A veteran radio reporter and anchor on some of Boston’s most popular stations, Bill Rossi was a New England legend.
“Bill was an icon in the radio news business when news was the integral part of it,’’ said Rod Fritz, a radio news anchor for Boston’s WBZ and longtime friend, though he never worked with Mr. Rossi. “He delivered the news in a way that got through to audiences. He knew how to tell a story and kept you interested.’’
Fritz’s wife, Carolyn, who worked with Mr. Rossi at WRKO in the late 1970s and ’80s, said he considered himself “a rock ‘n’ roll newsman” and he was one.
“He had a great conversational sense of news writing and a smooth, fast delivery and a magnificent voice for radio,’’ she said. “As our late boss, Roger Allen, would say: ‘What a great set of pipes!’ ’’
William N. Rossi, Jr., revered for the quality of his voice and the content of his words, died from pulmonary complications and a blood infection on Jan. 9 at the Life Care Center of Merrimack Valley in Billerica following a long illness. He was 79 and lived for almost 20 years in Billerica.
During his years in radio, spanning the mid-1950s to the late ’90s, Mr. Rossi worked at Boston stations such as WRKO, WZOU, and WXKS, better known as KISS 108.
At WRKO, he was “morning newsman and sidekick to Dale Dorman,” Joan Quinn Eastman, a Boston-based television and film producer and a longtime friend, wrote in a summary of Mr. Rossi’s work.
“But,’’ she wrote, “Rossi was best-known for his no-nonsense persona on KISS 108, where he was news director and anchor for both Sunny Joe White’s ‘Great Awakening’ and Matt Siegel’s ‘Matty in the Morning.’”
Mr. Rossi, Eastman said, was “larger than life.”
“His opinionated approach and dry wit made him a perfect foil and straight man for the morning-drive stars,” she said. “He was such a diehard newsman with a big booming voice.’’
One of Mr. Rossi’s memorable comments off the air took a page from the film “Casablanca,” when Gretchen Marides arrived at his office at WRKO in the 1970s to interview for a broadcasting job and later became his wife, according to Eastman. “Of all the newsrooms in all the world, she had to walk into mine,’’ she quoted him as saying.
After doing background work for the station, Marides started broadcasting under the name Hillary Stevens.
She and Mr. Rossi were married in 1983. It was her second marriage and Mr. Rossi’s third.
“They were like Romeo and Juliet,’’ Eastman said.
Mr. Rossi was born in New Bedford to William N. and Helen (Rogers) Rossi. His father died when he was 14.
He always wanted a radio career, said his brother, Thomas, of Fairhaven. And when he was a teenager, his mother gave him a tape recorder, which he used to record school activities.
“Bill started out as a disc jockey,’’ his brother said.
Mr. Rossi graduated from New Bedford High School, Leland Powers School of Television & Radio, and the School of Communications at Boston University, where he was also an instructor for a time.
He served in the Army during the Korean War.
According to his daughter, Patricia, of Chilmark, his first marriage to the late Joan Gagnon ended in divorce in the late 1960s, and she raised their five children on Martha’s Vineyard. Their son Michael died of a heart attack at 45.
Mr. Rossi’s second marriage, to Nancy Smith, ended in the late 1970s, Patricia said.
He remained a devoted father, Patricia said, recalling a childhood visit to his station with her brothers, how he helped her get on the “Bozo the Clown” show, and the record hops he hosted at her school and at her brothers’ schools.
“He encouraged us to be independent and to choose our own paths,’’ said his son William 3d, a Chilmark selectman.
Two of his sons serve on police forces on Martha’s Vineyard: Daniel is chief of police in West Tisbury and David is a police officer in Edgartown.
Mr. Rossi started his radio career as a disc jockey in the late 1950s in New Bedford, working at WNBH and WBSM before he moved on to WPRO in Providence, his brother said.
He came to Boston as a news anchor around 1970, first working mornings at WRKO and then working at KISS 108.
He became known as “a passionate newsperson and a great mentor to many that aspired to work in the radio news business,’’ said Karen Blake, who worked with him at KISS 108.
“What people may not know [about him],’’ she said, ‘”was his great sense of humor. When Bill was just ad-libbing, he would come out with the funniest, most gut-wrenching one-liners.’’
He joined WZOU as news director in the early ’90s before going to WGIR in Manchester, N.H. He retired from his radio career in 1998.
But Mr. Rossi, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, occasionally got roles in films and also worked, with his wife, for a Billerica group that cares for feral cats.
In addition to his wife, his daughter, his three sons, and his brother, Mr. Rossi leaves a stepson, Steven Marides of Hyannis; a stepdaughter, Hillary Marides of Northridge, Calif.; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A service was held.