It’s only been 95 years … just a blip on the monitor of history. But it’s been a long wait for Red Sox fans, to see them win a World Series in Fenway Park. Tonight the magic worked. The third series in a decade and the first clinch of the Series at home. WE DID IT!
His obstacles were many. Some might have said insurmountable. He was a painfully shy black man with a hearing problem, trying to break into major market radio and television in the ‘60’s. Yet Garry Armstrong went on to accomplish amazing things in his illustrious broadcast career.
Whereas racism was certainly a factor in Armstrong’s career as a person of color, it was never really a defining issue to him. ‘I was just so driven to succeed, racism was never a major thing on my radar,’ he says. ‘I was much more aware of my hearing difficulties. It was more personal.’ Armstrong worked hard on his diction, taking speech therapy in college, to counteract his hearing deficiency.
The Brooklyn, NY native cut his broadcast teeth at Hofstra College radio station. He was a terrific writer, but his shyness made him hesitant to attempt on-air work. But that was overcome by his ability to conduct interviews with major celebrities, such as Johnny Carson, Arthur Godfrey, Merv Griffin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. Griffin told the young reporter, ‘Well done. You have a future in the business. You listened to me!’
After college, at ABC radio network news, he transcribed radio interviews from news legends such as Ted Koppeland Bill Beutel and became the youngest producer at the network. He edited the copy of biggies such as Paul Harvey, Edward P. Morgan and Howard Cosell.
In 1968, ABC sent Armstrong out to cover major events, such as the iconic Democratic National Convention inChicago and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. His most memorable ‘war story’ was when he sat around a campfire in Vietnam, chatting and eating beans with then President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Shortly thereafter, he landed an on-air job at a small TV station in Hartford, CT. ‘It was so small that there were only 2 on-air people,’ explains Armstrong. He became the all-purpose news reporter, and learned how to shoot and edit film. Once, however, Armstrong learned a humbling lesson when he returned from scoring a scoop to discover he’d forgotten to load film into the camera.
Ultimately, Armstrong was hired as a general assignment reporter at Boston’s Channel 7, where he flourished throughout his 31-year tenure. He established a rapport with both the black and white communities during Boston’s divisive school desegregation period. Yet his reporting career was certainly not without incident.
For example, while covering a story in South Boston, he was accosted by an angry crowd. His first thought was to get the film back to the station, so he made sure it got into the news van.
But the crowd was chanting racial epithets at him, including the N-word. Armstrong defused the situation in Mel Brook-sian fashion. He turned to the crowd and said, ‘I’m not an ‘N’. I’m a Samoan!’ And the crowd backed off.
One time, as Armstrong was covering the Boston Red Sox on Opening Day at Fenway Park, people behind him were getting rowdy, swearing and hitting him on the head just before he went on air. ‘I lost it,’ reveals Armstrong. ‘I was swinging at the guy as we went back live.’ He thought he’d surely lose his job, but when he got back to the station, General Manager Sy Yanoff approached him exclaiming, ‘Garry, way to go. That’s such great stuff. You went with the moment. That’s what’s so great about you.’
Another time, a radio station reported that Armstrong had been seriously injured in a race-related mêlée. When he called the newsroom to say he’d be back soon with the film, the assignment editor was shocked. He thought Armstrong had been taken to the hospital, and stopped the station from going on the air with a bulletin reporting on his reporter’s alleged beating.
Despite all the celebrities, political leaders and newsmakers he covered, Garry, the seasoned reporter, turned into an awed beginner when he interviewed his movie idol John Wayne during the Duke’s visit to Boston in the early 70′s. Afterwards, Garry repeatedly asked his Channel 7 colleagues if they knew who shook his hand until they suggested he calm down and get back to finishing his story.
The 3-time Emmy-winning, Silver Circle inductee has had a wonderful broadcast life. ‘We were so fortunate to have been in radio and television in that era,’ Armstrong opines, ‘because you could do long-form television news. You could have as much time as you needed to tell the story.’ Now, when he tells young journalists how it was, all they can say is, ‘Boy, you were lucky!’
Roger Lyons, Boston Television Examiner
Roger Lyons is a veteran of the Boston television market. He has worked at many stations in news, public affairs, promotion and advertising. Roger has numerous Emmy nominations, many other industry awards and has served for over 20 years on the Board of Governors of the Boston/New…
A personal note: I talk about Garry a lot, so I thought it might be nice if I put something here for you to actually know a little more about my terrific husband. I wish I could get him to do a little blogging of his own! He has some absolutely wonderful stories of the people he met during his years as a reporter, the changes he saw both in the news business and in the world and so much more. But, so far, no dice. I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile, this is a lovely piece by Roger Lyons that was published at the beginning of this year.
Suggested by the author:
It’s almost August. The year’s mid-point passed a while ago and the days are beginning to shorten again as our tilted planet spins its endless, dizzy circles round our not-yet-fading sun.
Outside in my garden, the roses are past caring, throwing only an occasional blossom. The day lilies, exhausted by the massive display in early July, have collapsed in a heap on the garden floor. They did their job. See you next year.
It stopped raining a couple of days ago and the 100 degree heat broke. Don’t think we don’t appreciate it. It’s almost safe to go outside again! Mow the lawn, clean the walk. If the rain holds off, of course.
All things being equal — they never really are — it’s like, you know? Okay. We’ve had some good times. Laughed with friends. Not cavorting like teenagers, but there were a couple of small get-togethers. We’ve still got a roof over our head. Did a radio show and there’s another soon.
Neither of us has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and only one really good friend died. Pastor Stan went the way we all want to go. If death can be a sign of God’s grace, it’s clear Pastor Stan was the man. Well into his eighties, never sick a day in his life, he was eating lunch with a friend, stood up, fell over and was gone. He was one of the funniest, kindest, most generous people I’ve ever known and we miss him terribly … but if you gotta go (and we all do), that was a classy exit.
The dogs have been healthy. A little scare, no big problems, knock on wood (my head will do).
Got a couple of new computers and a few cameras. We’re broke, but no more so than we’ve been for the last decade. Nobody is banging on the door trying to take anything away. We almost have the car paid off — and it still runs! Imagine that!
I didn’t have hardly any surgery at all and only one hospital stay (a record). The Red Sox are playing much better than expected.
My blog passed 85,000 hits and I’m please with the work I’m doing. More important, I’m enjoying it. I live in permanent dread I’ll lose what I’ve got (take that as a general statement), but that’s so “me.” If I weren’t worried, I wouldn’t be me.
I even sold enough copies of my book (17) to get a royalty check (be still my heart)! It was almost enough to take Garry and I to a luxurious dinner at McDonald’s! Are you impressed? I sure was! Garry merely raised one eyebrow, something he does well and I can’t do at all. It’s infuriating because raising one eyebrow is sophisticated and debonair, but raising both just looks goofy.
We drink much better coffee than we used to and I’ve simplified cooking so it is as close to not cooking as it could be. I haven’t gotten fatter and Garry hasn’t gotten thinner.That’s what we call success!
My husband has been selected to enter the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in September. I have a new dress to wear to the event and we have more than enough people to fill our table … almost overflowing! I didn’t know we had enough friends to fill a table. May wonders never cease. Around that same time, we’ll celebrate our 23 wedding anniversary, see friends we haven’t seen since college (yikes) and do a radio show too. Our radio host is also the emcee at the induction ceremony, so I guess we shall get a whole week of celebration. I don’t want to jinx us, but it sounds pretty special. Gee.
All in all? Good. I still have to find out what’s wrong with that nasty noisy mitral valve and try to convince my wrists not to punk out on me, but I figure we’re on a roll.
For years it’s been one crisis after another. Maybe, just maybe, we get a little of the good stuff. I know it won’t, can’t last forever … but a little while would be ever so nice.
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I always liked baseball. I grew up in New York where the annual epic battles between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees were so important we listened to the games in classrooms in elementary school during school hours. When the Dodgers beat the Yankees in 1955, that was as good as it gets for a baseball fan, or more accurately, a Dodgers fan.
When the Dodgers deserted Brooklyn for the west coast, we were heartbroken. Faithless Dodgers! I drifted away. College, babies, work … no time for much else.
Until I married Garry. To say he lived and died with the Red Sox is not an overstatement. Like me, he came from New York and had been a passionate Dodgers fan. Like me, he felt he had been set adrift when our team abandoned us. Although we revived a bit when the Mets came to town, it wasn’t the same, though the Miracle Mets of 1969 almost (but not quite) made up for some of the hurt feelings left in the wake of the Dodgers emigration. Unlike me, he had moved to a true baseball town and found a new team to love.
Ah, Boston. And oh — the Red Sox! In what other town could a huge neon Citgo sign at the ballpark become a city landmark?
The beloved, hapless, hopeless, cursed team of teams. When I came to live in Boston in 1988, they hadn’t won a World Series since 1918. They’d gotten so close … and then some terrible error, some disaster would occur. Everyone would scream, tear out their hair, then finally sigh and murmur “Wait until next year.”
Next year came. Twice, in 2004 and 2007. After that, everyone calmed down. We had done it, not one, but twice. The second time proving the first was no fluke. We could hold our heads up. The curse was lifted. All would be well.
Back to my life with baseball. Garry is, was, always will be an ardent devotee of The American Pastime. Baseball season is long and busy. It isn’t a game a week. It’s a game everyday and even more often, if like Garry, you follow more than one team. I realized early in our marriage I had a choice. Spend my summers without Garry … or learn to love baseball.
I went with baseball. It wasn’t hard to love it. More like remembering something I had once known. I’ll never be quite as much a fan as Garry, but I understand the game, appreciate the art of it and know how baseball is an integral part of American history and tradition. I’ve been to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame and loved it.
Baseball has enriched my life and my marriage. And I have a year-round husband.
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