[Our Metropolis]

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Vegas PBS GM Tom Axtell channels the growth of public television in the digital age

This is an excerpt from the radio show Our Metropolis, a half-hour issues and affairs program that airs Tuesdays at 6 p.m. on KUNV 91.5-FM and is hosted by the Greenspun Media Group’s John Katsilometes. Tune in next week to hear the rest of this interview with Vegas PBS General Manager Tom Axtell:

Your background is actually in radio, right?

My first job in broadcasting was in public radio up in Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio. The morning drive-time guy was Garrison Keillor. He was absolutely hilarious. It was a classical music station, and ... he did a whole thing on chicken music. Every classical music piece that had the word “chicken” in it, he played it. The story was that people were literally sitting in their cars until 9 o’clock in the morning in the parking garages in downtown Minneapolis, until he finished. It really was a tour de force of humor.

You’re celebrating your 40th anniversary this year. What were the facilities and the programming like here in Las Vegas when PBS began broadcasting in 1968?

When we started 40 years ago, we were in two rooms at the Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center. Two rooms, with ceilings that were 8 feet high, and you had to duck under the lights to sit down. You couldn’t stand for your interviews because the lighting wouldn’t be able to get you. The first day was pretty funny, and I’ve still got a copy of that [program] log. They signed on for three hours, and they did math programs, one every half-hour for each of the grade levels. Then they signed off and had lunch. Then they signed back on and they spent another three hours in the afternoon doing some art classes and foreign-language instruction. Then they took two more hours off, and came back at 6 o’clock, and they had a couple of children’s programs, and they went off the air at 9 o’clock. The day was over [laughs].

People think of Vegas PBS as Channel 10, the original channel, but you’re in the digital world and online as well, right?

A lot of people say this is really the Golden Age for public broadcasting. Stations like this one can have high-definition radio, so you can have a primary channel and a secondary channel. At our place, in addition to Channel 10 we have our digital television channel, and we literally carry three program streams on that simultaneously. Then we have an additional six or seven cable channels that we have on Cox Cable, and a couple of those are replicated on Direct and Dish TV, and we have six closed-circuit channels that go directly to the schools, that the general public does not see.

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