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Jim Rogers: From lawyer to TV station owner

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Updated: 6/21 3:51 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- Jim Rogers often said: “I have fortunately made a considerable amount of money; probably more through luck than talent. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

That may be true, but Rogers’ successes also were a result of education and hard work.

After the Rogers family moved to Las Vegas in 1953, the janitorial and lawn-cutting business Jim started grew to five employees. He was so successful he bought a new car and had $5,000 in the bank by the time he graduated from Las Vegas High School.

He was on the path of his father’s advice: Never work for others.

With degrees in accounting, law and taxation law, Rogers returned to Las Vegas and in the mid-60s went into practice with three experienced lawyers at the firm of Gelfand, Bergreen, Feinberg and Rogers.

“I was the least educated of the four,” Rogers often said.

Leo Gelfand, who had been a practicing physician for 23 years before going to law school, quickly became one of Rogers’ many role models. Gelfand taught him the art of negotiation: how to make an offer, when to make a demand and how to hide his cards until late in the game

“I learned early on that surrounding yourself with people who have high intellect and creativity is the best formula for your own success,” Rogers said.

His single most influential mentor was Louie Wiener, a future law partner who also mentored attorney and former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

“They taught me how to be straight, honest, organized,” Rogers said of Wiener and his other mentors.

Rogers was active in his law practice from 1964 to 1991, although some of that time was spent obtaining his first television station, KSNV-TV.

The television business, Rogers said, “had all the excitement possible for a young man of 33.” And he was not too impressed with the Las Vegas stations.

“The stations in Las Vegas at that time did very little for the community,” Rogers said in his yet-to-be published autobiography. “They concentrated on advertising.”

He initially focused his acquisition efforts on KLAS, the CBS affiliate in Las Vegas that was owned by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Rogers believed Hughes ran it like it was his personal toy, telephoning the station from his Desert Inn apartment if he did not like a movie that was being aired and telling mangers to change a film half way through, angering the audience.

Rogers thought of challenging Hughes for his Federal Commission Communications license, but was warned by Hughes adviser and Rogers’ law client, Robert Maheu, that a challenge would fail because Hughes had significant clout in Washington, D.C., including at the White House.

So Rogers turned his attention to the NBC station in Las Vegas, KORK, which was controlled by Donald Reynolds, who also owned the Review-Journal and a large, nationwide media company.

KORK had a significant problem that violated federal broadcast regulations. The station was running local commercials so long that they overlapped NBC programming, most famously during the 1978 World Series. Annoyed viewers complained to the FCC.

Maheu suggested to Rogers that if he put together a local group of investors, the government might yank the license from Reynolds.

Rogers saw an opening. He developed a group of Southern Nevadans from various backgrounds, in an effort to reflect the entire Las Vegas community.

“Even though Mr. Reynolds lives in Las Vegas, he never participated in anything related to the community,” Rogers said in his autobiography. The Rogers group laid out a proposal for local programming – cooking, teaching, education and politics.

The Reynolds executives blinked and offered the Rogers group a 50 percent share in the station. But as the fledgling partnership moved ahead, the Rogers group became aware of the station’s continuing problems with the FCC.

Rogers recalled that the FCC asked his group “if we realized by joining Reynolds we would lose along with him.” The Rogers group backed out of the agreement with Reynolds, beginning a seven-year legal battle. The attorney for the Rogers group predicted it could take 20 years to finish the litigation, but he assured them they would win.

Rogers and his team eventually prevailed in federal court.

“I knew licenses were renewed every three years and I got a group of people together and I filed an application for the Channel 3 license,” Rogers recalled. “I filed that in September of 1971. We went through competitive hearings for six or seven years. Then in the 1978 we were awarded the license.”

“He was right,” Rogers said of his attorney’s prediction. “It gave me a new energy to practice law, an outlet for my thinking. It gave me new, tremendous political influence in the local community and throughout the state. This event was the major turning point in my life.”

With the acquisition of KORK, later named KSNV, Rogers began building a media company that eventually grew to 16 stations in the intermountain West.

READ PART 3: Jim Rogers: Donating his money and time to education

READ PART 1: Jim Rogers: A sense of fair play guided his careers

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