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.

Underrated/overrated

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 reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

ad-high_impact_4
Local
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours takes you where the locals go
Donald Contursi talks about Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which offers walking tours of restaurants on and off Las Vegas Boulevard with food samples and tidbits of history about the places they visit.
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Longtime Las Vegas attorney John Momot dies at age 74
Criminal defense attorney John Momot, who represented mob figures and even played himself in the movie “Casino,” has died.
David Copperfield in court after man injured during magic trick
The attorney for a British man who is suing illusionist David Copperfield said his client suffered serious injuries after being called on stage during Copperfield's show at MGM Grand.
5 things connecting Las Vegas and Marilyn Monroe
1. Marilyn Monroe, known then as Norma Jeane, obtained her first divorce in Las Vegas at the age of 20 on September 13, 1946. 2. According to some biographers, Monroe lived at 604 S. 3rd Street for four months during the summer of 1946. The house has since been torn down and is now the site of a parking lot. 3. In 1954, Monroe almost married Joe DiMaggio in Las Vegas but the wedding was called off last minute. The wedding was to be held at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas which was located on the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. 4. Las Vegas has at least one road dedicated to the star. Marilyn Monroe Avenue is located in east Las Vegas and intersects with Betty Davis Street and Cary Grant Court. 5. There are currently more than 20 Marilyn Monroe impersonators for hire in the Las Vegas Valley.
Sir Richard Branson announces purchase of Hard Rock Hotel
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has acquired the Hard Rock Hotel with partners and plans to turn it into a Virgin-branded property by the end of 2019.
3 Centennial High School students killed in Calif. crash (Full)
Three Centennial High School students were killed Thursday morning in Southern California when their vehicle was struck by a suspected drunken driver while they were enjoying their spring break, according to a family member of one of the victims.
Retail Restroom Sexual Assault Suspect
Las Vegas police are asking for help finding a man they said groped a woman in a south Las Vegas Valley restroom. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Calvary Christian Learning Academy, “There was no fair warning.”
Samantha O’Brien, whose three-year-old daughter attended the Calvary Christian Learning Academy daycare, found out Monday night when her daughter’s teacher called about the school closing.
Mojave Max at Springs Preserve
File footage of Mojave Max at Springs Preserve. (Springs Preserve)
Companies bet their futures on cryptocurrency
Two Las Vegas entrepreneurs talk about finding their niche in blockchain enabled technologies and digital currency.
Solar panels reduce energy bill for CCSD
Wilbur and Theresa Faiss Middle School is one of 42 CCSD schools with solar panel installations, saving approximately $514,000 per year in energy costs.
Red carpet at MGM for Dan Reynolds Believer screening
Kats on the red carpet for the VIP screening of "Believer," the documentary by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds about how the Mormon Church treats its LGBTQ members.
Driver dies in single-vehicle crash
One person is dead after an early Wednesday morning crash in the northwest valley. The single-vehicle crash was called in about 1:35 a.m. on Jones Boulevard just north of Deer Springs Way, according to Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Robert Stauffer. The driver, who was the only person inside the vehicle, died at the scene.
Uber Health to Improve Patient Ride-Hailing Services
Uber Health to Improve Patient Ride-Hailing Services On Thursday, Uber launched its Uber Health platform for healthcare providers. Medical facilities, rehab centers, clinics and hospitals can book rides for patients from a centralized dashboard – no app required. According to Techcrunch, Uber Health general manager Chris Weber noted some 3.6 million Americans miss appointments due to lack access to reliable transportation. Uber’s endeavors into health care trace back to 2014, when Uber first offered on-demand flu shots in large markets across the U.S. Since then there have been similar efforts throughout the world, from diabetes and thyroid testing in India, to subsidized rides for breast cancer screening in the U.S., to many more. Last summer, over 100 healthcare organizations joined the platform during a private beta. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas firefighters put out blaze along Bonanza Road
Las Vegas firefighters put out a blaze that burned for about 15 minutes Feb. 20, 2018, along Bonanza Road, across from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. (Jeff Mosier/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cabana Market Shooting -- Persons of Interest
On February 3, 2018 at approximately 1:57 p.m., patrol officers were dispatched to a parking lot located in the 3900 block of East Owens Avenue to investigate a report that a man had been shot. Responding officers located an unresponsive adult male suffering from a gunshot wound. The victim was pronounced deceased at the scene. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Life
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Calvary Christian Learning Academy, “There was no fair warning.”
Samantha O’Brien, whose three-year-old daughter attended the Calvary Christian Learning Academy daycare, found out Monday night when her daughter’s teacher called about the school closing.
Companies bet their futures on cryptocurrency
Two Las Vegas entrepreneurs talk about finding their niche in blockchain enabled technologies and digital currency.
Solar panels reduce energy bill for CCSD
Wilbur and Theresa Faiss Middle School is one of 42 CCSD schools with solar panel installations, saving approximately $514,000 per year in energy costs.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Events
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like