GARRY ARMSTRONG’S PAGE

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 President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard

Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

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!’

Garry with Tip O'Neill

Garry with Tip O’Neill

After college, at ABC radio network news, he transcribed radio interviews from news legends such as Ted Koppel and 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 in Chicago 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.’

Garry with Marilyn at his Broadcasting Hall of Fame Induction

Garry with Marilyn at his Broadcasting Hall of Fame Induction

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!’

BY: 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.

31 thoughts on “GARRY ARMSTRONG’S PAGE

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    • Thank you!! The biggest perk of my professional career was meeting and sometimes socializing with the Hollywood legends. Growing up with the movies made these encounters extra special. That’s why I love your posts about old Hollywood. Please keep them coming.

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  3. I haven’t seen this before. I like Garry’s smile, it’s genuine. I never understood racism, thought it was a thing of the past when I came here in the 80’s. Thought it had stopped long before, learned otherwise. Always wondered about why one would dislike a colored person, when there are so many annoying French and Turkish people in this world (coming from an European).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never understood it either. My son and granddaughter are both color blind. They can tell you what kind of car or cell phone someone has, but not the color of their skin. That information doesn’t register. I may not have accomplished much, but I feel good about that.

      Living overseas, I found it funny how Europeans (middle easterners too) categorize people by nationality. I thought it was hilarious when I got to Israel and discovered I was Anglo-Saxon. I’d always been a Jew. I’m about as Anglo-Saxon as Garry is. Less, because his paternal grandparents were Irish. Whatever I am, my DNA is all east of the Balkans.

      Liked by 3 people

        • There are no pure-bloods. That’s a myth. The human race is a mix of early hominids. The whole racial issue is bogus, but racists need to feel superior to other people. Since they have no actual accomplishments, they use skin color.

          Liked by 4 people

          • Hater will hate and will find a reason to do so. Color, religion, culture, gender, sexual orientation…you name it. I had a career and was good at it. I was in a meeting in the 90’s. A guy said “you don’t like me because I am jewish” I looked at him and said “No, I don’t like it because you are an ahole”. He stormed out of the room, everybody laughed. He attacked me because I was a woman in a position he wanted to have. Didn’t know I am part Jewish. I didn’t crumble…held my head high and shot back. The older I get the more I realize how much I don’t understand. I don’t understand hate. What a time consuming bullsh** that is. Gosh you made me write a novel again :-).

            Liked by 1 person

    • I understand racism from an intellectual point of view but my gut will never get it. “It” is still out there. We experienced looks and stares on our recent New England road trip. I think it was a coffee shop in Maine. Marilyn didn’t notice it. I did. It wasn’t the “celebrity stare” I still get. No, it was the mixed couple stare.
      I was always one of three or four or five people of color in school, in the Marine Corps, and ALL my jobs across 40 plus years. Ironically, I got my big jobs in radio and TV because they were looking for diversity. My sense of humor has served me well. I think it’s called Black humor in many places. My family just smiles when I seize on a questionable story and call it “blatantly racist”.
      I’ve reduced it to laughter.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Love this story! Had my genome done. bothe grandparents sort of came from scandinavia…Sweden & Norway, and first I learned my maternal DNA came from the reindeer herders, also I have both Denisovan DNA and Neanderthal DNA, and thanks to my Swedish grandfather, whose grandfather was a soldier who came with French field marshal Bernadotte when Bernadotte was adopted into the Swedish royal family because of a lack of male heirs, I also have a considerable amount of Iberian (Spanish and/or Portuguese genetic markers….) I love it!!!! One grandfather and the one grandmother were blond, and the other unmatched pair were dark haired.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Sandy!! This past weekend’s events in Charlottesville remind us of how racism is still alive and formenting in the U.S. The current White House occupant doesn’t help matters.

      Liked by 1 person

      • By the way, my name is Karin Noren. My dad’s pet name for me was princess of Sandy Knob – among others… Sandy Knob was the high spot on the farmyard where the farm house was built ten miles from Canada and one county in from Montana… You are not the first by any means to call me sandy on this blog. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

        • We so often forget them, as if we came to this country and it was empty, so we just moved in. But it wasn’t empty and there was a lot of horrific slaughter — apparently not finished yet. My “people” hadn’t even arrived yet, but I’m still weighed down with guilt about how badly we treat our Native Americans. They are the ONLY Native Americans. The rest of us are immigrants.

          Liked by 1 person

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