Garry Armstrong’s Wonderful Broadcast Life – by Roger Lyons

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.

Garry and I at a “thank you to the press” party at the end of President Clinton’s vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. It was a great party!

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 CarsonArthur GodfreyMerv GriffinFrank SinatraSammy 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!’

Garry with Tip O’Neill. He is not trying to sell him something, he is showing Tip a watch he had just bought!

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 HarveyEdward 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!’

, 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:

Watch Out for Pigeons!

Anyone who knows me at all knows I love roller coasters. I love them all … but for me, there’s nothing that comes near the Cyclone at Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. Been riding it since I was 8 years. I’m ready to go again. Just say the word. But I think I’d have to go alone. My friends and husband have declared themselves too crotchety to do it again. Bah. Humbug.

CYCLONE-a

If a goose can bring down a 747, it is not irrational to believe a pigeon can derail a roller coaster. Just thought I’d mention it.

Here’s a crazy video of the coaster and nutty middle-aged people enjoying the last great legal high. How many of us leave this ride limping, wondering if we are as insane as we appear to be? I would say yes, we are insane. After last summer’s excursion to Busch Gardens, almost a year later … I’m still limping! But oh, that wonderful adrenaline rush as you look down the first drop, wondering if this time, the car really is going to hit a pigeon and you will go flying off into eternity. What a way to go, right?

Map of Coney Island in 1879

Map of Coney Island in 1879

This is still the best video I’ve seen to date.  Clean, almost sort of  like being there. Nah. Who am I kidding? There’s nothing like being there except being there. Garry says we’re too old, just because I can’t even stand up straight. He points out I can barely walk. But  you don’t have to walk on the Cyclone. You just sit and scream. I can do it. I can, really. Especially the screaming.

Well, we’ll always have 2009 in Brooklyn.

Ah, the refreshing sounds of joy mixed with terror! What a great thing it is to be safely scared to death. Just gotta go back … one last time. I hear the new rides are FANtastic. And here, a sentimental song and a look at those long ago days of doo wop and 1962 … beehive hairdo and mini skirts. Gee. I was the same age that my granddaughter is now … yikes.

Hey Brooklyn … how are you?

- – -

The White Hurricane of 1888

Today is my birthday. It’s also the anniversary of the biggest, baddest blizzard to ever hit the east coast of the United States. This year, it snowed just the other day. There’s talk of more snow next week. The early part of March is frequently stormy. Blizzards are relatively common, though usually when the sun is this high in the sky, the snow melts pretty quickly. But not always.

75-StormHPCR-92012 was a mild, snowless winter. This year has given us a couple of serious storms, though it could have been worse. It has been worse.

I appear to have been karmically destined for snowy climes. This is not only the story of a storm, but a cautionary tale to never forget winter isn’t over until the daffodils are in bloom. You can never overestimate how dangerous weather in this region can be, especially this time of year when wind patterns become unstable with the upcoming change of seasons.

I was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 11. There had been a blizzard a few days before, but apparently it wasn’t a problem because I was safely born in Brooklyn Women’s Hospital. Nonetheless, throughout my childhood, no one in my family ever neglected to mention the blizzard that had hit the area just before I was born.

75-LateStormHPCR-4

Early March is a fine time for big snowstorms in the northeast. March 11, 1888 brought the biggest winter storm to ever hit the region. Known locally as the Brooklyn Blizzard of 1888 and up and down the east coast as the Great White Hurricane, it is my birthday blizzard, a foretaste of Marilyn to come. Or something like that.

It was the worst blizzard to ever hit New York city and broke records from Virginia to Maine. It remains one of the worst — and most famous — storms in United States history. Accumulations of 40 to 50 inches were recorded. It’s hard to picture how much snow that is unless you’ve been through a few really big snowstorms. The deepest snow from one storm in my life so far was 28 inches. That’s only a bit more than half the amount of the 1888 blizzard. Despite all the changes and improvements to technology and infrastructure, that volume of snow would still paralyze us today. It’s more snow than any infrastructure can handle.

Did I mention snow is heavy? 50 inches on a standard roof will cause it to cave in. It would crush us.

75-LateStoreHPCR-3

It wasn’t merely a snow storm. The super storm included sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds. It was one of those occasions when people get put in their place, forcibly reminded of how strong Mother Nature is.

The storm blanketed areas of  New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It carried with it sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour. It produced drifts in excess of 50 feet. My house, at its peak, is about 40 feet, so so we are talking about drifts as high as a three-story building.

All forms of transportation were stopped. Roads and railroads were unusable. People were trapped in their houses for up to a week.

-

 

The Great White Hurricane paralyzed the U.S. East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The storm extended all the way up into the Atlantic provinces of Canada. The telegraph went down, leaving  major cities including MontrealNew York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Boston without communication for days to weeks. Because of the storm, New York began putting its telegraph and telephone wiring underground to protect it from future disasters.

Stereoview picture of Grand Street in New Brit...

Grand Street in New Britain, Connecticut, published by F. W. Allderige in 1888.

The seas and coastlines were not spared. In total, from the Virginia coast to New England, more than 200 ships were grounded or wrecked and more than 100 seamen died.

125 years later, no winter storm has topped the big one of 1888.

Daily Prompt: Places – Take Me Back to Coney Island

BoardwalkAndParachutePaitingARTO-CR-72

Take me back to Coney Island, the Coney Island I remember. I want to be on the Boardwalk. I want to sniff the air full of the aroma of spicy exotic food, pop corn and hotdogs. I want to smell the salt air blowing off the ocean and shade my eyes from the gleam of bright sun on white sand.

I want to hear the endless screams of riders on the Cyclone, the squeal of kids discovering how far they can see from the top of the Wonder Wheel.

I want to watch the people, all the different people of every color from everywhere in the world as thy gape at the strange wonders along the boardwalk, hear the rumble of the elevated trains passing.

I want it to be exactly how it was the first time I rode the big roller coasters and screamed in delighted terror. I want to be that child again for a single day, the little girl discovering fear and wonder on a hot summer day when the world was young.

Sandy takes Coney Island amusement zone on rough ride

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

It may not be as bad as the Jersey Shore, but Hurricane Sandy also hit Coney Island’s amusement district pretty hard.

For those who asked what became of various parts of the area, this covers it pretty well.

See on www.nypost.com

 

Coney Island after Hurricane Sandy

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

CONEY ISLAND, NEW YORK—Despite rumors of looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there was no evidence of mobs near the area’s famous boardwalk this afternoon. around the usually bustling landmark was eerily abandoned.

See on puplewig.wordpress.com

The Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel survived. The oldest things made it through the storm. The beach has sustained serious damage and nobody is talking about the boardwalk, but we can hope.