MY COLUMN: Remembering Jim Rogers

“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Jim Rogers said that a lot.

He thought much of what he heard was nonsense. He had no patience for it. Come to think of it, he had no patience for…..anything.

Rogers, the media kingpin and education advocate who died last week, invited clichés: Force of nature. Man of action. Eccentric rich guy.

But the truth is Rogers was as sui generis as almost anyone I have known: A Tasmanian devil with ADD and OCD who didn’t care who got in his way in pursuit of his often-quixotic goals, whether it was making the Nevada System of Higher Education of Ivy League quality or turning his state television network into a virtual all-news enterprise.

Rogers drove almost everyone he knew crazy because he was so manic and mercurial in pursuit of his goal of the day, the hour, the moment. He had an on/off switch that he seemed to be constantly flicking, as many who were in his favor and then suddenly out and then back in will attest.

I could not help but smile as the encomia poured in after he lost his battle with cancer. Trust me: Many of those who gushed about him were on the other end of a Rogersesque geyser of venom for not living up to his impossible standards. Some of them – ex-UNLV boss Carol Harter, whom he forced out and then later tried to force back in as UNLV president, and Rep. Steven Horsford, whom he lambasted before he embraced him – were out before they were in. But almost all of them respected and yes, feared him, for his vehemence, his passion, his TV stations.

Writing a remembrance of the owner of a media company you work for is difficult for all of the obvious reasons and more. Other than Charles Zobell, who brought me to Las Vegas, and Danny Greenspun, who broadened my journalistic horizons, no one changed my professional life more than Jim Rogers.

After a long courtship, Rogers finally engineered the move more than four years ago whereby my \ program moved from cable television to statewide broadcast. But he went a lot further than that. He went out of his way to ensure that my program had a slot right after the news, a huge gamble considering nothing like that had ever been done.

“I don’t care about ratings,” he told me as he sat in my office and told me the news (Phew!), “It’s the right thing to do.” Or words to that effect.

The ride has notalways been smooth. My relationship with Rogers was the same rollercoaster ride that many others experienced, with highs and lows, my stomach in my throat at times, the exhilaration undeniable at other junctures. I did not know him as well as many of his longtime friends, but I got to know him through many conversations, some of them quite spirited, and one trip I will remember for the rest of my life.

Through it all, what I will remember were his fierce intelligence, his commitment to education and his determination to remake the TV journalism landscape, no matter the cost.


My earliest memory of Jim Rogers was when we were on a panel after the 1992 election in which he had gone out of his way through a series of on-air editorials to help Chuck Thompson in a Supreme Court race against Miriam Shearing. In classic Rogers style, he eviscerated Shearing night after night. She won anyhow and became the first woman ever elected to the state’s high court.

I remember telling Rogers I thought what he had done had backfired, that he had created sympathy for Shearing and actually helped her win the race. He didn’t fulminate. He didn’t deride. He didn’t argue.

Rogers seemed genuinely interested in my perspective, and I think he respected that I took him on. We chatted about it afterward and stayed vaguely in touch over the years.

I didn’t deal with Rogers much until he became chancellor in 2004, and he began coming on my program relatively often even though I worked at rival KLAS. We always had a great rapport, and I got the sense he really enjoyed the back and forth about how to make the higher education system better.

Rogers started talking to me about coming to Channel 3, but he had to persuade the folks who employed me at the Las Vegas Sun to make it happen. As with anything else, Rogers was frustrated it took so long, but it finally happened in 2010, a move for which I will be forever grateful.

I didn’t see Rogers much after we got there, but he made every effort to get us into the best time slot. Don’t misunderstand: It wasn’t all peaches and cream. There were some tense moments, some of which I thought might result in “Ralston Reports” going dark.

But Rogers always made me think he respected what we did, and I will never forget almost two years ago when he asked me to accompany Lisa Howfield, the station’s general manager, and him to New York City so he could tell the top NBC brass about his plans for the station.

The trip barely lasted 36 hours, but it was amazing to see Rogers in those meetings. He told top executives with NBC News and with the network itself what he planned to do, not asking permission but more putting them on notice. He needed some signoffs, but Rogers was his usual no-nonsense self. No ingratiating introductions or patronizing these bigwigs. He was something to watch.

I will always have fond memories of the dinner we had our one night in New York at Gallagher’s, a legendary eatery that Rogers loved. Over the meal, he talked of his history in the state, regaling Howfield and me with stories.

During the last few months of his life, Rogers called me into his office a few times and talked about his grand vision for the station. He also shared more personal stories, even telling me about and showing me pictures of his beloved house in Montana, a gorgeous getaway for him and his wife, Beverly ("She's the best thing that ever happened to me," he used to say. I’ve said this before: I think she is the only person who could slow him down, no small feat.)

It was clear towards the end that Rogers was tired, which, of course, frustrated him because he still had so much to do. A huge construction project at the station. New studios. Bringing in Telemundo. More new shows. Expanded newscasts.

You could tell he just hated to be fatigued, sapped of his boundless energy by the cancer that plagued him the last few years. Many have talked about the caricature of Jim Rogers – the clean freak, the bipolar behavior, the volcanic temper. What I say to that is simple: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Despite what the Bard said, the good that this man did will not be interred with his bones. His legacy will be felt all over the state, from the edifices he helped build to the cultures he tried to encourage in education and journalism.

If the Clark County School District boosts its graduation rate or if a higher education institution attains Tier One status, somewhere Jim Rogers will be smiling. Until, of course, he thinks of the next thing he wanted accomplished. At that moment, I’m convinced, all of us will hear the thunder of his passion once again.