The Graduate

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Such precociousness soon got the attention of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the hometown daily newspaper. In July 1995, the paper profiled Stone, who at the time was listed as being "14 and a Virgo." On top of his work with Teens on Air and a job at an affiliated radio station, KSFX, where he handled "commercial scheduling and billing," Stone revealed that he was the former editor of the Slater Middle School newspaper; onetime seventh-grade class president; a volunteer for the Salvation Army and the Leukemia Society; and a freelance producer of wedding videos. "Most people see me as a very serious person. But I'm a little nuts, too," he maintained. The author of the article didn't argue with this contention.

When Teens on Air was discontinued after a little over a year, a less dedicated adolescent might have taken its cancellation as a clue that he should be focusing more energy on girls and misbehavior -- but not Stone. Instead, he went to Jim Grady, KSRO's veteran a.m. personality, who immediately threw him a lifeline. "He told me, 'You can come in mornings. If you get us coffee, we'll put you on the air sometimes,'" Stone says. Grady's informal offer quickly evolved into a five-day-a-week post that wouldn't have been feasible without a big assist from Stone's mom: "She was a teacher at a preschool, and she had to open up the school early. So I'd get up at three in the morning, and she'd drive me to the station, and then after a while, she'd open up the school."

Mrs. Stone began getting a little more shut-eye after Alex reached sixteen and "our news director handed me the keys to the station car. I looked at him, and he said, 'Let's see what you can do.'" Before long, Stone was "doing splits, where I'd work the morning show, go to high school, then go back to the station, anchor the afternoon news, and get back home at seven or eight o'clock." His morning duties were particularly brutal: "I'd do newscasts on the half hour starting at 5 a.m., and they'd all be live up to 7:30. Then I'd tape things, because school started at eight -- and sometimes getting there wasn't easy. Every winter during the El Niño years, the rivers would flood, and we'd cover that. One time I ran into class with my rain gear on, and the teacher said, 'I didn't think you'd make it today.'" Luckily for him, Montgomery High School, from which he graduated, was just down the street from KSRO.

On the surface, Stone's status as a local celebrity should have translated into a certain amount of high-school renown. But he insists otherwise. "Our demographic was older, so the most I'd ever hear from someone at school was, 'My grandma listens to you sometimes.'" Indeed, seniors adored young Alex, and an address he delivered in 1999 to the Santa Rosa West Rotary club demonstrates why. When asked by other students why he steered clear of booze, drugs and partying, he informed the collected Rotarians, he said he had observed the damage these pastimes could do when covering accident scenes for KSRO. The night before he spoke, he related, an eighteen-year-old girl had been on her way home when she was killed in an alcohol-related crash, and he'd witnessed the nasty aftermath.

Whereas KSRO listeners knew him as a wonderfully mature young man, Stone says that to his Montgomery High classmates, "I was just Alex, who was way too into the news." A second Press Democrat article, penned by reporter Chris Coursey when Alex was eighteen, makes this point via a quote that clearly embarrassed Stone the second it left his lips. "The best mornings start with a homicide," he said.

When it came time to consider colleges, Stone zeroed in on CU-Boulder for reasons that were only partly inspired by the institution itself. More important was the fact that former KSRO muckety-muck Jeff Hillery had taken a position as program director at Denver's KHOW, and pledged to assist Stone if he wound up in the vicinity. However, during the interval after Stone committed to Boulder but before he arrived in Colorado, Hillery left KHOW in favor of a program-director job in Philadelphia; he has since moved again, to KLIF in Dallas.

Stone feared that Hillery's departure would spell doom for his employment prospects, but he was wrong. Not only had Hillery spoken about Stone to KOA news director Jerry Bell, but Bell, in a happy coincidence, just happened to hail from Santa Rosa. Like Stone, Bell attended Slater Middle School and Montgomery High, and entered the radio profession at an age when most of his peers were still settling on their majors; at 21, he joined the news department of San Francisco's K101-FM. No wonder that at his first meeting with Stone, Bell says, "He reminded me a lot of me."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts