Lee Hirshland 1925-2007
KTVN founder Lee Hirshland has died at the Queen’s Medical Center in Hawaii.
Hirshland, once general manager of KOLO, assembled a group of investors to start a third Reno television station at a time when it was uncertain whether the market would support it. KTVN went on the air on June 4, 1967, and was financially frail for many years. At one point he sold his car—a Mercedes roadster—to make payroll. “But, you know, he persevered and, boy, when we had good years, he shared the wealth with the people who worked for him,” said Ed Pearce, who was the station’s longest-serving news director.
Hirshland was known for innovations and experimentations. He brought the PM Magazine franchise—then a leading ratings winner—to Reno and launched an afternoon program called Live at Five. In the late 1970s after television news in Reno had been featuring the same two newscasts (6:30 and 11 p.m.) for 20 years, he added a 5:30 p.m., then a 5 o’clock, plus a Sunday news interview program, Face the State.
In the early years, before the days of lightweight live gear, the station’s control room was in a huge van because Hirshland wanted to make it easier to do remote broadcasts.
He added a television station in Elko, KELK (which the Elko Daily Free Press denounced as the “perverse invaders from Reno").
Hirshland personally produced KTVN election nights coverage, setting up independent vote-total gathering systems around the state that ran ahead of the official counts.
By the late ‘70s, KTVN owned the local news market, with a firm grip on half the viewers, the remainder split between KOLO and KCRL (now KRNV). After Hirshland sold the station, he stayed on as general manager until he and Pearce were removed by the new owners in a dispute over programming. The news ratings collapsed, and the station never regained that kind of dominance.
Hirshland was a staunch supporter of the news department, providing it with a separate attorney and backing its decisions. On one occasion, on-air commentator Leon Mandel offended Reno car dealers, prompting them to stage one of their periodic snits, threatening cancellation of advertising. Hirshland gave a competing commentary but did not try to censor Mandel or take him off the air.
Hirshland was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1997.
A memorial will be held at Hidden Valley Country Club at noon on June 16.