad salesman so that he could form an ad agency. Today, Letizia Mass Media employs 110 people.

The company ranks among the largest ad agencies in Las Vegas. In addition to Las Vegas clients, he provides advertising services to new car dealers in 17 cities, including Dallas; New Orleans; Birmingham, Ala.; and El Paso, Texas.

Question: What was your first media job?

Answer: Went to Anchorage, Alaska, as a disc jockey. Hated it. It was cold. Talked back to the general manager, and he sent me back.

I found a job in 1971 in Las Vegas at KORK-AM (920) (now KDWN), which was owned by Donrey (Media, predecessor of Stephens Media), Don Reynolds.

It was what they called at the time middle of the road or chicken rock. KORK at the time was the top radio station They had this guy named Red McIllvaine. I came on after him. He was actually a legend in this town. Of course, I didn’t have a personality, didn’t fit into a middle-of-the-road station, and I got fired at KORK.

That was probably the worst day in my life. I cried for three days.

Question: You recovered from that setback and enjoyed a short but successful career as a television ad salesman. What happened next?

Answer: I left with the general manager of Channel 13 and opened an ad agency in ’74. I was 24. Broke away from my partner in the ’80s and married my wife.

Question: How did you meet your wife, Marla?

Answer: I met my wife when she was the audio girl in the production department at KLAS-TV (Channel 8).

I asked her out. She turned me down (repeatedly) for a year, because she heard stories about me being a wild and crazy guy. We went out the first time and we never left each other.

Question: She pursued a career of her own.

Answer: She became the weather girl on Channel 8 and Channel 13. From there, she developed her own TV show called “Las Vegas Turnaround.”

She got ants in her pants about five or six years after she started raising kids. She created this product called the “Parenting Network” and she syndicated it in 50 markets across the country. It was little vignette that would run in the news across the country. We sold it to Lorimar.

Question: You were campaign coordinator for Oscar Goodman, a former criminal defense attorney for mobsters, in his first run for mayor.

Answer: Yes. The first day, this guy said we’ve got this mobile billboard, and I would like to put the mayor on it. I said: “Oh, my God. With Oscar’s ego, he’ll love it.”

I drove this billboard with a picture of Oscar on it to a campaign party. It was a surprise. We even had audio on it. It said: “Vote for Oscar Goodman for mayor of Las Vegas.”

Oscar looked at this thing, and his chin dropped. Oscar said; “I want that billboard to follow me around everywhere I go.” Every time he went to an event, we would drive that billboard up and it would demoralize his opponents.

We had 11 opponents when that race started. Oscar came out of nowhere. Matter of fact, (then-Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher) Sherm Frederick, ran an editorial the week that Oscar announced and said, “Anybody but Oscar.”

Question: Your wife later started a mobile billboard business. What other changes have you made since 1974?

Answer: We became full service. Today, we handle digital, interactive, print, radio, television, the whole bit. We have our full-service TV production facilities.

We also have our Wobies, our illuminated, walking billboards, on the Strip. Our newest product is our “Little Black Book of Savings” (which has discount coupons for tourists) and we distribute them through our Wobies, our walking billboards.

Question: You handle TV commercials for new-car dealers in other states?

Answer: We’re in 17 markets with the Hyundai dealers’ associations all through the south central United States.

Question: How has the recession affected your operations?

Answer: It was the summer of ’08 when we saw the world start to change. It was the worst business time I ever saw in my life. By the time ’09 came around, we made a serious move into the digital world. Website development, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, e-mail marketing, social media marketing.

Where my traditional media was declining because the world was changing, we added all these new products.

Question: What’s the secret of your success?

Answer: I think life is all about relationships. Don’t take a man’s money unless you are dedicated to doing the best possible job you can do.

Contact reporter John G. Edwards at or 702-383-0420.

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