His career has taken him overseas to Burma and Ukraine and nationally from Phoenix to Philadelphia. He’s made history and witnessed history being made across the nation and around the world. The stories he’s told echo community and conversation, themes of triumph and tragedy.
This year, Stan Stovall of WBAL-TV 11 News will retire after 52½ years in the industry. For nearly 40 of those years, he’s brought Baltimore viewers the news they discuss at family tables and debate with co-workers. All the while, the remarkable events of his own life—from youth to adulthood—could easily fill a book.
Stovall, 69, originally hails from Rochester, New York. “My family transplanted to Phoenix, Arizona, when I was 8 years old. I started watching newscasts when I was about 10 so I could keep up with what was going on with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the fight for civil rights,” recalls Stovall.
“The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963 was my father’s family church,” says Stovall. “My Aunt Ruby taught Sunday school to the four little girls who were killed in the bombing.”
Stovall’s family was active in trying to bring about social change as he was growing up in Arizona. In 1967, racial prejudice denied his mother a job at Woolworths. After picketing the store, she became the first Black clerk in downtown Phoenix. A year later, his father joined the police academy and became one of the first Black officers in the area. Two years later, Stan broke the glass ceiling in Arizona broadcasting—a surprise even to him. Even though he regularly watched the news in his youth, he did not envision himself working in broadcasting.
“As a Black child growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, all I saw on TV were white males: Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor. There were no African Americans as well as no women, Hispanics, Asians or Native Americans. Broadcasting in America was a ‘closed’ industry for Blacks and minorities.”
Stovall noticed a shift after King was assassinated in 1968. “As communities across America started going up in flames, white reporters didn’t feel ‘safe’ going into the Black community to cover the stories, so stations recruited reporters from Black newspapers or radio stations to cover the story.” At that time, the Federal Communications Commission started requiring TV stations to diversify their staffs, with station owners facing hefty fines or loss of licenses if they didn’t comply. A teenage Stovall found himself part of the first wave of African Americans to get their foot in the door.
In 1970, Stovall decided to run for class president for his upcoming high school senior year. He knew he’d have to give a campaign speech and thought it would be a good exercise to help him overcome stage fright. He won the election and was sent that summer to be a delegate at the Arizona Boys’ State program. “It was a weeklong program where class officers from across the state gathered and learned the process of running a mock state government to help us effectively run student governments at our high schools. I ‘ran’ for three offices: mayor, county executive and chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court,” says Stovall. He continued to build confidence as he gave campaign speeches and won each office.
Important people took notice. “A week later, I got a call from Ernest McFarland, one of the adult sponsors of the program. He was a former senator, congressman, governor and chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. He owned the ABC-TV affiliate in Phoenix, and he was offering me a job. In 1970, at age 17, I was hired as the first African American television news reporter in Arizona. I knew I was breaking a color barrier and felt immense pressure in representing the Black community.” Stovall stepped away from reporting to focus on schoolwork during his senior year. “The day after I graduated, McFarland asked if I was ready to come back, adding weekend anchor to my duties. At 18, I became the youngest TV news anchor in the entire United States.”
Stovall attended Arizona State University on an academic scholarship while continuing to work as an anchor and reporter after school and on weekends. Uncertain of how he wanted to direct his career path, he changed majors several times—from business administration and sociology to medical technology and criminal justice. He selected a minor in communications, and on the first day of class, he was tasked with creating a report from a fact sheet. His classmates raved about his performance, unaware that he was already working in broadcasting. The professor—a producer on a competing station—knew exactly who he was and gave him a C.
When only 25 credits shy of his degree, Stovall was offered an anchor job in St. Louis for a larger market and decided to go for it. He was unable to transfer all his credits to a new university, so he decided that since he already had a job, maybe his existing experience was enough. “After 5½ years in broadcasting, I began to realize I had the abilities to make it a lifelong career,” Stovall recalls.
A Commitment to Community Journalism
Stovall came onto the Baltimore television scene in 1978, as primary anchor for WBAL-TV’s weekday evening editions of 11 News until 1983. He moved to St. Louis as primary anchor at KSDK-TV until 1986, then anchored Philadelphia’s WCAU-TV until 1988. He traveled abroad and reported from Burma in 1988 before returning to Baltimore to anchor WMAR-TV News for 13 years.
During a year between stations, Stovall not only worked freelance media and voice roles but also completed his bachelor’s degree and earned a master’s degree. In 2003, he rejoined WBAL-TV 11 News, where his anchoring story will now soon conclude. “Stan has made significant contributions to both our station and to the city of Baltimore,” says Dan Joerres, president and general manager of WBAL-TV, WBAL-AM/FM and WIYY-FM. “His commitment to local news over the past 50 plus years leaves an incredible legacy of journalistic excellence.”
Stovall’s extensive career has spanned dramatic highs and lows (see highlights in the timeline below).
What was his hardest day in broadcasting? “Ironically, it was a day I wasn’t on the air,” shares Stovall. That day was Sept. 11, 2001. As news of the terrorist attacks unfolded, he was between stations. As much as he wanted to help inform the public, he had no platform to do so. His worst day on air was marked by an intense personal tragedy: “Feb. 26, 2006. I was in the middle of a 5 p.m. newscast when our news director pulled me off the air and directed me to her office. Waiting there were two Baltimore County police detectives. They came to break news from the Maricopa County sheriff in Phoenix that my brother had been found shot to death and his body left in the desert. Arizona authorities had found my business card in his pocket.” His brother’s murderer—a self-proclaimed white supremacist who bragged about his hate crime—was sentenced to prison with no chance of parole before 2042.
Reflections on Media and Memories
The decision to retire is bittersweet, but Stovall has accomplished his goals. “When I left WMAR-TV in 2001 after 30 years in the industry, I seriously considered changing careers,” he says. “I had a ‘non-compete’ clause that prevented me from working at another station for a whole year. I made ends meet by working multiple freelance jobs. A year later, Bill Fine (then president and general manager at WBAL-TV) offered me a job. I then set my sights on trying to reach the milestone of 50 years in broadcasting—something very few in my industry have achieved, let alone an African American.” Stovall surpassed that milestone in June 2020.
“The business has changed so much since my start in 1970,” notes Stovall. “There was no cable, internet, satellite, social media. Basically, three to four TV stations per city had all of the audience share.” Now myriad outlets for gathering information abound.
Are broadcast news careers waning? “The joke used to be that Max Headroom—the hologram newscaster character—would be the future,” he says. “Computer-generated images could look any way you want and deliver the news without needing a human being in a studio. My profession could become obsolete.” Still, there remains an important place for news in our global society, particularly for youth, to better comprehend geography and history and current events. “Kids today rarely watch TV news—they get it from their phones. I think they’re missing out. They need to understand how what is going on around the world affects them. In my house, we’d have a current affairs topic and everyone discussed it at dinner. If they don’t learn these things when they’re young, they get smacked in the face with reality later.”
Stovall is not a man who will retreat to a porch rocker. “I wouldn’t know what to do with myself,” he says. “My first job was at age 10, throwing newspapers. I can only spend so many hours at the gym working out.” Certainly, fitness is a passion for Stovall. A former competitive weightlifter and bodybuilder, he won three Missouri State Powerlifting Championships between 1975 and 1977. In 1980, he earned the titles of both Mr. Maryland and Mr. South Atlantic. He was named Mr. Delmarva in 1990. And, in the 1999 Baltimore City Bodybuilding Championships, he won his height class and age group, finishing third in the all-ages Open Division. He still works out five days a week and hopes to keep it up well into the future.
After his final day on air, Stovall expects to stay in Baltimore—he and his wife live in Baltimore County; they have three adult children—and pursue new freelance work venues in commercials, voiceovers and acting. Still, he’ll miss the camaraderie of his co-workers and the opportunity to inform and interact with the community. “It is impossible to imagine a major news event in Baltimore that has not been anchored by the steady voice and calm delivery of Stan Stovall,” notes Deborah Weiner, WBAL-TV 11 news anchor. “Generations of television viewers have looked to Stan to guide them through the fearful times, the uncertain times and the joyous times.”
Stovall’s legacy in broadcasting—and in Baltimore—will be eternal. “I’d like to be remembered as someone who broke racial glass ceilings and performed my on-air duties and off-air commitment to community service with a high degree of class, professionalism, truth, honesty, dignity and compassion for anyone who crossed paths with me,” he says. “I hope I have been a positive role model, especially for young Black men and women to aspire to be the best they can be in any profession they choose.”
And maybe there will be a book. With his impending retirement, Stovall has had the opportunity to reflect on his life and discuss his experiences in interviews and profiles like this one. Now that he’ll have more time to put thoughts on paper, it is a real possibility. To be able to read even more detail about his extraordinary life and contributions is news worth waiting for.
Some of Stan Stovall’s Career Highlights:
- June 13, 1970: Became the first African American TV news reporter in Arizona.
- June 1971: Became the youngest news anchor in the United States.
- June 1974: Assigned to cover Muhammed Ali for an entire day.
- 1975: Reported a story about dead pedigree puppies in St. Louis that made an “NBC Nightly News” broadcast.
- 1976: Reported on escaped convicts in Illinois, a story that made NBC’s reports for three straight days.
- 1985: Broke story that U.S. mercenaries were training Nicaraguan Contra rebels and crossing the border to combat the Sandinista government in violation of the Neutrality Act.
- 1988: Traveled through Southeast and Far East Asia to cover the War for Democracy in Burma.
- 1988: Lived and worked in jungle combat zones in Burma, as well as cities including Bangkok, Manila, Tokyo and Seoul.
- 1989: Produced exclusive reports on the War for Democracy and human rights violations committed by the Burmese government. Congress cut off $28 million in foreign aid to Burma following these reports.
- 1989: Invited to speak at the United Nations in New York to brief ambassadors on the war in Burma, resulting in Burma being placed on the UN’s “Human Rights Watch List.”
- 1990: Reported from Ukraine before the fall of communism. Stovall was arrested and detained in Moscow.
- 1995: Traveled to Rome to cover the elevation of Baltimore Archbishop William Keeler to the College of Cardinals.
- January 2008: Led team coverage from within yards of President Barack Obama at his inauguration as the first African American president. “After all this country has gone through when it comes to race relations, it literally brought me to tears!” Stovall recalls.