NEWS ANCHORING: LOOKING INSIDE – Garry Armstrong

The handsome guy who sits at the main newsdesk on your television newscast is more than a guy who just sits and reads. He delivers the script, knows when to pass the baton to a reporter, live or on tape. In the old days, he was the “anchorman” because no one could imagine a woman doing the job. Given the recent discoveries about what a lot of anchors were doing in their “spare” time, there are suddenly a lot of women at the anchor desk.

Make no mistake: they aren’t “anchorwomen.” They are anchors. They pull the news broadcast into a coherent whole and make sure all the pieces show up in the right spot during the broadcast.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. A very big deal. Most reporters would love to be anchors, but don’t have the talent. I was one of them.

Edward R. Murrow

The title of this piece perhaps should thus be News Anchoring. Doing the job. It may be something of a revelation for those who have no idea what it’s like working inside a newsroom. Maybe if you watched “Newsroom” (Jeff Daniels) you have a bit of an idea … but the real deal is a lot more intense.

Walter Cronkite

Plans go awry. News happens while you’re already in the middle of a broadcast and the crew and anchor need to be ready to ditch all the planned material and cover a live event. As in “it’s happening right now.”

Dianne Sawyer

News anchors were really the first television celebrities and stars, both nationally and locally.  You saw them every day and every evening. They were the voices of truth. They told you what was happening in the world, the nation, your state, and your neighborhood. The promotional blurbs assured you that they were giving you. “the straight truth.”

Chet Huntley and David Brinkley

Depending on your age, you may remember Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank Reynolds, Douglas Edwards, and Harry Reasoner, just to name a few of the many famous faces who held down the network anchor desks in TV’s early formative years.

Dan Rather

You probably have clear memories of the folks who anchored your favorite newscasts. They were smooth and believable. For years, Walter Cronkite was regarded as “The most believable person in the United States.” I think maybe the world.  Political leaders, even Presidents wanted Cronkite’s trust.

John Chancellor

As a young newsie, I thought anchoring was top of the hill in “the news biz.” It looked easy. You just sat there and read the news. A piece of cake, I thought.

Leslie Stahl

I didn’t have much TV experience at the time I made that evaluation of news anchoring. I was still a 20-something with a future of rapid advancement from college, to local news, to ABC Radio Network in 1967.

Norah O’Donnell

My first assignments at ABC were strictly low level, grunt stuff, even though my first day on the job was also the first day of the Middle East 6-day war. Talk about being thrown into the pit!

Peter Jennings

I had to receive incoming phone reports from correspondents around the world and transcribe them — verbatim — for our in-house reporters. Step two was producing and editing copy for those reporters. This gave me more of a hands-on look at the work of the “talent” as on-air reporters and anchors were known.

It still looked easy although some of the scripts needed work. That was my job. I absorbed the good and bad of news-writing quickly. Network reporters were under tremendous pressure to collect the information, write their scripts, then dash into the studio for their broadcasts.

Lester Holt

From my “outside” view, it still looked easy. The movie “Broadcast News” shows more of this.

My few network TV jobs didn’t test me. I was the grunt, filling in for the veteran reporters. These jobs were filmed and I made no live appearances.  Taped was a whole different experience from doing the same material live. It still looked easy.

My brief tenure with a small Hartford TV station provided experience with cameras. I wrote half-hour news scripts and co-anchored with my boss — the other guy in the small newsroom.

This was late 1969. We had teleprompters. They seemed easy to use. Just read the script as it appears. Look at the prompter, read and only rarely look down at the script. No one said anything except “Good work, kid.”  Piece of cake, right?

Fast forward to Channel 7 in Boston, my first “major market” television gig. It was 1970 and I was one of a very few minorities (nonwhite) faces on Boston’s TV stations.

For many years, channel 7 was regarded as the “also-ran” station among the “big 3” TV stations network affiliates in Boston. The others were channel 4 (WBZ) and channel 5 (WCVB today,  but back then, it was WHDH — which later became the letters for channel 7). It’s easier to remember the numbers!

Channel 5 was the most prominent local affiliate and had the best-known news personalities working there.  Channel 7, an RKO-General affiliate was mostly known for running old movies in prime time.

Channel 7 wanted to get into the battle for news viewership and gain some critical respect. Talk about opportunity and timing. I came through the door at exactly the right time. A reporter of color who looked okay and spoke well. Almost immediately, I was given good assignments and received a lot of air time. I loved it. Like the Edward G. Robinson movie villain, “Johnny Rocco,” I wanted more.

I wanted to become an anchor.

No problem. Channels 4 and 5 already had morning newscasts. It was the dawning of popularity for morning news shows while Channel 7 had “Sunrise Semester” reruns.

After some huddling, channel 7 decided to join in the morning news fray with “Daybreak.”  They needed two young, strong personalities to counter the established anchors at the other stations. I don’t recall if there was much newsroom politicking for channel 7’s new show. The veteran reporters, as I recall, turned their noses up at the project. The hours were ghastly. Moreover, it seemed unlikely to have a chance against the other well-established morning news shows.

Garry Armstrong

I don’t think there was any celebration when channel 7 announced that “Daybreak” would be co-anchored by two of it’s new “exciting young talents,” Steve Sheppard and Garry Armstrong.  There was some newsroom jabber about “ebony and ivory,” which was not complimentary.

There was a divide in those days between veteran reporters and “the kids.” as we were known.  We were hungry for success. The vets didn’t want anyone to stir their soup with new ingredients.

Steve and I were excited about “Daybreak” and what it might mean for us. Yes, we were bright-eyed and bubbling with enthusiasm as we did our first shows. Steve had a nervous habit of tapping his toes throughout the newscast. I used to fiddle with the contact lenses I was wearing for the first time.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience. The contacts would slip. Everything would go blurry as I read. I’d squint, tear up and plod on. The contacts would invariably fall out and I’d frantically hunt for them during commercial breaks. Steve Sheppard, covering for me, would move on with the script as we came out of commercials.

After I got the contact lenses under control, I had a new, unexpected problem. We finally got teleprompters. At first, we were enthusiastic. We could finally look like real network anchors.

We could just stare into the camera and, occasionally, look down at our copy and back up to the camera. Steve did it very well. I didn’t. I kept getting lost. Almost every time I looked down at my copy, I would lose my place when I returned to the teleprompter.

I was awkward and clumsy. Not smooth.

I was angry with myself. It had always looked so easy. A piece of cake. I used to practice with the teleprompter between shows. Techs would set me up, give me suggestions and I’d practice. Nope. An assistant director who became a director and later a long-time friend tried his best to guide me through the nuances of the prompter schtick. I had a few decent shows but in the end, I welcomed being “reassigned” to field reporting.

I accepted the “too bad” consolation from co-workers but knew I was not going to be an anchor. It was not a piece of cake after all.

The late Tom Ellis was one of the best TV News Anchors Boston has ever had. Tom was almost a cult figure during Boston’s golden age of broadcasting. The native Texan had a fresh, engaging way of anchoring.  He didn’t seem to be reading. It was more as if he was talking to viewers, sharing the grim “if it bleeds it leads” stories as well as the feel-good features.

“Texas Tom” as he was known, riveted your attention and held you as he delivered the news. I always admired his style and understood he was doing what I couldn’t do — and doing it very well.

Years later, Tom and I became colleagues when he joined Channel 7 as its prime time anchor. He brought that same “Texas Tom” expertise to our floundering newscasts as he had for the competing stations. Tom was even nicer off-camera than on camera. Ironically, he sought my advice on reporting which I gladly shared.

In retirement, our friendship deepened. Tom laughed when I told him about my anchor aspirations, as well as my opportunity, and ultimate demise.  He chuckled, “Garry, it ain’t as easy as it looks.   I sighed and smiled.

These days, I look at the current generation of TV news anchors. I have my likes and dislikes. However, I have a deep appreciation for their job.  It is even more complex with the addition of new software applications they have to smoothly blend into their delivery along with the teleprompter and script.

No, pilgrim, it’s not a piece of cake.

NO MORE EXPENSIVE FUNERALS! TIME FOR CHEAP CREMATION! – Garry Armstrong

I was driving along I-95 in Connecticut when I spotted the billboard for “Direct Cremation”.

cremation with confidenceTraffic was just slow enough for me to read a few lines of the pitch. It promised no fuss, no delays, no middlemen, red tape … and a money-back guarantee if unhappy with service. I wasn’t sure who’d get the money back.

I started laughing over Marty Robbins and “El Paso” playing on the oldies CD. I was still laughing when Marty’s gunfighter died in the arms of his young sweetheart. Instead of a tearful funeral and the strains of “Streets of Laredo,” maybe the gunfighter should have had a direct cremation. No muss, no fuss, no mournful boot hill goodbye.

Direct cremation may be the latest answer to a world of violence. Mob hits, drive-by killings, gang bang slayings with collateral damage. Stressed out serial killers and contract button men doing “jobs.” The bodies just keep piling up.

Medical Examiners are overworked. Cemeteries are running out of room. The U.S. government, in its infinite wisdom, only gives each citizen a whopping $242 per body.

What to do?


Direct cremation!


Speaking of overworked medical examiners, I’m reminded of a story I covered in Boston.

direct-cremation-crematorium-main

Goes back 40 plus years. The county medical examiner was “under the gun” with some of his findings. He didn’t look like Quincy, Ducky, or even the sexy Lacey from the “Castle” series. He was a sad, tired, bleary-eyed man in the autumn of his years.

Your intrepid reporter was on the scene. The M.E. was momentarily diverted so I could check the autopsy lab and the morgue. I found the controversial corpse and made a cursory examination. I confronted the M.E. about his findings on the case. He insisted the victim was stabbed to death. I asked him about the several large bullet holes I’d just found. He was speechless.

Direct cremation would have avoided a lot of controversy and embarrassing questions. It’s an idea whose time has come.

These are also known as “drive-through” cremations, I’m sure you can find more if you look. Google “drive through crematorium.” I’m sure every mobster should have these places on speed-dial.

NOT THE BUCKET LIST – Rich Paschall

Things To Do, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have a “bucket list.” You know, things you must do before you “kick the bucket.” That is to say before you die. Such lists seem to be popular with middle-aged and older people. Younger people may not give this much thought, as they are more likely to believe there is plenty of time left to do things.

Domed stadium, natural grass, Miller Park

If you have a list, what do you have on it?  Do you want to visit all the MLB stadiums? NFL stadiums? NBA arenas? Do you want to climb mountains? Perhaps Mount Everest holds an allure. Perhaps you want to skydive or water ski.

Maybe you want to swim with the dolphins, or watch the humpbacked whales come out of the ocean? Perhaps you wish to travel. London? Paris? Rome? Far East? The Middle East? Do you want to go to the islands of the Caribbean or the South Pacific?

In London with a friend

It may not be too late to learn a language, take a wine tasing course or learn to paint (pictures, not houses).  Maybe you want to run a marathon. You could try for every state. Maybe you want to run with the bulls. I hope you are fast. Maybe you want to visit famous places close to home. You could travel to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the monuments of Washington, DC.

I guess if we thought about it enough, we could put down hundreds of ideas.  If you made a list, how would you prioritize them? Would you do the easiest to complete first, or start with the hardest? Time, health and financial resources could play into all of your decisions.

Grand Canyon

I don’t have a bucket list, nor do I feel the need to make one. I don’t wish to have a list of things I must accomplish. What if I didn’t finish them all? Was life a failure? What if I did finish them? Do I just wait around after that for the grim reaper?

Of course, there are things I would like to do. They are not bucket list items, just things I would like to accomplish if time and resources allow. I have eliminated the ambitious running around the country or around the world ideas. Anything that is too arduous is out.

Selestat, France

If you have any kind of chronic pain, you immediately cross items off the list as not worth the time and aggravation. If you have a plate and 8 screws in your spine, roller coasters and bungee jumping are not things you will consider if you still have your sanity. There are limitations to what the human body will put up with at certain stages of life.

This year I decided on something I should do that had crossed my mind before. There just was no more putting it off. The opportunity to get away was at hand and all I needed was the go-ahead from my destination hosts. When the arrangements were complete I was off to the destination that had moved to the top of my list of places to go. Uxbridge, MA!

Downtown Uxbridge

If you have been following SERENDIPITY for very long, then you have seen plenty of photos of Uxbridge from Marilyn and Garry Armstrong. Marilyn is our editor, photographer, publisher, sage and idea guru. I dropped in on SERENDIPITY in 2013 with a short story, and Marilyn has let me hang around ever since. I am here on Sundays and I sneak in an extra article from time to time on another day.

The interesting thing about the internet is you can contribute articles from anywhere. While Marilyn and Garry are outside the Boston area, I am in Chicago. You may be surprised to learn that prior to this year, we had never met. So Uxbridge became my destination of choice.

My hosts: Garry, Duke, Marilyn

We were going to tour the area and visit many of the spots I had seen before on the blog. The weather held other ideas for us. We were in the pattern of daily ran and spent much of the time indoors. As it turns out, that was just fine. We never ran out of things to talk about. After five and a half years of articles, comments and emails there were plenty of topics to discuss. It was just a couple of days before my trip in early June that I heard Marilyn’s voice for the first time. We were coordinating our arrangements by phone. In the days ahead, we had a lot of time to talk.

With a very small window of opportunity, we headed out to grab a few pictures. The rain held off for a few moments allowing us our touristy pictures. Then it was back inside to our regular greeters, the three dogs.

Cameras at the ready

Nighttime gave us the opportunity to view Westerns we had discussed back and forth in comments and emails. This included one of the Armstrongs’ favorites, Rustlers’ Rhapsody. It is an homage to the great B-movies of a bygone era. It’s a good cast and wacky entertainment. I will get the opportunity to see this send-up again and again as I was sent home with a copy.

It was the opportune moment to meet friends at the other side of the internet universe. I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Uxbridge, but it was on this year’s To Do List and it got done.

I make a careful distinction between things I want to do and a “bucket list.” I have no crazy ideas or personal challenges, just a desire to visit friends when I can. It does not matter where they are in the world. If I can make the trip, then it becomes the next adventure.

Check out this adventure’s photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog: A Visit To Uxbridge

BEING AGAINST FORCED BUSING DOESN’T MEAN YOU OPPOSE INTEGRATION – Garry Armstrong

I was in the middle of what I honestly call the Boston busing fiasco. On center stage, it played as a racial divide between Boston’s white and minority communities. It played well in the media – especially national and international media where they didn’t understand the local sentiments. The local news stations did a little better — when they tried.

Boston was sarcastically labeled as “The Athens Of America” in this period.

Boston busing – Opposing busing didn’t mean you opposed integration – Boston Globe

The key which I discovered by listening to students and parents – white and minority — was lack of quality education. Busing poor, low-income kids -Black and White – didn’t solve the problem of inferior education. Old, outdated textbooks. Antiquated curriculums. Teachers disenchanted by the lack of respect in pay and regard. Oversized classrooms where teaching was a mission impossible.

Time and again, I heard the same complaints from communities that reportedly were “racially divided” by Federally-mandated busing.

Students were transported from substandard schools in one community to substandard schools in another community. Few bothered to mention this. Most said it was a racial divide which was a cheap way to deflect the ball dropped by courts, legislators and local politicians who saw this as a way to build their constituencies by playing the race card instead of dealing with the fundamental issue: the lack of quality education in Boston’s low-income communities.

After I heard the anger over lack of quality education which was repeated over and over by white and Black families, I went with that as the core of my reports.

Truth be told though, I usually led stories with the standard visual images of angry crowds shouting racial epithets, school buses being stoned, and students threatened. Those images were overemphasized and inaccurately interpreted by national and international journalists and commentators.

I often tried to explain things to the network reporters, but they blew me off, labeling me as a local unable to see the big picture. It was exactly the opposite. They didn’t see the picture and they weren’t looking for it, either.

Many local politicians and community leaders – who really knew better — preyed on their constituents for votes instead of trying to calm the firestorm which often turned violent. We in the local media played the violence up, too because it brought in big ratings and that’s what our bosses wanted. If you wanted your job, there was no escaping the error.

Real efforts to explain the education issues were left to minority affairs shows which aired while most people slept.

Although I was proud of my body of work and earned an Emmy for coverage of that era, it was a bittersweet honor. Had I been able to cover it honestly, it would have been a different story.

There’s certainly no excuse – 50 years later – for Presidential hopefuls to use busing as a political tool. Again, they are ignoring the real issue of that volatile period in the name of getting some votes from people who weren’t here and don’t understand what really happened.

Shame on all of them!

You might find reading today’s Boston Globe’s article:
OPPOSING FORCED BUSING DOESN’T MEAN YOU OPPOSE INTEGRATION by Kevin Cullen -July 1, 2019

SUMMERTIME, SUMMERTIME, SUM SUM SUMMERTIME – Marilyn Armstrong

Summertime! When all the leaves and trees are green … and the red bird sings, I’ll be blue …

The Jamies were an American singing group
Single Released in 1958
Chart : Peaked at No.26 on The Billboard Hot 100 in 1958

There’s a long, interesting history of “Summertime” and its historic relationship to Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox. Possibly the oldest tradition in baseball! 

Sherm Feller, who wrote Summertime, Summertime was an old pal of Garry’s as well as the public address announcer at Fenway Park for many years. He was known for playing the song regularly over the speakers at the park.

Read all about Sherm Feller and his song …

72-Fenway-Sox_14

Summertime, Summertime Lyrics


It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime summertime…

Well shut them books and throw em away
Say goodbye to dull school days
So come on and change your ways
It’s summertime…

Well no more studying history
And no more reading geography
And no more dull geometry
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free-for-all

Well are you comin or are you ain’t
You slow-pokes are my one complaint
Hurry up before I faint
It’s summertime

Well I’m so happy that I could flip
Oh how I’d love to take a trip
I’m sorry teacher but zip your lip
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free for all

Well we’ll go swimmin every day
No time to work just time to play
If your folks complain just say,
It’s summertime

And every night we’ll have a dance
Cause what’s a vacation without romance
Oh man this jive has me in a trance
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball A regular free for all
It’s summertime

It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime

It’s summertime!