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Riding on Air

[whitespace] Mary Babbitt
Christopher Gardner

Channel 11 personality Mary Babbitt wouldn't have it any other way

By Michael Learmonth

It was a slow news night in San Jose. Theodore Kaczynski had tried to fire his attorneys that morning. Colder than usual weather and a little rain were expected. Volkswagen's new Beetle was unveiled at the auto show in San Jose.

With Mary Babbitt at the helm at 5pm, the Channel 11 news team found time between stories for some cheery, unscripted banter. After the Beetle story, she reminisced on the air about that old Volkswagen still sitting in her parents' garage. At the time, it seemed like an innocuous comment, but then the phones jammed with viewers offering to take the old VW off her parents' hands.

"Hey," one caller said, "I love Volkswagens, too, so if your parents want to clean up their garage, let me know."

To stem the tide and calm down frantic KNTV staffers, Babbitt made a little change in the Beetle story for the 6pm broadcast by adding, "It belongs to my brother, and he'll never part with it."

By now, Babbitt is accustomed to the power of television, as well as the fame that it bestows. She says she's often approached in grocery stores and sometimes on the street. The coffee-shop lady asks if she'd taken any vacation over the holidays.

"No," Babbitt replies, "I wish. I've only had one day off."

Name: Mary Eileen Babbitt
Age: 33
Occupation: 5pm and 11pm news anchor, KNTV-Channel 11
City of Origin: Torrance, Calif.
How Long Here: 1 year, 6 months
Hobbies and Interests: Running, writing, mountain biking, music, tennis, enjoying the Los Gatos Creek Trail

On this morning, Babbitt looks nothing like the anchor behind the desk. Instead of the power suit, she's wearing jeans, a cream-colored sweater and running shoes. She orders coffee and adds milk and sugar.

Typically, she arrives at KNTV between 1 and 2pm, writes three or four stories for the 5pm broadcast and records a few promos. Usually, she says, she's had at least one chance to practice reading the stories before she goes on air. Sometimes, though, with late-breaking stories, she's seeing those words on the TelePrompTer for the first time. Even tougher, she says, is standing up in front of the camera on the scene with little or no time to get the words straight in her head.

"I love writing," she says. "That part of the job is fun. A lot of people think news anchors show up and go into makeup and hair. No one does my makeup or hair, and I'm sure it shows," she laughs. "On the one hand I'm a journalist; on the other I'm worrying about under-eye concealer."

It turns out the bright friendliness Babbitt conveys on television isn't an act. She confesses to being nervous at first to be on the other side of the notepad, but then proceeds to talk about the impressions Silicon Valley has made on her since she arrived.

"All these new people working new jobs are also the kind of people who want community and culture," she says. "My impression is that Silicon Valley has felt culturally in the shadow of San Francisco and is emerging from that shadow. Anyone who thinks they need to drive an hour for culture should really take a look in their own back yards."

Another big perk of valley living, she says, is the environment. "I don't think we need to trade that because of the economic boom," she says. "You can step right out your door and have a nice trail to run."


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From the January 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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