This get-to-know-you session began inauspiciously. "I wore a suit, and as soon as I walked in, I was like, 'Whoops,' since nobody was wearing a suit," Stone says. "I haven't worn one to work since." But things improved quickly after that. "Jerry showed me around the station, and then he asked, 'Can you anchor this weekend? We need someone to fill in.'
"I thought he was joking," Stone continues. "I mean, I was in awe of KOA; nationally, it has this reputation of being a great station to work for. I thought I'd get there and they'd tell me, 'You can empty garbage cans.' To be eighteen and anchor on KOA was quite a surprise."
When this audition went well, Bell offered Stone a couple of regular slots that would have scared off any college student interested in having a social life: Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. But Stone jumped at the chance, and kept at it over the long haul despite all the debauchery he missed. "I had to live in the dorm that first year, and when I'd get back from the station, everyone would be dead drunk," Stone says. But he got his revenge after Bell asked Stone to file a daily story from Boulder: "I slept with my scanner next to my bed, which my roommate hated. But I wanted to run and report about anything that came up, so that I'd basically own the beat up there. And I did my darnedest to volunteer for things whenever they'd come up."
Such enthusiasm led to a number of showier assignments, and Stone made the most of them. Consider what happened to Stone and a producer during the riots that followed the Colorado Avalanche's June 2001 Stanley Cup victory. "I was doing a report saying, 'It looks like they're getting ready for tear gas,' when I hear this dink-dink sound. It's the tear-gas canister landing at our feet, and it went off right in our faces. I couldn't talk, couldn't breathe, and the producer was throwing up -- and we were still on the air." To date, Stone has been tear-gassed three times, and he acknowledges that "it's kind of a joke around the newsroom now that I sound better when I'm choking."
He got many opportunities to broadcast live amid fumes this past summer, when he and Jayson Luber served as KOA's go-to guys for coverage of Colorado's wildfires. As usual, Stone threw himself into this task, earning his certification as a wildland firefighter in order to gain access to areas that would be off-limits to reporters with less training. He didn't sleep in his own bed for a month and a half because he was jumping from blaze to blaze. "At the end of that, you get real tired of the smell of smoke," he says. But seconds later, he describes it as "a really fun summer."
For his efforts, Stone was honored as first runner-up for the 2002 ABC Radio National Individual Reporter of the Year contest. The prize was based on his reports about the wildfires, riots, flooding, a tornado and a series of investigations on security at Denver International Airport done in conjunction with KOA military analyst Bob Newman ("Bombs Away," November 8, 2001) that earned the twosome an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
Given this level of recognition, Stone would seem primed to jump from KOA into a higher-profile gig, following a long line of predecessors, including Cheryl Preheim (now at Channel 9), Kim Kobel (a Channel 4 reporter), Carol McKinley (with the Fox News Channel's Denver bureau) and Steffan Tubbs (he's a correspondent for ABC Radio). Bell expects this will happen eventually, but he'd like to forestall it for a while. "We've had that talk," he says, "and we've come to an agreement that we've stuck with him through school, so he's going to give us a commitment of a few years -- and after that, we'll see what happens. We expect that at some time he'll grow to something larger within our organization, or maybe within Clear Channel [KOA's owner], or maybe somewhere else. That's the way I operate with people. But whichever way it goes, I expect him to be doing great things in the future."
To say the least, Stone displays not the slightest resentment about the scenario Bell has constructed for him. "I don't want to sound like I'm touting the company line too much, but KOA has been great to me. It's a great place to learn the business, and every time I work on a story, I feel I come back with a little nugget of information about what I like, what I don't like, and how to do my job better. They've been too good to me, so I'm not going anywhere."