So long old friend...
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
March 15, 2004
Governor Mike O'Callaghan, 1929
(Las Vegas Review
In 2001, a reporter from the Las Vegas SUN phoned to ask if I
was ever on probation? I answered truthfully. She then asked if Mike
O'Callaghan had ever been my probation officer. I said yes.
Memories of a painful event that occurred more than 40 years earlier
came flowing back to mind. An event so embarrassing that my parents went
to court to have the record sealed. Now, so many years later, I was being
asked about it by a reporter.
The image of myself as a frightened 17 year old sitting across a desk
from the most formidable figure I had ever encountered, Clark County Chief
Juvenile Probation Officer Mike O'Callaghan, lay vivid in my mind. I was
in "Juvie," and I thought I'd be there for ever, based on what I had done.
"If you don't straighten out, I'm going to recommend that Judge Zenoff
sentence you to Spring Mountain Youth Camp until you're 18!" O'Callaghan
He always meant what he said. In Korea as an Army infantryman, O'Callaghan
took a direct hit to the leg from an 82 mm mortar round. He rigged a tourniquet
out of telephone wire, twisted it tight with a bayonet, and continued to
direct the firefight for three hours. His mangled left leg was amputated
below the knee. He was awarded the Silver Star.
I wasn't really a bad kid, just one of those pains in the ass that a
man like O'Callaghan loved to deal with. Me and a bunch of my friends got
arrested one hot Saturday night for giving out beer at the Tip Top Drive
In. I was a novice DJ at the time entrusted with the Radio KENO mobile
unit. My job was to cover news events and do remote broadcasts from sponsor's
businesses on weekends. It was a dream job for a high school senior. I
also got to drive around in the converted VW bus with "COLOR RADIO 1460"
emblazoned in DayGlow paint on the sides.
On the night I was arrested, I was cruising around town looking for
news when I met up with a bunch of my Las Vegas High cronies. One had a
keg of ice cold Budweiser. I placed the keg in the back of the mobile unit
and headed for the Tip Top -- the hottest spot in town -- a place where
the coolest girls hung out. Being a legend in my own mind, I knew I'd
make a big impression, especially with a kegger in the back of the truck.
In addition to the beer and my buddies on board, I had KENO's Top 40
hits on 45s, turntables, loudspeakers, neon lights, and an FM transmitter
to beam my remotes back to the station for broadcast. What a chick magnet
-- I thought.
That night, the DJ on duty at the station located at the intersection
of Flamingo and Paradise Road wanted to take a break. I pulled into the
Tip Top with speakers blaring and beer flowing!
Wow! Radio KENO, the Number One rock station in Las Vegas, was on the
air and giving out free beer and prizes to teenagers at the Tip Top! It
was after midnight and I was going to put on a free dance in the parking
lot at the corner of Charleston and Las Vegas Boulevard.
This was that magic time in the early 60s -- a time in Vegas history
when the mob ran the town and I thought I could get away with anything.
Not only did I have a job driving around in a radio station's mobile unit
all weekend, but my partner and I also had our own TV show that aired each
Saturday on Channel 8. Talk about a bad influence! No wonder O'Callaghan
was so pissed!
Keith Austin & Steve on KLAS
Ad in Las Vegas SUN
Keith and Steve, 1963
As soon as I parked the mobile unit, I was immediately surrounded by hundreds
of thirsty kids sweating in the 100 degree heat. In the meantime, I was
consuming my own share of the icy Bud. Then it happened.
Like a nightmare, a black and white slowly pulled into the Tip Top.
In it was Las Vegas Police Sgt. John Moran and his partner Charlie Ruggles,
the two meanest cops in town.
Not only was I giving out beer, but it was way after curfew. My rockfest
continued as Moran and Ruggles glared at me through their windshield. The
crowd grew to overwhelming proportions, but within the next few minutes
the crafty old cops found a way to quietly put an end to the impromptu
In my stupefied condition, I rationalized I could outlast the cops by
just staying on the air all night. I figured that they wouldn't dare bust
me and my buddies live on a 1000 watt AM radio station! The minutes and
the beers ticked by, and I made the most of my fifteen minutes of fame.
Then it happened: "Mutual News -- live at five minutes before the hour."
The engineer cut away from my happy remote to go to the mandatory network
break. I was promptly arrested along with a slew of my Vegas High buddies
and several innocent, but tipsy bystanders including some who are now prominent
Nonetheless, I didn't have to quit my job. The owner of the station
quickly realized what a jerk he had hired when he went down to the police
impound yard to bail out his expensive mobile unit that reeked of beer
and vomit. Stick a fork in me. I didn't have to be told my short radio
career was done.
The next morning, I came face to face with Big Mike O'Callaghan.
Not only did I have a splitting headache, but his cold eyes cut through
me like a bayonet from across the desk, as my parents waited nervously
outside his office. Mike was really, truly pissed! He read me the riot
act saying that I was a horrible example for the youth of our community,
and he wanted to make an example of me. I was lucky he didn't just reach
across the desk and break my neck!
I realized this was the turning point in my young life. I was up shit
creek without a paddle, and I knew it!
Well, to make a long story short, Mike straightened me out. But I had
one more surprise in store for him forty years later.
In 2001, I sent out one of my E-Briefs telling of the phone call from
the SUN reporter asking if I had been on probation when I was a
kid, and saying that Mike O'Callaghan had mumbled my name under his breath
-- something about knowing me when I was a teenager, and my having been
a "royal pain in the ass."
Within minutes of my missive, I received a call from my old probation
"This is Mike O'Callaghan. I demand an immediate retraction and correction
of that E-Brief* you just sent out. I have never said anything disparaging
about you. You totally misquoted me and took my statement out of context,
and I want it corrected immediately!"
I ran to my keyboard and asked what I said that was inaccurate? Mike
responded, "Someone at the Editorial Board meeting said, 'Steve Miller
is becoming a real pain in the ass.' I responded that they 'should have
known him when he was 17. I was his probation officer. He was an even bigger
pain in the ass then, but I straightened him and Wayne Newton out. Now,
they're both leading citizens in our community because I got to them early
in their lives.' "
(Wayne Newton? I always thought he was a whoosh.What could he have ever
done to piss off a guy like Big Mike? Anyway, I wanted to believe Mike
always had his hands full just dealing with me!)
I made the correction to my E-Brief as we spoke. But that didn't stop
Mike from talking down to me for the next 15 minutes. He spoke to me like
I was a kid again, and it sure felt good. All I could say was, "Yes sir,
Yes sir." Then he terminated the call.
It was a repeat of that earlier humbling experience -- something I never
forgot. He still cared about me and the rest of the kids in our town. Unfortunately,
that was my last conversation with Mike O'Callaghan.
After Mike quit his job as a probation officer, he went on to become
Nevada's most popular governor serving from 1971 to 1978. He then became
the executive editor of the Las Vegas SUN where he remained until
his death on Friday, March 5, 2004.
I will surely miss Big Mike O'Callaghan, the man who straightened me
* If you would like to receive Steve's frequent E-Briefs about Las Vegas'
scandals, click here: mailto:SteveMiller4lv@aol.com?Subject=Add
Copyright © Steve Miller
email Steve Miller at: Stevemiller4lv@aol.com