Dr. Benjamin L. Armstrong was the first executive director of the National Religious Broadcasters(NRB) Association. He arrived from Trans World Radio in 1966 and served as NRB’s leader and main visionary until his retirement in 1989.
He saw potential where others saw problems. When told something couldn’t be done, he was dismissive of the negativity and would instead respond with a two-word reply: “Why not?”
When he died this past December the 12th at the age of 87, his passing was not widely noted outside industry news and periodicals. It should have been. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he was not just a broadcast pioneer but also something of a renaissance man. In addition to pastoring numerous churches, he wrote, lectured and promoted and championed Christian programming into his late eighties.
During World War II, Dr. Armstrong served as an assistant to the legendary pastor Dr. Sam Shoemaker in the Calvary Clergy School of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City. In addition to his popular preaching, Dr. Shoemaker was the pastor who helped Bill Wilson create Alcoholics Anonymous.
Years later Ben Armstrong would find himself in the middle of another high profile event. And if you have email, you’ve undoubtedly read of the related petition he successfully defeated over 35 years ago.
First, let me ask you: Does this language sound familiar?
Warning! Removal of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Charles Stanley, James Dobson, David Jeremiah and other pastors from the airwaves. An organization has been granted a Federal Hearing on the same subject by the Federal Communications regarding Petition 2493. Warning! CBS will be forced to discontinue “Touched by an Angel” for using the word God in every program. Madeline Murray O’Hare’s organization has been granted a Federal Hearing on the same subject by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington DC. Their petition, Number 2493, would ultimately pave the way to stop the reading of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, on the airwaves of America.
These warnings are urban legends — but back in 1975, Petition “RM 2493” was real. It was filed by two men – Jeremy D. Lansman and Lorenzo W. Milam. They were requesting that the FCC limit religious organizations’ access to the frequencies on the low end of the FM band. Lansman and Milam claimed they weren’t against religious programming. Instead, they suggested they were worried that giving “religious programming” unlimited access to the radio dial would use up the available frequencies reserved for “educational” programming.
Whatever their intent, the filing created a firestorm. As head of the NRB, Dr. Armstrong rallied his troops in opposition. A robust letter-writing campaign commenced. By the end of that summer, over 700,000 letters had been received objecting to Lanman and Milam’s request. The NRB effort proved successful. The FCC denied the request that same year, but three years later, 7,000,000 letters had arrived at FCC headquarters. They have never stopped coming. Thanks to false Internet rumors, letters and emails continue to be received at the FCC – to the tune of 30 million over 35 years!
Dr. Ben Armstrong believed strongly and passionately in using mass communication to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Now that the Lord has granted him his rest, I pray that all of Christian broadcasting will continue to build upon his excellent work.
As a proud member of NRB, Focus on the Family thanks God for the long life of this good man. We send our condolences to his beloved wife, Ruth, his son, Robert, and daughters, Bonnie and Debbie.