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Blacks on Las Vegas television

September 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Feature

Past and present talent reflect on the history of African Americans on local TV

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

It was a history-making day for Las Vegas in 1955 when the late Hank Greenspun, then-owner of the local Channel 8 television station, gave William H. “Bob” Bailey an opportunity to star on his own show, alongside co-host Alice Key.

The first program of its kind with African-American talent both in front of and behind the camera, the legendary lifestyle and entertainment show, “Talk of The Town,” was broadcast live from the historic Moulin Rouge hotel-casino. “We were the first African-Americans on television in Las Vegas, and the first show to be directed, produced and sponsored by African-Americans in the country,” said Bailey.

It is an understatement to note that at the time, race relations in the Silver State were not the best. Greenspun was fond of recounting how advertisers would threaten to pull their campaigns if “that black show” wasn’t taken off the air. He is said to have responded, “OK, well take your advertising dollars down the street, because the show is not going anywhere.” The only problem for those bigoted advertisers: At the time, Channel 8 was the only TV station in Las Vegas. “It was the only game in town,” Bailey recalls with a laugh, “so advertisers had no choice but to advertise.” 

Things have certainly changed since those very challenging times. After 12 years as Nevada’s first black television talk show host, Bailey paved the way for other African-Americans to grab the spotlight on local television. Their time onscreen may be through, but some of the people who blazed trails for today’s talent are Ray Willis, Deborah Campbell, Lillian McMorris and Patricia Jarmin — to name just a few. The city’s first black television news anchor was Roosevelt Toston, who began his career in 1970.

Roosevelt Toston

“I think timing is everything,” he says today. “I am confident that the skill set I brought to my broadcast news career in the 1970s would not have been sufficient in today’s competitive media world. I was basically trained live on the air at KORK (Channel 3). Through hard work and a few breaks, I managed to make news anchor for a short period in 1974 at KLAS-TV (Channel 8). I suspect my historic feat would have been next to impossible today without a degree in journalism. I would be remiss if I did not express disappointment that no African-American males are serving as news reporters or weekday/weekend anchors at any of the local television stations. I cannot believe that Ray Willis and I were irreplaceable when we filled those positions in the ’70s.”

Juana Hart

Las Vegas television has since made tremendous strides, with four major stations in the valley and a still-growing history of showcasing some of the nation’s finest African-American talent. Here, some of the city’s best-known television personalities, past and present, share their reflections on the history and current state of blacks on Las Vegas television.

“There are more African-Americans on Las Vegas television, reporting the news, than there was when I first started in television. It would be equally nice to see more black people in executive positions at television stations. That would really be nice.”  — Juana Hart, owner of J-Hart Communications, business communications consultant and public speaker. Served for nine years as evening news anchor for KLAS (Channel 8).

Sharie Harvin

“I was a little surprised to see a (minimal number) of black people working on local news stations here in Las Vegas considering I’ve always worked on the East Coast; but on the other hand, Channel 8 is the most culturally diverse station I’ve ever worked for. We have a mixture of people such as Asian, Hispanic, Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and many more. Despite the diversity here — or lack thereof at other stations — almost every reporter I’ve met aspires to become a news anchor because the assumption is that it’s more money and less work — but that is not the case. I was a reporter and noon news anchor in Columbia, S.C., before coming here to Las Vegas and it was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Now, I’m in the field every day sharing time and space with the most amazing people who’ve overcome the unthinkable. I honestly feel helpless sometimes, because I can’t be their doctor, lawyer, or savior; but what I can do is share their story. What sets me apart is how I arrange the information they’ve trusted me with. I want everybody who sees the stories I report on to walk away with a little more knowledge, hope, or faith than they had before.” — Sharie Harvin, general assignment reporter at KLAS and graduate of Rust College, a historically black college in Mississippi.

Chris Brown

“Things are definitely getting better for African-Americans on television in Las Vegas. But we still have some ways to go. We just have to keep pushing toward that effort. There could be more of us on television, but we are seeing more instead of nothing. Where I come from in the Memphis market, it was a 55 percent African-American population. Las Vegas has a much smaller African-American population, and that might … factor (into) why we don’t see as many black people on local television as we would like. It might have something to do with the ratio. I try to give all that I do my best, and have a friendly attitude and a wonderful presentation. I focus on always perfecting my craft, and one day I aspire to be a game show host for the world’s biggest game show.”  — Chris Brown, KVVU Fox 5 Traffic Reporter, originally from Memphis, Tenn.

Rikki Cheese

Rikki Cheese

“I don’t really have a take on the subject of blacks in Las Vegas television. As long as I have been in the media, and growing up here in Las Vegas, there have always been African-Americans at every station. So, I didn’t notice (anything) unusual. I can’t compare my experience growing up in Las Vegas to other markets. There were three African-American anchors and reporters on television before I started at Channel 3. There are many more African-Americans at Channel 13 and Channel 10. As a reporter, I look at the job as a cultural anthropologist. We are basically paid to go out and ask people questions about their lives and tell their stories. So, on one hand we have to do the top story of the day, but on the other hand you also have the opportunity to have input on all these stories. One of my other big passions now is animal rights. I am very involved in the animal rights movement, because our animals keep us connected to the primal world — which is God and earth. These are the stories I am very passionate about in my reporting. My goal every day is to help make Las Vegas a better place to live. That is the bottom line for me as a local and as a journalist.” — Rikki Cheese, reporter for KTNV (Channel 13) and a Las Vegas native

Darren Miller

“Regarding the state of African-Americans in local television, I believe that Las Vegas has made some strides and hopefully this trend will continue. A new television personality is always going to generate curiosity. Many viewers were surprised when I first arrived; their positive attitudes and welcoming comments were instrumental in what proved to be a smooth transition. My first weather position was an internship in Santa Barbara, California. I instinctively knew that weather forecasting was something I would excel at. Working in different parts of the country such as North Carolina and Indiana, where weather forecasting or meteorology can been a life or death situation, I developed a profound respect for Mother Nature. Despite the desert climate here in Las Vegas, my position at the … Channel 8 News is both challenging and rewarding. People often take for granted that forecasting weather in this part of the country is a slam dunk, but the truth is the weather is not always hot and dry. I have been afforded the opportunity to expand my repertoire by working in this market and I love the diversity of Las Vegas. Although I was raised in Mission Viejo, between the shadow of Saddleback Mountain and the ocean breezes of Laguna Beach, I feel at home in this beautiful valley. On a lighter note, I used to dance on ‘American Bandstand’ and ‘Soul Train.’ Although that doesn’t count as on-air training, it is where I caught the ‘camera bug.’”  — Darren Miller, KLAS meteorologist, originally from Orange County, Calif.

Amie Jo

“I didn’t start broadcasting until I came to Las Vegas 10 years ago. I started in radio and then parlayed that into Internet television. Now, I have my own talk show on cable, and it is doing very well. I achieved this by investing in my own show so that others might take an interest. When it comes to blacks on television, I believe there is a lack of quality imaging of black people. I don’t want to sound negative, it is just an observation. There are a tremendous number of talented and educated African-Americans who would be great for television here in Las Vegas; unfortunately, I don’t see as many as I would like to. There is a disparity on Vegas television and I think we could really do more if we were given more opportunities. With the number of channels available, there is a lot of room for more in the telecommunication business. As an independent host and producer, I want to help others achieve success by observing my guests as they explain how they achieved success. I have interviewed people from many races and backgrounds who have become successful in their chosen careers. My goal is to show that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when they can visualize a path to success.” — Amie Jo, host of “On the Go with Amie Jo ” on KTUD (Channel 25), originally from Des Moines, Iowa

Monica Jackson

“At Channel 5 we deliver all the news you need to know. Non-traditional for some, because we feel what our viewers feel. People feel the connection and they tune in. Hopefully, they feel we are just as human as they are. In response to the state of blacks on Las Vegas television, I feel blessed to have the position I have. I love my job and the opportunities I’ve been given here in Las Vegas. Would I like to see more African-Americans on local television? Absolutely I would. There are plenty of very talented African-Americans who can do this job. It has taken me a long time to get here — more than 20 years. I was just honored at the Nevada Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and I was so proud. This anchor position didn’t just slide my way. It took a long time to prepare myself, with many sacrifices along the way. I knew I wanted to be on television since I was 13. My goal as one of the only African-American television anchors in this community is to represent myself with class and professionalism and serve as an example of black journalist who can do this job well. We recently had Larry King in our studio, and he leaned over to me to say, ‘Young lady, you are going to New York.’ I said, ‘Ok,’ and laughed to release my nerves. But, it was one of the highest compliments I have ever received, especially coming from Larry King.”  — Monica Jackson, KVVU (Channel 5) anchor, originally from Detroit, Mich.

Krystal Allan

“I have been in Las Vegas for five months, and I am eager to learn as much as I can about the community. As a journalist, I believe it is important for newsrooms to be in parity with the communities they serve. If you pull from a diverse pool of voices, you bring new ideas and issues to the table. As a person of color, one might have a better understanding of cultural nuances associated with a particular ethnic group. However, as a journalist, it’s important to take yourself out of the story and look at things from the perspective of someone who might not understand the relevance of why you’re covering a particular story or issue. My goal is to engage the entire community in important conversations. I feel blessed to facilitate those discussions through what I love to do. Hopefully, I will be able to help people see things through a different lens in the process.” — Krystal Allan, weekend morning anchor and reporter at KSNV (Channel 3), originally from Kansas City, Mo.

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