The Graduate

Most of the time, Alex Stone, a reporter for KOA radio, has nothing but news on his mind. According to Jerry Bell, KOA's news director, "Alex is as hard-core as you can get. He's got all the police scanners and stuff in his house and in his car, too, and they're on all the time. He lives, eats, sleeps and breathes this business." But on a mid-December morning, Stone admitted that his thoughts were on another subject -- namely how on earth he was going to pass his biology final at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

"I took the class as an elective," Stone noted wearily. "But what I didn't see when I signed up for it on the computer was that, on the next screen, it said it was for doctors. And I'm dying in there."

Fortunately, Stone's diagnosis proved less than accurate: He made it out of biology alive and earned a CU diploma a few days later, accomplishing this goal in just three and a half years. Doing so marked a major passage in his life, as it does for most graduates -- but in his case, it was doubly significant. Although he's just 22 years old, he has worked in electronic journalism since he was twelve (and no, that's not a typographical error). As such, he's had to juggle broadcasting and school on a regular basis for the better part of a decade. With the dawn of the new year, however, Stone is finally able to concentrate entirely on a very promising career.

"Everybody's been great about working with my school schedule," he says. "But it's nice not to have to worry about that anymore."

A self-described "news nerd," Stone grew up in Santa Rosa, California, as the youngest of four children born to Barbara and Stu Stone. Stu, a stockbroker with Morgan Stanley, has done a little broadcasting, occasionally delivering stock updates over the phone for a local radio station. Nonetheless, Alex traces his media obsession to a trip to Atlanta when he was six. The primary motivation for the visit was to give his older brother a chance to check out a college in which he was interested, but while the family was there, they toured the CNN broadcast center. Upon their return, Alex says, "I started doing mock newscasts in my bedroom, producing videos and playing around with this small radio board.

"At that time, I think I also wanted to be a garbage man and a firefighter and anything else that would sound cool to a six-year-old," he adds. "But news is what stuck."

Did it ever. During the early '90s, when the average youngster on the brink of pubescence was into New Kids on the Block or Guns N' Roses, Stone was a devotee of Mornings on 2, a program aired weekdays by KTVU, an Oakland television outlet. Each Tuesday, the show originated from a Bay Area hotel, and after considerable goading, Stone talked his mom into driving him there to see how it was put together. As it happened, KTVU's general manager, Kevin O'Brien, was on location that day, and Stone took advantage of the situation. "I introduced myself to him, and he told me, 'Swing by and see the station sometime; come whenever you want,'" says Stone, who regards O'Brien as his mentor. "I thought it would never turn into anything, but he kept his word. I went down there many times through middle school and high school to watch them do the news."

Stone began broadcasting during the same period, but in a different medium. One of his teachers at Herbert Slater Middle School received a letter from KSRO, a venerable talk-radio signal, asking for help finding staffers for Teens on Air, a new, hour-long program to be made for and by the bloom of Santa Rosa's youth. "I showed the letter to my mom, and she said to give them a call, that it could be a lot of fun," Stone says.

Mother knew best. Alex was named news anchor for Teens on Air even though "I sounded like a woman back then. I'd make phone calls and people would say, 'Hang on, Miss Stone.'" He eventually rose to the position of associate producer, working with a staff of approximately twenty of his contemporaries from assorted schools in range of KSRO's signal.

Most of the stories Stone tackled on Teens were of the light variety, but there were exceptions -- most notably the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas, a girl who lived in the neighboring community of Petaluma. (She's memorialized by the Polly Klaas Foundation, an organization at that, among other things, supports families of missing or abducted children.) "I interviewed her parents and grandparents," he says. "I was thirteen at the time, and going through all that was quite an experience."