Stan Stovall remembers being quizzed on simple phrases in French at age 3, learning to read by following the adventures of his favorite action heroes at 6, and perusing the newspaper each day when he was 9.
The WMAR-TV (Channel 2) anchorman grew up in a household where reading was a regular activity and school considered a challenge best tackled head-on, with gusto.
It's no surprise that illiteracy is one of Stovall's pet peeves.
"Quite frankly, I don't see how anyone can get anywhere today without being not only a reader, but a good reader," Stovall says, perched on a stool in the studio where he reads the nightly news.
Stovall has sympathy for older Americans who never learned to read, forced out of school at an early age by work or World War II. He's empathetic toward those who have learning disabilities. But he says his patience has run out with young people who are, in his opinion, too "lazy" to learn.
"They've got no excuse," Stovall says. "There's no war to march off to, and you don't have to quit school to raise a family these days."
Though the teens and young adults who haven't learned to read represent a small minority, they are the minority society often hears about, Stovall says. "Very seldom have I found [one] who's a straight-A student out there packing a piece, hanging on a street corner and robbing stores."
Stovall, who spends a fair amount of time talking to students in city schools, stresses education as the key to staying out of harm's way. It's a philosophy that worked for him.
At 45, Stovall is marking his 28th year in broadcasting. He broke into the field at 17, hired by an ABC affiliate in Phoenix, Ariz., while still in high school after catching management's eye during a foray into mock politics at a Boys State convention.
Looking back, however, Stovall believes his career began long before. He signed on to deliver the Arizona Republic shortly after his family moved there from Rochester, N.Y., in 1960. He delivered the newspaper each morning, and read through the day's news at school and later at home.
"I liked being on top of things," he says. "I loved having the right answer when the teacher posed a question. It felt good to excel."
Stovall says he learned to read at 6 -- with incentive from comic-book idols Superman and the Flash. His mother, Doris, read to Stovall and his younger brother from as far back as he can remember. It was she who had the idea to speak to the two boys in French each morning, as a way to expose them to other cultures. Stovall later learned Spanish, too.
As a child, Stovall's favorite book was the encyclopedia. He got his first set at age 10. "I thought it was totally amazing," he says. "There were great pictures and they had every word from A through Z, covering everything you wanted to know."
Today, most of the reading Stovall does is an extension of his job. When he has time to himself, the competitive bodybuilder enjoys reading muscle magazines. He also keeps up with international political stories in locales he covered, including Southeast Asia.
Stovall and his wife, Yolanda, are in the Dr. Seuss phase of their reading lives. They read every day to sons Stacy, 6, and Stefan, 5, and daughter Summer, 15 months.
The Stovalls are also pushing "concept" books, such as those that illustrate the differences between words like "big" and "little."
Stacy recently has "gotten hip to comic books" -- much to his father's delight. The Stovalls also delight in watching Summer imitate her older brothers, looking animatedly at books and turning pages as if she is reading them.
"They're still too young to get into the newspaper or the encyclopedia, but that'll come," Stovall says.
Pub Date: 12/06/98