‘Born communicator’ from class of 1966 leaves behind journalism scholarship

Bill+Alexs+yearbook+photo+in+The+Emersonian%2C+1966.

Photo: Beacon Archives

Bill Alex’s yearbook photo in The Emersonian, 1966.

By Camilo Fonseca, Content Managing Editor

Vassilios Alex didn’t learn English until kindergarten. That didn’t stop the Emerson alum from a decades-long radio career that saw him take on everything from newscasting to sports commentary—and established him as a local icon.

“He had this amazing ability to connect with people from all walks of life,” said his daughter Katie Stevens. “It was truly tremendous.”

“Bill” Alex, as he was known, lost his battle with blood cancer on March 22 at the age of 79. A Boston native, he graduated from Emerson in 1966 with a degree in speech. Alex played on the Lions baseball team, but it became clear his true love was journalism. 

While at Emerson, he worked as a reporter for The Hellenic Chronicle, a Boston-based cultural newspaper. He also broadcasted for the WERS and WECB college radio stations—and oversaw the college’s first student television studio, the forerunner of today’s WEBN.

“Emerson had, at least in my dad’s memory, that energy and sense of, ‘Wow, we’re really on the forefront of something big,’” Stevens said. “He really valued the ability to nurture those passions and have the resources of Emerson behind him.”

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Graduating into the climate of the Vietnam War, Alex served four years in the Air Force; he was posted to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, just a thousand miles from the Soviet border. After his return to the United States, he opted to stay in Massachusetts rather than relocate to Hollywood, like Emerson classmates Henry Winkler and Vin Di Bona.

His decision, his daughter said, was a result of his roots. Raised in Dorchester and educated in Milton, Alex felt closely connected to his local community—particularly to Boston’s large Greek-American community, of which he was a member.

“That was a huge, huge part of his identity,” his daughter said. “He loved the culture. He went to Greek festivals, listened to Greek TV shows and radio shows—he was super passionate about his background and heritage.”

Alex’s parents, Stevens said, emigrated to Boston from a tiny mountain village in Greece. He kept himself connected to the community by working at The Hellenic Chronicle—which, according to Alex, was “like the Boston Globe” back in the day—as well as a radio show called “Grecian Echoes” on WNTN 1550—a program she noted still exists.

His next gig on the air was as a sports commentator. And though he was, first and foremost, a baseball fan (thanks to the famous Greek-American pitcher Milt Pappas), Alex would be at the forefront of an emerging sport in the United States: soccer.

Alex, like most Americans at the time, had never played soccer. But when the Lipton corporation hired him as the play-by-play announcer for their new soccer team, the New England Tea Men, he found himself learning on the fly.

Nevertheless, Alex enjoyed his brief tenure as the team commentator before the team relocated. Stevens said he loved traveling to stadiums across the country and meeting new people, “hobnobbing with some luminaries of the soccer field.” Offhandedly, she added that Pelé, one of the greatest soccer players in history, played at the time for the rival New York Cosmos.

Alex’s journalism really shone on his longtime radio program, Newsline. For two decades, Alex headlined the popular talk show on WBET 1460 in Brockton, Mass., becoming a mainstay of the South Shore airwaves.

Alex also shepherded many younger staffers at WBET—including one Matt McLaughlin ‘91, fresh out of Emerson with a degree in mass communications.

“It was all pretty new to me,” said McLaughlin. “But we got really comfortable with each other over time. It actually became a really good learning experience, and it was also a lot of fun to work with a really great guy.”

McLaughlin eventually became Newsline’s producer, working closely with Alex to schedule guests and programming.

“It all depended on what was going on [in the world],” he said. “It was a lot of scrambling, because Bill would say, ‘Let’s get in touch with so-and-so,’ and we’d have to reach out to them.”

Alex’s program did manage to bring on several notable guests, ranging from athletes to local officials to national politicians; McLaughlin recalled one conversation with Andrew Card, a onetime secretary of transportation most famous for informing President George Bush of the 9/11 attacks.

McLaughlin said that Alex was, with all his guests, “very knowledgeable, very professional,” disarming them with his “great sense of humor.”

“Regardless of what his thoughts may have been, he was always open-minded,” he said. “He would give whoever was speaking the chance to voice their side. It was completely different than how it is today—and in my opinion, more like how it should be.”

That diplomatic nature, Stevens said, was a hallmark of Bill Alex’s character.

“He really was a born communicator,” she said. “He had that wonderful ability to build rapport with anybody—whether in the supermarket or at City Hall, or just walking the dog down the street.”

No one saw this side of him more, Stevens said, than Alex’s own family.

“Every waking moment he wasn’t working, he was with me and my sister [Jennie],” she said. “Taking us on little trips, here or there, to the beach, to the park, fishing—spending time in that warm fatherly way. Imparting life lessons.”

To honor this legacy, Alex’s family sought to establish a college scholarship fund for students entering the communications field. The scholarship will apply to first-generation and low income students graduating from Brockton or Milton high schools—much like Alex himself.

“This scholarship is inspired by his own lived experience as a first-gen, low income student himself,” Stevens said. “We thought about how he came up, his background, and his passion for communications and journalism. And we thought, ‘How can we pay it forward?’”

As of Thursday, the fund had reached just over a quarter of its $10,000 goal.

Though Alex’s public commitment to journalism is at the forefront of the fundraiser, Stevens said she remembers him as a father more than anything.

“First and foremost, I think of just a caring individual,” she said. “… Just a lovely, lovely human being.”

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Alex as a “Brockton native.” This has been updated to “Boston native,” to reflect the fact that he was raised in Boston.  The story has also been updated to include Alex’s baseball idol Milt Pappas; it previously cited Mickey Mantle, who was not Greek-American. The Beacon regrets these errors.