Monday, July 9, 2012 | 8:15 p.m.
This is not a time to talk business, says Gary Waddell.
He’d rather talk about the motorcycle trip he has scheduled in August. A friend of his was killed nearly a year ago in an industrial accident, and Waddell’s roaring road trippers are blasting up to Colorado to spread his late friend’s ashes.
“We’re going to mark the anniversary of his death by spreading his ashes and saying some nice things about him,” Waddell said today a few hours after announcing on air that he was retiring from KLAS Channel 8 after a 32-year broadcasting career at that station and a nearly 40-year run overall in Las Vegas. “I’d ridden cycles with him for about 150,000 miles, and I just made the decision that this was the time to make the announcement and free up time to get out and do that.”
Waddell has long loved motorcycles, even in the face of danger that mode of transportation often presents. Nearly a decade ago, Waddell and a friend were injured when a driver (who was found to be driving under the influence of alcohol) plowed his car into them after they pulled over and stopped for another accident. Waddell suffered three broken ribs in the incident but was soon back on his bikes (favoring Harley-Davidsons and BMWs) after healing well enough to ride.
“I have a lot more riding to do, trust me,” he said.
In a statement issued concurrent to Waddell’s announcement, 8 News Now General Manager Emily Neilson said, “I am proud to have worked side by side with Gary for 32 years. He is an excellent journalist who has unselfishly mentored many reporters, photojournalists and producers throughout the years. No one is more committed to this community. No one is a better friend.”
Waddell’s 32-year career at KLAS is the longest of any anchor currently working in the market. But before his career at KLAS began in 1980, he spent a few years at with KORK-TV (now KSNV) after moving to Las Vegas from Chicago. One of his first assignments was to cover the topping off of a new hotel on Fremont Street called the Union Plaza. That was in 1971, before he took a break from broadcasting to work for an advertising agency and as a real-estate agent. But Waddell’s calling was always to be a broadcaster, and he is considered the dean of anchors in Southern Nevada. His last day of helming the noon, 4 and 4:30 p.m. newscasts at KLAS will be Aug. 3.
"A lot of people have already contacted me and told me they are happy I've been around for such a long time," he said. "That's very gratifying."
Waddell is the fourth prominent member of the broadcast team at KLAS, the city’s CBS affiliate, to leave the station in the past 12 weeks. Morning anchor Dave McCann left the station in May to take a lead anchor job at KSL in Salt Lake City. Reporter Calvert Collins also departed in May to take a job at the Fox affiliate in Dallas, and morning anchor Dayna Roselli was let go unexpectedly after appearing on the station's morning broadcast June 11.
After Roselli left the station, KLAS News Director Ron Comings said the move was because of sluggish ratings and was “one of several changes we are making to serve our morning viewers.” Though Comings specified mornings in that statement, it is widely believed by those familiar with the station’s inner workings that KLAS is reviewing the performances of all veteran broadcasters.
Waddell had signed a two-year contract in 2010 but declined to say if the contract had termed out in concert with his decision to announce his retirement. When asked if he could stay at KLAS if he wanted to, he said, “Ask Emily Neilson.”
Neilson responded this morning to an e-mail sent last night by saying: "He, more than any other, has been the face of KLAS for more than three decades. Nothing would make me happier than having Gary as part of the 8 News NOW team for as many years as he chooses."
Waddell did say he’s been in talks with Las Vegas PBS Executive Director Tom Axtell about hosting a show on Channel 10. He does plan to stay in the area.
“It has been a heck of a run,” he said. “It’s funny, I got an email from a friend who said, ‘Welcome to the ranks of the retirees. Now you have to get up in the morning and decide what not to do.' ”
Ah, but Gary Waddell does know what to do: Fire up the Harley and sort out the details later.