Saturday, April 4, 1998 | 4:35 a.m.
To those who haven't lived in Las Vegas for very long, Bob Stoldal is probably not a household name.
But those who have lived here long enough to remember the days before megaresorts and hour-long traffic jams know Stoldal very well.
That's because for nearly 20 years -- through the 1970s and 1980s -- Stoldal was as much a part of the Las Vegas electronic media scene as the call letters for the station where he served as news director.
Under Stoldal's stewardship, KLAS Channel 8, owned by Landmark Communications, was named producer of the nation's best local newscast by United Press International in 1986.
Five years ago, Stoldal was transferred to Landmark's sister station, WTVF-TV in Nashville, Tenn., to serve as news director. But now he's back in Las Vegas and prepared to launch a new 24-hour all-news channel, Las Vegas 1.
"I think the biggest challenge facing us -- or any 24-hour news channel -- is going on at prime time in competition with national news magazines," Stoldal said. "We'll be against them at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. In fact, we're going to be the only local news at that time."
Stoldal, 55, believes he will capture a significant market share during prime time. The reason, he says, is simple: If the viewers are offered a good local news product, they will tune in.
"I think the main challenge we face is not to try to change viewers' habits, but to give them a viable choice," Stoldal said. "What we're looking to do is provide the news at times when viewers want it, but don't have access to it."
A graduate of Las Vegas High School, Stoldal's first job was sweeping up lead from around the old Linotype machines at the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1960.
"I was paid $125 a week, and once in awhile I used to suggest a headline, and the editor would go with it," Stoldal said. "I guess that's when I first felt like I was in the news business."
Two years later, Stoldal met Milt Kray, then general manager of KLAS radio. Stoldal, lowering his voice, asked for a job in radio, and Kray hired him to spin records one night a week. This led to other radio jobs, but Stoldal's real break came in 1968 when SUN publisher Hank Greenspun, then owner of KLAS-TV, hired Stoldal as anchor-reporter on what was then called "The Big News." Two years later, Stoldal was named news director.
In 1970, after Howard Hughes bought the station from Greenspun, Stoldal and the entire newsroom staff were forced to moonlight as researchers for the reclusive billionaire.
"I remember calling the United Nations one time at 1 a.m.," Stoldal said in a 1988 interview. "The United Nations had just passed a nuclear non-proliferation resolution, and Hughes wanted its exact wording. I finally got an Associated Press overnight guy in New York City to read it to me. The procedure then was that I would read all of this information into a tape recorder, then a Hughes security guard would come over to my house, pick up the tape recorder, take it to Hughes, he would listen to it, and it would be on my desk in the morning when I got to work."
Like practically everyone who had any dealings with Hughes, Stoldal never met the billionaire, "but once I did hear what I believe was his voice in the background, telling his aide what he wanted from me."
From 1973 to 1974, Stoldal took a break from electronic journalism. He enrolled in pre-law studies at UNLV and served as editor of the student newspaper, the Rebel Yell.
"We changed the name to The Yell," said Stoldal, who explained that he felt the term "Rebel" was insensitive to Southerners.
After just two years, Stoldal realized a career in law wasn't for him, and he returned to KLAS as news director.
Over the next decade, Stoldal expanded the Channel 8 newscast to 2 1/2 hours of news a day, seven days a week, and he expanded the scope of news coverage to include more in-depth coverage of community issues such as the growth of the Clark County School District, the need for more road infrastructure and the campaign against drunken driving.
Stoldal, who is married and has four children, believes television news audiences are more sophisticated today and demand a better product.
"People want to know about their community," Stoldal said. "And I think wanting to know about the community is more than crime. I see an awful lot of TV news about crime, about the latest drive-by shootings. Yes, this should be reported, but people also want to know how we deal with growth, about our water and air quality and public services. These are issues people want to know more about -- and that we can explore."