Corralling columnist John “Kats” Katsilometes for an interview is not easy. He agrees; he’s busy; weeks go by; he sets a date; he’s called out-of-town; he sets another date; he’s jammed.
But finally, Kats, the writer and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist whose third-page column is a must-read for entertainers and the entertainment audience in Las Vegas, sits down for an interview. Kats says he has the best journalism job in America. Kats was also once fired by the very newspaper that employs him today.
The story begins…
Heritage…Kats and his brother Bill were born in Pullman, Washington and spent their early years in Pocatello, Idaho. Their heritage is Greek on their father’s side and Italian on their mother’s side. While the family lived in Pocatello, Kats’ father was a veterinarian, and his mother managed the clinic.
A teacher’s influence… At St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Pocatello, teacher Marcia Kennedy liked to spring five-minute writing exercises on her sixth grade class. Students could write about any subject. Young Kats found he really enjoyed the challenge of those exercises and began mentally banking subjects for the next surprise essay. Years later in Las Vegas, Mariah Rivera of the “Fantasy” show at the Luxor Las Vegas told Kats she thought her aunt had once taught him in grade school. “That’s impossible,” Kats said. “All of our teachers were nuns except for Miss Kennedy.” Miss Kennedy is Mariah’s aunt. Her exercises taught Kats that he had a talent for writing.
The Sports Star...In 1979 the Kats family bought farmland in Chico, California and moved there. Kats is 6’3″ now and was tall as a youngster. He really “got into” basketball and baseball while attending junior high and high school in Chico. Kats was good at both sports and was named basketball MVP of his Pleasant Valley High School team. He also joined the writing staffs of his junior high and high school newspapers. “At that time we were into sports constantly,” he says. “We’d get up and play basketball, then go to school. At noon we’d play basketball, then after school we’d have basketball practice, and we’d play again after practice. I was in great shape then.”
An Opportunity … Kats loved his sports and writing activities, but admits he had little interest in other subjects and was not a particularly good student in high school. Upon graduation in 1984, he took three months off to delay any decisions about future education. He went back to Pocatello to be with his grandmother because his grandfather was very ill. The first week after returning to California, Kats ran into David Little, a reporter who had covered Kats as an athlete in high school. Little told Kats about a job opening at his paper; Kats interviewed on a Thursday and was covering local sports by the following Sunday. He was 18 years old.
Daily Grades…Kats spent seven years as a sports reporter in Chico. “I was being graded every day. I had a fast course in journalism. I loved it.”
Deadline Intensive …Kats then followed a friend and moved on to the Redding Record Searchlight News in Redding, California, again as a sports writer covering high school and college sports. During the next five years he wrote features and had a column as well. “It was important what we were doing there,” he says. “Community journalism. I worked hard. It was, like now, a very deadline-intensive environment. I would go to a Friday night football game in a place like Red Bluff that was 45 minutes from Redding. I would walk the sidelines, cover the game, do my interviews after the game, drive back to Redding, roll into the office at 11:15; finish my statistics, and write the game story making sure I wrote to the exact 15″ or 18″ hole planned for the story. Then I would help out with whatever else had to be done. Our press run was at 12:30.”
Las Vegas…… Next step: “The Chico paper and the Las Vegas Review-Journal were part of the same media company then, and I had friends who were being hired from Chico to come to Las Vegas. I, too, loved the idea of moving to Las Vegas. In 1995 I interviewed and was hired by the Review-Journal. I was to cover UNLV sports and, as it happens, the coming of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.”
Oops… “I was a good journalist during my two-and-a-half years with the Review-Journal, but I was not a good employee. I was kinda crazy, out of control, nuts. I got caught up in Las Vegas too much. After a while, the management of the Review-Journal said I’d have to go and succeed somewhere else.”
The Sun…Eventually, Kats learned the competing newspaper, the Las Vegas Sun, had an opening for a feature writer. Kats needed to work, so he took a job writing about lifestyle, arts and entertainment. He also began turning his life around. He stopped drinking and became involved in 12-step work. As he said, “I started to take myself seriously.” At the Sun, he worked hard to establish a good track record. “I wrote good stories,” he says. He was eventually named Associate Editor of his section, and then spent six years as Features Editor. At one time, 12 staff and freelance writers reported to him.
Changes… Everything was going great for Kats when the Sun management decided to restructure and become a publication distributed with the Review-Journal. The Sun‘s individual sections were gone. In 1995, Kats began writing a column called “Fabulous Las Vegas,” which was the first version of what Kats writes today. He did that for a year before moving to Greenspun Media Group, where he wrote a variety of articles for both online and print publication. It was an assignment he loved. In 2009, Kats was presented with a challenge. Management asked him to incorporate all he was doing in one place, and that’s when the current “Kats Report” was born. The idea was that he could file whatever he wanted about the entertainment community—or anything else he chose. The new column started February 9, 2009. Says Kats, “The column immediately became popular and took over my life.”
Back to the R-J…The success of Kats’ column drew the attention of the Review-Journal. At the time, the R-J’s entertainment columnist, Norm Clarke, was (and still is) a friend. When Clarke stepped down to pursue other interests, the Review-Journal made a good offer, and Kats was ready to make the move.
Tools of the Trade … Kats does all his work with an iPhone 10, which he says is “great for photos and video.” He also carries a small Sony tape recorder and a Mac Book Air laptop. He is meticulous about charging his devices every evening. Kats has a work space at the Review-Journal, and he drops in a couple times a week. It’s plenty, he says, because “news does not break at the office.” Kats primarily does his work on the run in Las Vegas—or Los Angeles and other nearby locations—or at home.
The No Degree Ladder…Kats knows his story as a journalist who came up the ladder without a college degree is unusual. He says he’s not proud of lacking a college background, nor is he ashamed of it, but he does not recommend it. His parents have learned to accept his unusual story, though Kats’ father still says there is time to return to school. Kats could claim that his parents have enough degrees for all of them. Kats’ father, George, who currently owns the Lava Hot Springs Inn in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, has a bachelor’s degree in zoology from UC Berkeley, a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Washington State University and a Ph.D. in endocrinology from UC Davis. Kats’ mother, Kathleen Sanna, has a master’s degree in speech-language pathology from Idaho State University.
About the Drinking… Kats is out almost very night where liquor is being served, but he does not drink alcohol—ever. He calls what he does drink “fizziwater,” an expression he learned from local entertainer Anne Martinez who once hosted Kats for an in-town Thanksgiving dinner. When he asked what he should bring, she said, “Bring whatever you want to drink.” Normally that would mean bringing bottled water, but Kats got fancy and brought some Pellegrino sparkling water which Martinez calls “fizziwater”. The name stuck. Sometimes when Katz gets really wild, he adds cranberry juice to his fizziwater.
Marriage? … Kats was married to Adrienne Packer, a fellow journalist, from 1998-2003. Kats and Packer are still good friends. As for current relationships, Kats admits the velocity of his current life makes relationships difficult—though not, perhaps, impossible.
The Schedule… In addition to writing a daily column with Review-Journal Features Assistant Managing Editor Anastasia Hendrix, Kats also writes for Luxury Las Vegas magazine, again working with Hendrix. Katz hosts a weekly radio show, “The Kats Report” on KUNV-FM. He makes regular appearances on Las Vegas Channel 13, reporting entertainment news. He has thousands of followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. (Kats recently was at an event with Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval who noted, “I follow you on Twitter”.) Kats has been named the Nevada Press Association’s “Journalist of the Year.” He participates in numerous charitable events and once made a special appearance on stage interviewing Al Pacino. (Kats’ 52nd birthday celebration was held Sunday, February 25, in the Copa Room at the Tuscany Suites. It was a fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, and drew a standing room crowd.)
Why so Busy..Over the years, Kats has learned that people who feel they haven’t lived up to their potential or wasted part of their lives develop a yearning to make up for lost time. “I think that’s happened to me,” he says, “and it’s why I keep such a full schedule”.
Steve Martin…Kats’ boyhood hero was Steve Martin, and he immersed himself in the “Let’s Get Small” album. “I love the way Martin’s humor is so schlocky on the surface but is so intelligent,” he says. “I loved seeing him on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ My father says that I have even imitated his mannerisms.” Although he is currently comfortable around famous people, Kats says when he was introduced to Steve Martin by Brad Garrett after a show in Las Vegas not long ago, “I was so nervous, I didn’t know what to say to him.”
On the job.… Kats virtually never has to pay to attend a show or event in Las Vegas. He does have to pay for parking at some of the venues, and he’s been known to take Uber, but he gets reimbursed for those expenses. When Kats is out on the town he is working, which some people don’t quite understand. They ask him for tickets as if he’s a broker or just a fan attending various shows for fun. No, when Kats is out in Las Vegas, he’s working, as evidenced by the many print mentions of shows or events he’s attended or people he’s met.
Not for Sissies… Kats writes every day. “As Jerry Lewis would say, it’s not for sissies,” he says. “You’ve got to be ready to roll all the time. I don’t treat what I do like work. It’s what I do—what I love to do. What I need to do is to pay attention to balance—make sure I pay attention to my family and get enough time off for me.”
Secrets…A friend of Kats said of him that entertainers in Las Vegas trust him. He is supportive without being a critic, and yes, he knows a great deal more than he publishes. “If a conversation is off the record,” he says, “I’m definitely going to respect that confidence.”
Personal Stuff…Kats lives in an apartment in the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas. He rarely eats at home other than having coffee and cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. He works out several times a week, mostly at his residence but sometimes at the Las Vegas Athletic Club. He drives a 2018 Infinity Q50 with a JKATS license plate. He is nearsighted and first got glasses about 15 years ago.
More Personal Stuff… Kats is somewhat of a clothes horse and makes a point of looking professional when he is working. His height—6’3”—means he cannot go many places without being recognized, so he’s no Oscar Madison. He typically chooses tailored sport coats and suits, and was wearing a cool suit, shirt and pocket square the evening of this interview. Katz collects old typewriters and recently tried typing on one of his old machines that is still in good condition. He says the typing was much more difficult than he anticipated compared to today’s touch keys. TV occupies just a small part of Kats’ free time, but he likes Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” on Netflix and “Schitt’s Creek” on POP (which he records). He’s also a fan of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.” He turns on CNN when he wants background news.
Leaving Las Vegas…When asked if he would ever leave Las Vegas for a job, say, in New York, Kats admitted he loves visiting New York and admires the talent there, but he doesn’t think he’d want to make another move. “My whole life is here. I’ve got a great job. I’ve made friends, and my family is relatively close by.”
What’s Next…Kats would like to expand his writing to what he calls “new meaningful subjects.” He’d like to travel more. He’s planning someday to write a book (he’s currently collecting material). He would also like to solidify his Las Vegas reputation. Growing up, Kats admired San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, whose column seemed to epitomize San Francisco. Kats hopes that someday his name will be linked in the same way with Las Vegas.