WE WERE ALL SUCH GOOD FRIENDS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve just finished reading Terry Ann Knopf’s “The Golden Age of Boston Television”.  Terry was a long time TV critic for a prominent Boston-area newspaper. It’s an interesting read, covering a special time in Boston television news. I’m in it, briefly.

You would think a local legend like me would get more space. Just kidding, Terry. I’m flattered you included me.

The Golden Age of Boston Television by Terry Ann Knopf

Boston, indeed, experienced a wonderful period of TV news excellence. It was the envy of the nation at one point. I know because many reporters from network to major local stations shared their feelings with me. I knew because I had worked at a network (ABC News) before my career landed me in Boston. I could do the comparison without bias. Sadly, the excellence in TV journalism is now history with a few exceptions. Terry deals with that in her book.

I’m sure there will be a mixed response to “The Golden Age of Boston Television” from those who worked at the various television stations during the period.  As for me, I enjoyed the journey through time. I logged 31 years on Boston television. I have a treasure chest of memories.

Garry with Barry Nolan

One of the things missing from Terry’s book is an acknowledgement of the excellent work done by people from all the competing TV stations.  This was a time when reporters received five to ten minutes to deliver stories in complete depth. Facts were double and triple-checked. Words mattered. Our editors were old-school and verbally spanked us for purple prose or improper use of grammar. We cared more about the quality of our stories than how good we looked in live shots.

Reporters, competing for a scoop on the same story, often shared information to be sure we were accurate.  We wanted to be first — but we wanted to be right. There was no joy in seeing a competitor embarrassed by bad information. We had a bond — unlike any other major news market. Writing came first for most of us. Our words were supposed to complement the video — not be redundant.

There was a false belief among outsiders that we didn’t like each other. We’d back stab one another for a “beat.” Sure, there were a few who were better suited to modelling, chasing ambulances, or selling insurance, but that was not true for most of us. For a few precious years, Boston boasted an all-star lineup of reporters who graced the lineups for its TV stations.

Charlie “Chuck” Austin, Jack Harper, Jorge Quiroga, Dan Rea, Kirby Perkins, Walt Sanders, Sarah Ann Shaw, Ron Gollobin, Marty Sender, Shelby “Storm Queen” Scott, David Roepik, Ron Sanders, Paul Reece, Victoria Block, Rehema Ellis, Maurice Lewis, Byron Barnett, Greg Wayland, Gary Gillis (a multi-threat in hard news and sports), Mark Wile, Jack Borden, Chet Curtis (all-star reporter and anchor).

I know I’m forgetting some people and I apologize. Age is catching up.

Clark Booth is special. He’s a hero. Clark’s way with words often meant “we don’t need no stinkin’ video”.  Clark’s catch phrase “good stuff” has been stolen here myriad times.

I’ve stayed away from the news anchors because they are a different story and deserve separate space. News anchors, local and network, are a special breed. Terry Ann Knopf deals with many of Boston’s star anchors in her book. I’ve also not mentioned the “behind the camera” people who were so integral to our success. I will have a special piece on them. Stay tuned.

One of my former colleagues epitomizes my feelings about Boston’s television news reporters.  Ask anyone of a certain age about Joe Day and they will smile. Your political persuasion or news preferences don’t matter. We lost Joe two years ago and our world is poorer for his absence.

I’ll wrap this up with memories of the day we remembered one of Boston’s finest TV news reporters.

The Golden Age of Boston Television
Terry Ann Knopf
University Press of New England, Hanover and London

243 pages including appendix


In August 2015, we gathered as a group to celebrate the life of a friend who passed away earlier that year.

Our friend was Joe Day. Joe’s name should be familiar to those who’ve lived in New England during the past forty years. He was a highly respected TV news reporter for four of Boston’s major television stations (WHDH, WCVB, WGBH, WBZ). Joe specialized in politics. He covered presidents, governors, senators, congressmen and local elective officials.

Many of us fondly remember Joe’s “people” stories, his vignettes about everyday folks living their lives in relative obscurity. That was Joe at his best. On and off camera, he was a modest, plain-spoken guy despite the richly deserved awards he received which recognized his career. There were smiles and tears as people shared stories about Joe. We were mostly the generation of “old fart” journalists, recalling the days when news wasn’t just a business.

Joe Day’s family marveled at the size of the gathering. It’s one thing to send an email or video tribute. But to turn out in impressive numbers on a hot August Saturday, that says so much about how Joe touched the lives of people around him.

Fame is fleeting and transitory in TV news. Friendship is another thing. Usually it fades quickly after changing jobs, states and retirement. You always mean to stay in touch but it rarely happens. That’s what makes the celebratory gathering so special. All those folks bonding in their memories of yesterday when our world was young and Joe Day touched our lives, making each one of us a little better just for knowing him.

Such good friends.

20 thoughts on “WE WERE ALL SUCH GOOD FRIENDS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

  1. An intersting tribute to broadcasting. The states is so big, that the local news channels thrive. We only get to hear of CNN in Europe. Switzerland has three national channels due to the country’s languages of French, German and Italian although we also have our well known broadcasters.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We have locals and nationals and a million combinations, some of which run on WiFi and others, only on cable or satellite. From the 7 channels we had when I was growing up — which was a LOT back then because New York was where they made the shows — we have probably close to a thousand on cable. 990 of them we never watch. If it weren’t for sports, we wouldn’t even need cable. But Garry is very connected to TV because that was his career. It means more to him than entertainment.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mrs. Swiss. I felt genuinely blessed to work during a period when TV news was valued. I worked with some of the best people in the business. We made each other better.

      Like

  2. I started in this business in 1977, Forty years to be exact. I know of 98% of the people Gary spoke about, himself included. A lot of them have retired and a few are about to. That was the golden era of local news and let no one tell you different. Before the ‘bean counters’ came online we were a motley bunch of news gatherers whether in front or behind the scenes that got the details right 99% of the time. We helped each other, laughed at and with each other. It was a great time. A time I will remember for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Mo. You were a new kid on the block but quickly became one of the best. I’ll include you when I write a piece about the people behind the camera. You folks saved people like me on many occasions and made us look good. Hope to see you down the road, maybe at one of the “Ol’ Fart Lunches”.

      Take care, My Friend!

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  3. Thank you for writing so eloquently, for remembering, for touching our hearts with shared memories. Indeed it was a special time with special memories and moments. Your coverage (I had occasion to witness) was flawless, honest and worth listening to. I have come to regret and rarely listen to news reporters and news casts these days. It’s about looks, it’s about selling a product, it’s about powers behind the scene who control and pull strings, with little to no integrity about the reality of what is being said. I sincerely miss the days when you could tune in and KNOW that what you were hearing was true and you weren’t fed a load of bias or salesmanship. Those with integrity such as you and many others, I hale with pleasure. You are a lost generation for the most part of honesty, integrity, depth, and care for your neighbours, the country, and the world at large.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Covert, THANK YOU for the lovely and kind words. I’m so grateful to have been part of that “golden age” of Boston Television. Despite our grumbling ( I actually complained that I needed MORE than 10 minutes to do some stories), most of us knew we were part of something very special. We were hailed as special people for just doing our job and doing it the right way. It never occurred to us to do it any other way. We were also in the middle of changing technology. From silent black and white film to color sound film to video tape to ENG to digital video. It was a whirlwind! I loved my work if I didn’t like some of the people and the stories. Just imagine meeting all of those heads of state, royalty, entertainment and sports legends. Race riots, Vietnam, asssasinations, blizzards, floods, gang shoot outs, mob hits — and that’s just SOME of the “bad” stuff. Hanging out with Church leaders, movie stars, sports legends, political icons, etc. It was the stuff dreams are made of……

      I feel sorry for today’s media people..they’ll never have the close access, trust, clout or experiences we had in those “golden” days.

      One vignette may sum it all up: Afternoon tea with Katherine Hepburn. She shares gossip, tells me she watches me a lot on the telly and gives me some clothing tips.

      Doesn’t get any better.

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      • OMG Katherine Hepburn?? I truly thought her an elegant and delightful woman and her acting was special. I too feel sorry for journalists that would be journalists that don’t know what integrity, honesty, sharing and caring mean. You were indeed in a golden age. Proud to know you.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. fine post, then and now, how things became more interested in the image than the content, i remember hiding behind the sofa when the bad guy was about to attack the good person, if i did that with my life today i’d stay in bed for ever, like you say, the aggression we see today everywhere is mirrored in everyday events, have a fine day, blessings

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, BW. It boggles my mind that content is no longer relevant. We see this (or don’t see it) in news, TV, movies, etc. Writers are an endangered species. I used to “get off” on a story that was well written.

      I admit to grand larceny from time to time.. But I stole only from the best. In one of my stories about a missing child, I reported on the lengthy search. I said people were confident about finding the child alive — “as sure as the turning of the earth”. BW, I blatantly lifted that line from John Ford’s classic western, “The Searchers”. People congratulated me on the sensitivity of my report. Hey, it was a great line and obviously my bosses weren’t familiar with John Ford.

      More confessions?? That’ll be the day!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Garry, thank you for your thoughts on Terry’s book, and for the piece about Joe’s memorial service. My time in Boston TV news ran from 1969 to 1977 before I left for CBS and realized that I had left so many of the best and brightest back in Boston.

    Jimmy Thistle, Spence Gregory, Paul Toomey, Phil Levy are just a few of many behind-the-screen legends (I mention Channel 5 people as that is where I hung my hat, but the excellence was indeed throughout Boston TV News back then). We had so many behind-the-lens pros as well, who made us all look good. You got it right, Garry – we might have been competitive, but we were all colleagues and such good friends, striving to get it right for our varied audiences. I’ve fond memories of all the times you helped this rookie out.

    Garry, I live quite a ways away now, and am not likely to make an Old Farts lunch, but to you and to those who were part of that golden era, thank you again, for everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • HEY, Jacquie!!!

      It’s GREAT to hear from you. I remember you well! You know I’m not gilding the lilly in describing the way we were during Boston’s “golden era” of TV news. You’ve mentioned some very special names in Jim Thistle (absolutely the BEST news director I had in nearly 40 overall years in the “biz”), Phil Levy (former colleague and still a good friend) and Paul Toomey — one of my favorite “desk” people.

      Boston was special in so many ways for a TV News reporter. I’ve frequently cited liquid lunches with “Tip” O’Neill as an example of a market and time when you had trust and access with very powerful political figures.

      Jacquie, where are you now and what are you doing?? Let’s catch up a bit. We can kibitz via email.

      I’m kachingerosa@gmail.com

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