MEDFIELD - Ten-year-old Juliana Ockerbloom walks in front of her family and does a dead-on impression of her father: "Who am I? I am Mark Ockerbloom on Fox 25 at 10 and 11."
Seeing dad on TV is as natural for Juliana and her two sisters as seeing him at home. They grew up watching their father leave the house each day to talk about sports on NECN and then at WFXT-TV (Channel 25), where he gradually shifted to the weekend news desk. Ockerbloom quietly kept his eye on a bigger goal: the station's coveted flagship 10 p.m. newscast, which traditionally pulls in the highest ratings in Boston's late-night news war.
What his daughters may not yet truly appreciate is something that is abundantly clear to anyone who tunes in: Ockerbloom has ascended to the lofty heights of a Boston weeknight news anchor. And, in an era when TV stations increasingly recruit talent from around the country, he's one of the few natives anchoring a Boston newscast (his co-anchor, Maria Stephanos, is another). He's not going to mispronounce the names of Worcester and Methuen. He knows where Dorchester begins and ends.
The expanded duties come with personal sacrifices. Ockerbloom can't take family vacations during the ratings sweeps months, which occur when his girls have school breaks. He works a Sunday-through-Thursday shift and co-anchors the new 11 p.m. newscast, which means he arrives home at midnight, when his family is asleep.
Despite the professional and personal adjustments, Ockerbloom says he's anchored at home and work. He also says that working in his hometown gives him an edge.
"When you grow up in the area, you have a sense of who the people are," says Ockerbloom, 45, who grew up in Winchester in a family of six children. (His brother Peter is the Globe's vice president of advertising. Their father, Richard, was a former president and chief operating officer for the newspaper.)
Ockerbloom attended Boston College High School in Dorchester, where he played hockey and basketball. "When I see a story in Dorchester, I am immediately brought back to my high school days," he says. "If someone talks about the Blizzard of '78, I remember that. Ultimately, you can speak to the viewer at home. When you are looking into a camera which is impersonal, if you put that thought process in your head that, hey, this is a family of five that is homeless tonight in Dorchester, I can envision that."
'Outside looking in'
Ockerbloom's journey to the anchor chair began in Providence. As an English major at Providence College, he discovered the joy of reading out loud.
"When you're in an English class and you're one of the few guys, you get to read a lot of parts, so I ended up reading quite a bit," he recalls. He was working as a DJ for the college radio station when he heard about a sports internship at Providence's WJAR-TV (Channel 10).
"That was an eye-opener for me," says Ockerbloom, a sports fan. "I was able to get on the set and make a demo tape. It was fantastic, and it was the moment when I said, 'This is what I want to do.' "
To hone his skills, he worked at several radio stations in New Hampshire as a sports announcer. During a brief stint as a restaurant host at the Westin Copley Place hotel in Boston, he met his future wife, Marysia, a flight attendant from San Francisco. "We clicked," says Marysia Ockerbloom. "He was very genuine and very engaging. With Mark, what you see is what you get." A long-distance relationship blossomed and they married four years later.
Professionally, Ockerbloom began making inroads into TV. He landed at WMUR-TV (Channel 9) in Manchester, N.H., and worked as the weekend sports anchor and weekday reporter before he became the main sports anchor. But he aspired to report in Boston, where sportscaster jobs are highly competitive and rarely open up.
"In New Hampshire, you always feel you are competing against Boston. . . . We were on the outside looking in," Ockerbloom says.
To gain a competitive edge at home, he moved away: In 1995, he accepted a job as a sports anchor at KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City.
"I saw it as an opportunity to try something new and hone my skills even further so that someday I might return to Boston as a sportscaster," Ockerbloom notes.
The new job brought him a certain cache and new reporting opportunities.
"I had a chance to cover the Dallas Cowboys, home and away. I had a chance to cover a college sports hotbed," Ockerbloom says, standing in his living room surrounded by memorabilia of those days. Among them: a photograph of him reporting on the Cowboys winning Super Bowl XXX against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In another photo, Ockerbloom receives the Sportscaster of the Year award in Oklahoma in 1996. He worked there until 2001, when NECN offered him a job as an evening sports anchor.
Ockerbloom also yearned to return to Boston for family reasons.
"I wanted to have my kids know my parents. I had a brother [Carl] who had been through cancer and was in remission," says Ockerbloom, who ran the Boston Marathon with Carl in 2002. "He ran under 4 hours, and I ran 4 hours 1 second. We started out together. It's a great memory now," says Ockerbloom, pointing to a photograph of that race day with his brother, who died of cancer in 2004.
The guy next door
As Ockerbloom became a personality at NECN, he couldn't help notice - and admire - the fast-paced nature of Fox 25, which had unveiled a grand news studio in Dedham. The station expanded in other ways, adding a morning show and a 5 p.m. newscast.
"I just saw a station that had incredible growth and was really starting to hammer it in the ratings and really coming into its own, and I wanted to be part of it," says Ockerbloom, who was hired at Fox 25 in 2004 as a weekend sports anchor and weekday sports reporter.
Station officials believed his guy-next-door quality would benefit the news desk.
"He's got a very personable way about him. He just connects with people," says Lisa Hall, WFXT's news director. "The fact that he's a local guy is a huge plus for us, because people respect that."
When co-anchor David Wade quit last July, station officials immediately promoted Ockerbloom as the station's early evening and late news co-anchor with Stephanos. Their 10 p.m. newscast in the February sweeps drew an average of 184,200 viewers, the highest overall in late-night news.
"Mark made it so easy instantly, because he's just so gracious and talented," says Stephanos, who was born and raised in Groveland. "He brings a great levity to the newscast. He is so earnest, and you can see that in the news."
And on the blogosphere. Off the air at his desk, Ockerbloom imparts his opinions and stirs debate on his myfoxboston.com blog about the stories that appear on the newscasts. In one entry, he called out Governor Deval Patrick for not attending the funeral of the two West Roxbury firefighters killed last summer. "This is a crisis in the Commonwealth," Ockerbloom wrote.
Although Ockerbloom enjoys blogging, he's also careful to use accurate information.
"Blogs are great because you can express your opinion on a topic," he said. But he also cautions: "Always go into a blog, no matter how light it might be, and make sure your facts are straight. It gives people a chance to talk with you. It's a great debate. You sit there and have a great time with them. Interaction."
But right now the only interaction Ockerbloom is focused on is one with his family. It's his day off, so his suit is in the closet and he's in jeans and a polo shirt. He and his wife spend the afternoon helping their daughters - Allison, 14; Juliana; and Alena, 7 - with their homework and playing soccer in the backyard.
"He's the same guy at home and at work," says Allison Ockerbloom as she kicks a soccer ball to her father.
Johnny Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.