A reader recently asked what seemed to be simple question: What was the first radio station in Las Vegas? But like many history questions, digging up the answer led me somewhere equally as interesting.
My Vegas radio recall begins in the 1970s with KORK (920-AM, today known as KBAD, the radio home of UNLV sports). That tinny AM sound was what my mother listened to during the long, sweltering summers we endured back when all local schools shut their doors from June to August. On-air personalities Red McIlvaine and Walt Reno played the pop tunes of the era (I could karaoke “Undercover Angel” without a teleprompter, but I won’t), engaged in small-town banter with listeners and ran contests that seemed to be the highlight of the day for mom and her calling circle.
From KORK, I graduated to FM and its refreshingly crystal-clear stereo sound pop on KLUC (still at 98.5-FM; does anyone remember the Jell-O Jump?), album rock at KENO/KOMP (92.3-FM) and classic rock at KKLZ (96.3-FM, “where the LZ stands for Led Zeppelin!”). By the time I arrived at UNLV, my hair dyed a gothy shade of midnight and my VW Rabbit wallpapered with bumper stickers, my radio was permanently tuned “left of the dial” to KUNV (91.5-FM) and its legendary “Rock Avenue” punk and New Wave program.
But getting back to your question: Mom’s KORK signed on in 1951. That’s early, but not first in line. According to George Apfel’s “Las Vegas Radio History” website, AM stations KRAM (KRLV) and KLAS (KLAV) arrived in 1947, seven years after KENO, which signed on in 1940. But while KENO is the oldest surviving radio station in Las Vegas, it was preceded by the brief run of KGIX (1930-1935). And here’s where your question, Vegas history and this column intersect.
KGIX was located in what was then considered to be “near Downtown” (12th Street and Stewart Avenues), essentially occupying the same parcel as the so-called “Mystery Tower” (11th Street and Ogden Avenue) discussed in this column multiple times. Cue the aha moment! Could this finally be the answer? Was our Downtown mystery monument initially used to broadcast the KGIX signal? It sure looks like a quintessential radio tower, and this answer makes the most sense of the ones I’ve been presented. How about it, readers? Can anyone connect the dots?