For nearly three decades, Reno broadcaster Sam Shad—formerly best known as a weathercaster—has been doing radio and television political talk shows. We asked him to talk about the way politics has changed over the years when many news entities stopped doing serious political coverage.
How long have you been doing what you do?
Since, I would say, 1990, because that was when the radio started, and that was the precursor to Nevada Newsmakers.
So the tail end of the first Bush administration.
What is it that you do? Is there a name for it?
I talk to people, and I listen to them. You know, the concept was—I had left Channel 2, and I had a six month non-compete [agreement]—and so I needed to do something. So, I love Larry King, loved his style of interviewing, where it seemed to me he could ask anybody anything he wanted to ask them, and nobody told him what he could and couldn’t ask. And he also could interview people on any topic from politics to entertainment, and so I decided I was going to be the Larry King of Reno.
Has it worked out the way you expected it to?
Because when I first started—well, the first version of the show was just an hour-long radio program. And I focused on the people who were at the Reno Rotary Club, which in those days was a powerhouse. So the head of the bank was there. The head of the power company was there. The head of the phone company. So you could hob nob with those folks at lunch time, and then they would come to the radio station, which rarely got out of the building, and they would be on the show. And my wife, who was my producer, would interview the guests for about 45 minutes. We had a list of questions, and it would lead you to all kinds of of interesting answers. But it was just a basic set of questions. And then they would come on the show. I would interview them for an hour on the radio, live. And then they would get a cassette of the program after the fact so they could play it to their wife and their kids. So it expanded the range of the program. And then all of the people at the Rotary Club wanted to be on it because their friends were on it, and they were listening to it. And so Nevada Newsmakers was a wider version of that. The aim was the governor, the legislature, the executive branch, the congressional branch. And I figured there was probably going to be about 300 people that would be the audience for that program, but they would be a very influential audience. The lobbyists, of course, as well. And what happened was, with the dearth of local news and statewide news over the years, Nevada Newsmakers would become a place where more and more people got their news and information. And so the audience has grown vastly from that initial group, and so that’s something I’m thrilled about. And, also, we always did it as a statewide show from the time we started in 2002, even though we weren’t in Las Vegas at the time. I always did it as a show that, if somebody was from Las Vegas, they could get as much meat from it. And I feel that the two markets, even though they’re dissimilar in appearance and sizes, all the problems and the issues are the same.
Did you ever have trouble in the early days getting people to fly up here?
No, I think we just, when we knew somebody was coming, we would invite them to be on the show. And so it was not the reverse of that. We weren’t literally asking people to come up specifically to be on the program. But if we knew somebody from Las Vegas was going to be in town, then we would ask them to be on the program. And we had very few turndowns.
So you started pre-Clinton, a very different kind of politics in those days. Did you imagine that we would end up in this kind of polarized politics?
Politics is, as you well know, because we—you and I—have had many discussions … politics is a fascinating topic. It’s not one I would ever want to be a part of. It’s one I love to cover because it involves everything in a soap opera—you know, money, power, greed, envy, sex, you name it, it’s all part of politics. And nothing has changed with that. I mean, you have different characters and different styles, but the essence of politics has not changed since the Roman times.
Do you think we’ll get back to a point where we can govern again, and my premise for that question is that what is going on in D.C. is not governing because we’re putting huge amounts of resources in at one end and getting just a trickle out at the other.
I think that governing goes on all the time. I think that the media focuses in on certain aspects of governing and certain aspects of Washington, D.C. But there are tens of thousands of people involved in the federal government, and there are things going on all the time, every day in all those various departments that we don’t know about, or we have to dig pretty deeply, as you do on a lot of occasions, to find out that information about what’s going on. But there is a lot more governing going on than one would imagine from just reading certain newspapers or watching certain programs.
When I talked about the difference from when you started doing this to now, one of the things I had in mind—and I use this example all the time—you rarely saw terms like lie, liar, lying used in political coverage back then, and you see it all the time now.
You do, but then again, at the New York Times, for example, Dean Baquet—the executive editor—has made a point to tell the reporters not to use the word lie because if you use it on a constant basis, it loses its value and its meaning. If you remember the show Hair, there was a word that starts with F and ends in K that was repeated multiple times in a very short period of time back in, I think, 1968. That was considered scandalous until you went to the show, and it lost all of its meaning by about the fifth time they said the word. Politics is the toughest of games. I mean, back in the 1800s in Nevada, we had duels and knife fights in the legislature. This is nothing new, you know? This is all about power. It’s all about money. Not a lot has changed in, like I say, going back to Roman times. Politics has always been an ugly game, and a lot more was done behind the scenes. But because of modern day media, we are able to see and hear a lot more than we did before. But it was always an ugly business behind the scenes.