OLD ACQUAINTANCES – Garry Armstrong

We meet once a month.

I slug the Google calendar with “Ol’ Farts Luncheon” to schedule the event, time, and location.  We usually meet at 12:30 pm and wrap maybe two hours later. It’s an event full of old war stories and a few well-worn memories as we eventually go our separate ways.

Our group is mostly retired broadcast news people — predominantly cameramen as well as a reporter or two, and a few newspaper folks.  We all used to cover the mean streets of Boston, from the last days of non-electric typewriters and film to current day electronic media. We’ve all been around from old Remingtons to mini-cameras emitting images that air instantly while watching the rise of social media and purported news writers who post stories that are raw. Unchecked for truth or validity.


Our friendships date back half a century or more. Once, we were the young Turks, ambitious and breathing fire to bring fresh air and relevance to television news we thought was maybe too stiff and formal.  The old guard regarded us with suspicion,  annoyance and I suspect, a little envy because they’d been the same way a mere few decades earlier.

We’ve shared triumphs, tragedies, marriages, divorces, births, and deaths. Lately, we’re bonded by attending too many funerals of people who used to attend our lunches. We know that sense of mortality we so casually dismissed to the old guard in earlier years.  Now, we are the old guard.

It’s interesting to follow the thread of how our lives have changed in retirement,  away from the daily spotlight of events on the center stage of public life.


A relatively small gathering for our latest luncheon.  Nine very mature gents around the big table. Seven of these fellows are retired (or semi-retired) cameramen, video technicians, van maintenance, and uplink pros.  All have worked at least 40 years in the TV news biz.  That’s at least 280 years which is a pretty a conservative tally — untold days, nights, weeks, months and years. Collectively, we’ve covered just about all the major news events over the past half-century.

Although Boston-based, we’ve followed stories around the world.  We were there when the Vietnam War became an awkward part of history, when Watergate brought down a president, and when the Berlin Wall tumbled. We were there when Three Mile Island became a national scare,  when sexual abuse scandals ripped through the Catholic Church (including a prominent local Archbishop), and when court-ordered school desegregation put Boston in a very uncomfortable international spotlight.

All of us were there for these events that, like a thousand tiny paper cuts changed our world, our neighborhood, and how we view ourselves.  Their cameras delivered images that have become part of history.  History not often covered in textbooks — paper or electronic.

Most of these unassuming fellows have taken home multiple Emmys, Pulitzer Prizes, Murrow Awards and other honors recognizing their bodies of work, most of which they have done their work in relative anonymity.


One suit, with typical executive lack of respect, called them “button pushers”.  That suit’s tenure was relatively brief.  Ironically,  we worked for many suits who simply did not respect the quality of the work or dangers faced by pros “just doing their job.”

Preserving anonymity, one of my colleagues dealt appropriately with a suit who endangered all the lives of techs and talent in a TV remote van.  The suit, in the middle of a thunderstorm with huge bolts of lightning, insisted the signal rod be kept upright so the van could transmit a news report.  If the exec’s order had been followed, there was an excellent chance that lightning would blow up the truck with everyone inside.

So one of these fellas ignored the suit’s order, suggesting that lives were in jeopardy and, perhaps the suit would like to come and put up the rod himself.  Newsroom applause drowned out the suit’s expletives as he stomped back to his corner office.

Another of these “gents” braved jail time with his reporter rather than reveal a source for a high-level story.  Like some of the Pols on the Impeachment Inquiry, the suit didn’t grasp the meaning of “confidential source’.’  He didn’t comprehend that the source and his family’s lives would be in jeopardy if he was identified.

So “the button pusher” and his reporter opted out for adjoining jail cells rather than yield to high pressure from yet another suit who probably should’ve been working at a car wash.  The suits and the company lawyers blinked.

There are multiple, similar stories around this table. I was around for many of them.  Often, I hid behind them as they took the brunt of self-serving, second-guessing suits who seemed oblivious to the complicated life on the streets.


It bears repetition that these under-appreciated news people — reporters without microphones — are responsible for most of the hardware I’ve taken home.  I’ve always felt obligated amid the warm applause at award ceremonies to thank the folks behind the cameras for cleaning me up, straightening me out, and making sure we always had the full story.

It’s a joy to spend time with them.



Categories: Celebrities, Friendship, Garry Armstrong, Getting old, News, Technology, Television

Tags: , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. Great post, Garry. It is so interesting to see the “behind the scenes” guys and hear their stories.

    Like

  2. You have much to applaud and share. You and these others stood for something. Your reporting meant something. It was real, honest and true. It was a pleasure to witness and it was believable because it was true. These days I find myself hearing anything on the news and thinking, yeah right, wait five minutes and you’ll hear the reverse left to wonder which is the truth of it. Then if your really interested you have to spend hours sifting through tons of sites and still on occasion wondering which of those is true. You are the old guard to my way of thinking, and I’d proudly stand beside any of you with great respect and thankfulness.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s wonderful that you continue getting together like this, Garry!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! Nine journalists around a table and only one beer bottle? C’mon, I just know you guys can do better!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • DC, you sound like an old TV hand. Yes, our drinking habits have changed DRAMATICALLY. We usually stare at whoever is having the beer or hard liquor. Show Off!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Garry that’s a whole other book and well worth the write.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent- these gatherings are important

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a wonderful monthly gathering! Few people leave their job with the reward of so many friends! And the photos left me wondering who is the mystery man avoiding all photos? I can respect his anonymity. 😎

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robin, he didn’t want his picture taken. His anonymity was respected. I tried to preserve anonymity of all the others whose work I’ve praised. There are unsavory ghosts still lurking and you have to be vigilant – for yourself and your loved ones. It goes with the job.

      Robin, there are a ton of incredible “war” stories from this group. Usually, they just grumble “another working day”, recall some hysterical sidelight, and move with unprintable language about some of those “suits” who never got it.

      It’s the same today but a thornier battlefield with our current poseur-in-chief and his minions.
      I keep wondering — how would Ed Murrow deal with the chap now squatting in the Oval Office.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.

        Edward R. Murrow

        Liked by 1 person

        • Bingo, Robin!
          We just rewatched the Murrow bio-movie, “Good Night And Good Luck” the other night. Wonderfully done. Brought back a rush of memories about some of Murrow’s “Boys” I worked with early in my career at ABC Network News. That was over 50 years ago. They certainly elevated the game of this young newsie. And, such wonderful “war” stories about working the news during Murrow’s prime. I just absorbed it all, realizing how lucky I was.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I´m working to try to be a broadcaster, what do you think is the essential lessons to become one. Are you born with that talent?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charly, I would encourage to pursue your dream. However, you must have the determination, the “fire in the belly” to deal with the adversity that frequently parallels your successes in working stories. If you REALLY want to be a good reporter (I note you said ‘broadcaster’), you must be prepared to absorb the slings and arrows of people you’re covering, in high and low places. You’ll get a lot of attention, good and bad. Enjoy the good, ignore the bad. I worked in an era when I often received angry “snail” mail with blistering letters written in scrawled, illiterate, crayoned profanities. These days, it would be tweets, instagrams, etc. But it’s the same vile content. However, you’ll receive lots of support from people who reognize you’re doing quality work. That’s the fuel that’ll drive your ambition on the worst of days..
      Charly, you must be ready — early on — to let the job be your life. There’s little time for a decent social life aka “meaningful’ relationships. I’ve seen many marriages crumble because the reporter was always too busy with his/her job. It’s hard to do both. You WILL have PLAY time. You MUST!. With luck, you’ll find time to lead a balanced life. Don’t rush it.

      Born with the talent? I don’t think so. I was blessed with a flair for writing as a youngster. Most of my early work was mawkish, purple prose as I tried to write my great American novel. shamelessly copying heroes like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and others. Eventually, you find your own “voice” and style. It’s usually conversational and it’s YOU — not someone else.

      So, you need lots of ambition, energy, fortitude, persistence and a knowledge of yourself.
      I should add — you need a clear sense of ethics that may often be tested. Stick to the HIGH road.

      Charly, I’ve focused on reporting – writing. The same things apply to the “voice” part in broadcasting. Work on your diction, pitch, clarity of voice. Don’t try to imitate a broadcaster you admire. You find your own voice. It’s usually your conversational voice. Drink lots of liquids (Water) to avoid hoarseness. It’s fun to play games with yourself — usually when you are alone. Pretend you’re a late night talk show host (in your own voice) and do the monologue stuff. Keep it conversational. See the audience in your mind’s eye. This is old stuff. I used to pretend I’d been summoned to sub for Johnny Carson. I’d stand in front of the mirror (ALONE!!) and open the “Tonight” show. It’s funny in retrospect -but it helped in real life scenarios. Charly, you might check out a movie “The King of Comedy”. Jack Nicholson fancies himself as a talk show host and does the schtick I’ve mentioned. It’s an interesting film about people with perhaps too much passion for success and lacking some of the toys in their attic. (You can do the same ‘practice’ stuff as a news anchor or commentator)

      Good luck, Charly and please stay in touch to let us kow how you’re doing.

      Like

      • I have Little time to write back to you all that I wanted. To keep it short I have to say that your words not only about broadcasting but it applies in our overall life and certainly encouraging.
        -Make your work your priority, let the bad things slide and stick to the good. One better have that mentality to survive. There are more topics you touched on. Or words as fortitude, energy, and more.
        I appreciate the thoughtful comment.

        Like

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