Tom Axtell shepherds Vegas PBS through the digital age

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

In 1994, when Tom Axtell applied for the general manager’s job at KLVX-TV Channel 10, his expectations were fairly straightforward.

KLVX hadn’t invested in new equipment for nearly 20 years. “And in terms of audience ratings, the station was significantly below the national average,” he says.

Axtell figured that he’d “be here five years and then go to a bigger market. That was my goal.”

He laughs. “And 23 years later … ”

Axtell still is general manager of what’s now Vegas PBS, whose East Flamingo Road building has been nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art green design.

“People think of us as a television station,” Axtell says. “We think of ourselves as a multimedia company.”

Among the company’s media offerings are:

■ Several Channel 10 digital subchannels and original local programming.

■ Community services including a lending library of materials for hearing- and vision-impaired children.

■ Instructional media for businesses and organizations

■ An emergency communications system used by police and local schools.

Axtell, 68, was born in Chicago and became acquainted with the broadcasting business from his father who, after World War II, turned a radio DJ gig into a career in radio and TV.

Axtell’s first job in broadcasting was as a corporate sponsorship sales representative for Minnesota Public Radio. His resume includes stops at public TV stations in Spokane, Washington, and Milwaukee, and at public radio stations in Fargo, N.D., and Minneapolis.

Axtell and his wife, Jonna, have been married for 39 years. In fact, he adds, next year, ”we’ll be celebrating our 40th anniversary when the station celebrates its 50th.”

Review-Journal: What problems come with selling public broadcasting to Las Vegas viewers?

Axtell: I don’t think we have problems selling it. In the past nine years, this station has been first or second or third most-watched in the United States. That’s only (among) 56 larger metro areas, but that represents 70 percent of the population of the United States, and we’ve been first, second or third for nine years in a row. Las Vegas likes PBS.

What programs do Las Vegas PBS viewers want to see?

We do really well in drama. Science, this market consumes science. We have people who are hungry for information, and they may or may not have completed a college degree, but they’re still curious. I have a theory that if you were stuck in a low-wage job in Detroit or Chicago, and you decided to come to Las Vegas (so) you could have a high-pay job, those people have get-up-and-go. They’ve said, “I’ve got to make my life better,” and they’re using educational TV. I think that’s something that’s not appreciated in our community, that we have people who are curious and eager to learn. We (do better than average) in historical programming about war. About 10 percent of homes (here) have veterans or active military.

Vegas PBS also produces a lot of local programming.

Our biggest effort right now is to increase our original programming. We have a high school quiz bowl we call “Varsity Quiz” and we do the Clark County spelling bee. Those are important TV shows. We get killer ratings for those. Local people want to see kids who are achievers. We do the science bowl with the (former) Nevada Test Site, and the winners of that go to Washington, D.C., for a national competition.

But the cancellation of “Nevada Week in Review” was a tough one for news junkies …

I predict that, during our 50th anniversary year (in 2018), “Nevada Week in Review” will come back. … We think we’ve got the funding put together, but the question is, is “Nevada Week in Review” the right role? Should we have journalists come on and discuss what happened, or is America over-pundited, if there’s such a word? And should our show be a reflection of what happened, or would the best value for our community be a program that looks forward?

What other kinds of programs work well here?

Technically complex music productions. This is a community where a lot of people work on big-box productions or even small cabarets and so on. When we put high arts on the air, we have people who watch for the art, we have people who watch for the music because they’re musicians, we have people who watch for the technical complexity — how did they shoot that and what did the lighting look like? We get letters. When I was in Milwaukee, I never had anyone write me and say, “They really did an awesome job on the lighting in that show.”

Currently obsessed with …

Believe it or not, I enjoy tricking search engines. … I put in the most ridiculous thing — “collecting dinosaur teeth” — and you’d be surprised. The next thing you know, these things show up in your browser.

Everyday ritual

Morning coffee.

Favorite vacation destination

I don’t go to the same place over and over. I’m more interested in diversity of experience and trying out new things.

Favorite sport

Swimming. I did that in college and after college.

Current book

I try to have three books going at the same time, one book dealing with history, one book that sheds light on technology or business, and the other is current popular reading. So, right now, “The Silk Roads: A New History of the World” (by Peter Frankopan), “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, and “Thank You for Being Late” by Thomas Friedman.

If I had a million dollars …

I’d donate some of it, I’d fund my children’s and grandchildren’s education, and I would travel the world.


The rapid news cycle is overrated. There’s a great value in weighing and studying before you allegedly have all the truth.

Favorite movie

I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t been to a movie in two years. But the Indiana Jones movies I just found delightful for escapism and, I think, history and great special effects.

Contact John Przybys at or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County educators debate alternative grading systems
Spring Valley High School principal Tam Larnerd, Spring Valley High School IB coordinator Tony Gebbia and retired high school teacher Joyce O'Day discuss alternative grading systems. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Grandparents on the fire that killed three family members
Charles and Doris Smith talk about the night an apartment fire took the lives of three of their family members. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Star Trek fans on show’s enduring popularity
Star Trek fans at the Star Trek Convention 2018 talk about why they think the show has stayed popular across the years Thursday, August 2, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Nonprofit provides clothing for homeless
Sydney Grover of Can You Spare A Story?, talks about how she founded the non-profit organization. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Family remembers deceased mother
Family members of Adriann Gallegos remember her. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Restoring classic Corvettes to perfection
Members of the National Corvette Restorers Society Convention talk about what it takes to earn the NCRS Top Flight Award for a restored Corvette at South Point in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Celebrity photographer dedicates dance book to Las Vegas shooting victims
Behind the scenes with local celebrity photographer Jerry Metellus as he talks about his Dance For Vegas coffee book dedicated to the 58 victims of the October 1 shooting. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Dreamsickle Kids Foundation founder Gina Glass talks awareness
Gina Glass, 35, founded Dreamsickle Kids Foundation to raise awareness for sickle cell disease in Nevada. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Meadows School founding kindergarten teacher retires after 34 years at the school
Linda Verbon, founder of the The Meadows School's kindergarten program and the first faculty member hired at the school, retired in the spring after 34 years at The Meadows. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kids become firefighters at Fire Station 98 open house
Henderson residents wore fire hats, learned about CPR and met firefighters at the Fire Station 98 open house Saturday, August 11, 2018. (Marcus Villagran Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
People from all over the world attend RollerCon 2018
RollerCon 2018 is a five-day convention focused on the roller derby community and culture at Westgate in Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Camp Broadway teaches kids how to sing and dance
The Smith Center's seventh annual Camp Broadway musical theater program gives 150 kids ages 6-17 an opportunity to learn musical theater skills from industry professionals over a five-day period. Marcus Villagran/ Las Vegas Review-Journal @brokejournalist
Las Vegas police officer on being PETA's Sexiest Vegan Next Door
Las Vegas police officer David Anthony talks vegan lifestyle and how he feels about being voted PETA's sexiest Vegan next door from his home on Monday, July 9, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like