I-Team: Las Vegas broadcast legend turns 100

LAS VEGAS - A founding father of Nevada journalism reached a milestone Friday.

Hank Thornley is the man who created the first television news operation in Las Vegas. As news director and anchorman at KLAS-TV, he was the pre-eminent newsman of his era, and today marks his 100th birthday.

Hank shared a few memories with the I-Team's George Knapp.

Hank Thornley was born was born Nov. 3, 1917. Woodrow Wilson was in the White House, World War I raged in Europe. His first foray to Las Vegas came before the Las Vegas Strip existed.

"I got married here in 1938 to my wife Marion. I've lived most of my life here, the biggest part, and I've loved it," Thornley said.

His earliest home had no electricity, no telephone.

Thornley remembers his first exposure to radio, the technology that changed the course of his life. His brother, a Boy Scout, created a crude radio inside a cigar box.

"Put this on, a hard head set, and I hear music. After awhile, an announcer comes on and says, 'Wayne King and his orchestra coming to you from downtown Ogden.' I thought, what the hell is this? This is witchcraft."

Thornley worked as a radio newsman in Sacramento, then made the transition to TV anchorman. But in he 1962 was lured away by booming Las Vegas and its premier TV station, KLAS TV, which at the time didn't have a news department.

"They had nothing organized, a teletype machine, that's all," he said.

Thornley built a news operation from scratch, one employee and piece of equipment at a time. As the first anchorman and news director, Thornley had a ringside seat to the explosive growth of the city. His fledgling news operation covered politicians including powerful Sheriff Ralph Lamb, visits by President John Kennedy, assorted dignitaries and stars and yes,  Beatlemania. Under Thornley, Channel 8 became the pre-eminent news operation.

His stature led to a seat on the city council and he even ran for governor. Then he returned to TV news at Channel 13.

One news story that never aired stands out in his mind -- a half-hour special on the anniversary of Howard Hughes flight around the world. Because Hughes owned KLAS-TV at the time, the reclusive billionaire screened the show before it was broadcast and sent this message.

"It's a good job, fantastic and it brought back wonderful memories but please tell them I don't want them to use it. It would look like I'm blowing my own horn and I don't want that," Thornley said.

He is in the KLAS Hall of Fame, Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and has earned numerous other honors but is proudest of his many offspring which now include his first great-great-grandchild.

"I'm the most blessed man you ever met, and I don't know why. If God was saving me for something, he hasn't told me yet what I'm supposed to do," Thornley said.

A celebration of Hank Thornley's first 100 years is planned for a week from today at Boulder Station.
 


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