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After 35 years, Jacobson set to retire

Anchor at WCVB-TV hopes to start venture for retired boomers

Channel 5 anchor Natalie Jacobson, a familiar face in Boston TV news for the past 35 years, plans to retire from the anchor chair next Wednesday. Jacobson, 63, shared her decision with colleagues yesterday at the WCVB-TV news studio in Needham.

"I have a lot of mixed emotions. It's the right thing to do. I am ready to move on," Jacobson said in an interview at the station before the 5 p.m. newscast. "I have enjoyed a phenomenal 35 years here. We have lived through the history of Boston and New England together. You don't walk away from something that has been your life without some emotion. But it's a warm emotion because of the affection my colleagues and I have for each other."

WCVB has not decided on a replacement for Jacobson, who anchors the 6 p.m. newscast.

Jacobson said she plans to launch a multimedia venture for baby boomers to help them deal with life after retirement. She would not elaborate. (The station did not allow the Globe to photograph Jacobson yesterday.)

"It used to be that you retired at 65, played some golf," she said. "It's not the end of the line. I like to use the term, 'I'm not done yet.' This new venture will deal with just that, people who are looking for their next endeavor and how do I live, how do I make more money."

Known as "Nat" to her viewers, Jacobson began her career in an era when news programs were appointment television and ratings driven by personalities. She joined WCVB on March 19, 1972, as a reporter, just before the station went on the air.

"My goal was always to be the best reporter I could be," she said.

Four years later, she was named the first female anchor of an evening newscast in Boston and became the station's brand, working 3 p.m. to midnight, anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts as well as reporting stories.

"I never had any ambitions to be an anchor," she said. "It took away from my time on the street. Anchoring developed into a reporting tool in a way."

While on the air, she anchored almost every major news event in New England. Among her highlights: Queen Elizabeth's visit to Boston in 1976, the visits of Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II, the Blizzard of '78, and the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. She told Boston about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as well as the Red Sox World Series win in 2004.

Many also recall her 1990 interview with then Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor, John Silber. Silber responded harshly to what was considered friendly questioning from Jacobson. The candidate himself later said the interview helped cost him the election.

"She had a real down-to-earth, common-woman quality about her, and I feel that is what resonated with viewers," said Philip Balboni , a former news director at WCVB who is the president and founder of NECN. "Her ability to somehow relate to people as someone they could see as a friend, as a neighbor, made her extraordinarily popular."

Viewers connected with Jacobson in other ways. She helmed the newscasts with her former husband, Chet Curtis, but viewers also saw the couple's personal and professional breakup: Channel 5 disclosed the couple's on-air split in 2000, and the pair divorced in 2001, after 24 years of marriage. Jacobson remained at WCVB, while Curtis headed to NECN.

In recent years, Jacobson began cutting back on her workload. She used to headline the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. Most recently she has anchored the 6 p.m. news with Ed Harding.

Jacobson, whose contract expires July 31, said she made the decision in the past few weeks to leave the station.

"There are times in your life when it's time to do whatever, you just know," she said. "You are ready for a new challenge, and this is one of those moments."

She met with station president and general manager Bill Fine for breakfast June 20 in downtown Boston to break the news, which he said took him by surprise.

"I don't think you will ever see another television anchor in this market that will have 35 plus years of longevity and quality like Natalie Jacobson," he said. "She is a wonderful communicator. People absolutely feel that they are getting the story from her straight and accurate and the way she delivers it."

Fine said he hasn't selected a replacement. He plans to rotate reporters as fill-in anchors over the next few months.

"Sometimes having different people in there adds to the freshness of it," he said. "You will see a variety of others in that position. We are not committed to a decision at this time."

Jacobson, who lives in the South End and enjoys golfing and tennis, said she doesn't know what she will say for her last broadcast.

"I had to get through today," she said of sharing the news with staffers. "This place means a lot to me, and the people here mean a lot to me, and I have lived most of my life with them."

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.

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