Al Cahlan

Albert E. "Al" Cahlan was one of the most influential newspapermen in Las Vegas history. Born in Reno in 1899, he earned an engineering degree from the University of Nevada and taught math at Las Vegas High School. In 1922, E.M. Steninger, the longtime owner of the Elko Free Press, hired Cahlan, a friend of his son, as editor and business manager. Cahlan remained in Elko three years until one of his passions got the better of him. A sports fanatic, Cahlan accused a basketball referee of bias and ended up facing a libel judgment, prompting Steninger to fire him.

It was the best thing that could have happened to Cahlan. Longtime Nevada mining-camp publisher Frank Garside had just bought the Las Vegas Review and needed someone to run it. Cahlan took the job, returned to Las Vegas, and gradually expanded the weekly into a daily. It absorbed a competitor and became the Evening Review-Journal in 1929. Cahlan immersed himself in politics as an assemblyman, a Colorado River commissioner, a Democratic party official, and a close friend of U.S. Senator Pat McCarran. He apparently received serious consideration to be appointed to succeed U.S. Senator Key Pittman when Pittman died in office in 1940. Cahlan also greatly influenced Las Vegas. He and his younger brother John, the R-J's managing editor, supported New Deal programs, bond issues, and candidates to improve municipal services. They did so in editorials, in the news columns, behind the scenes, and sometimes in Al Cahlan's editorial-page column, "From Where I Sit." John Cahlan said, "My brother took the attitude of  'Don't ever sell Las Vegas short' . . . The newspaper's attitude was optimistic all the way along."

In 1949, Cahlan found a new co-owner when Garside opposed expenditures on new equipment. Donald Reynolds bought the R-J, and Cahlan remained managing director, with an agreement that either could buy out the other. In the 1950s, Cahlan's political influence declined with McCarran's death and the arrival of a competitor, the Las Vegas Sun, whose publisher, Hank Greenspun, regularly attacked Cahlan and his allies in his own front page column, "Where I Stand." The name was no coincidence. In fact, Greenspun had intended to call his column "From Where I Stand," but the first word fell off on the way to the composing room.

With the Sun catching up in circulation, Reynolds exercised his option. On December 11, 1960, he bought out Cahlan, who, along with his column, was gone from the R-J the next day. Cahlan stayed in business and politics, and returned to the printed page with his "From Where I Sit" column in 1964, in the Sun, to the surprise of many. Cahlan kept writing, focusing more on his memories of Las Vegas and the city's history, until he suffered a stroke in 1968 and died three weeks later. Greenspun cleverly described his onetime rival's abilities and techniques when he wrote, "I was always at a disadvantage: for while I fought in the open with everyone fully aware of my battle plans, Cahlan's benign, cherubic countenance always hid the spinning wheels in his brain, and it was only when the floor would collapse and the walls fall upon me did I realize that Cahlan wasn't napping as I believed." It was a fitting epitaph for an able, influential journalist.

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