Remembering NRB’s Dr. Ben Armstrong

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There are seldom words to describe the
emotion felt by those who are left, when a giant of the faith passes to glory.
That is certainly true this week, as the National Religious Broadcasters mourn
the loss of Dr. Ben Armstrong, the association’s first Executive Director. Armstrong’s legacy is far-reaching, and his life was lived well; it is a
privilege for us to share even a brief overview of his time at NRB.

Ben Armstrong began working for NRB in 1966, just 22 years after the
association’s founding. The early pioneers of religious broadcasting had
recognized the dwindling of religious radio, as the “Golden Era” of radio
broadcasting in the 1930’s gave way to draconian restrictions on paid religious
programming in 1943. Almost overnight, evangelical ministers were unable to
purchase radio airtime, and in 1944, 150 forward-thinking leaders met and
created the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). By 1966, NRB was effective,
but its reach was still small. The Executive Committee decided to make
Armstrong, then the Director of Radio for Trans World Radio (TWR), NRB’s chief
administrator. He was given a $9,000 budget, a part-time secretary, and no
office space.  Armstrong was already a seasoned religious broadcaster who
knew the impact of using media to take the Gospel to the world, and during his
23-year tenure he grew NRB from a small office in his home to an influential
association with a full-time staff of 25.

As one reads the history of Armstrong and NRB, one word is oft repeated: Vision. Anne Dunlap, his long-time
Executive Assistant, recalls that Armstrong “often demonstrated more faith
in people than they felt in themselves.” When anyone told him that something
couldn’t be done, Armstrong would always say: “Why not?” “He had an uncanny
ability to convince someone they could do something, achieving their
goal when they doubted – like starting up that small radio station or hosting a
new program,” says Dunlap with a smile. “He told them it was possible, and – far
more often than not – they did it.”

In addition to his work leading NRB,
Armstrong was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and an
alumnus of The Stony Brook School, Houghton College and Nyack College. He
earned B.S. and M.A. degrees from New York University, studied theology at
Princeton, and received his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in 1955.
Before becoming TWR’s Director of Radio in 1958,  Armstrong pastored
Presbyterian churches in the New York metropolitan area. In 1967, just one year
after joining NRB, he obtained a Ph.D. in mass communications (written in
English, French, and Russian) from New York University. He later published
The Electric Church, and lectured around the world. When Armstrong
retired from NRB in 1989, he and his wife, Ruth, relocated to Bucks County, PA.
In 1998, Armstrong was inducted into NRB’s Hall of Fame. He also continued
to teach until last year, holding the position of Director of Doctoral Studies
at Faith Theolog ical Seminary in Baltimore, MD.

“Not only did
Armstrong bind together the diverse, pluralistic membership of our own
association,” recalls Dunlap, who continues to serve NRB as a Special Assistant
to the President, “but he was able to reach out to those outside the Evangelical
realm and win friends – friends in the FCC, in The White House, in the press,
and at major networks. And through his efforts, Armstrong generated for
religious broadcasters both acceptability and major influence.” Indeed, even The
President of the United States recognized the work of this man. “You
understand,” said Ronald Reagan in a 1986 tribute to Ben Armstrong, “that unless
the Lord builds the house, we workmen labor in vain. For being the patriot that
you are, the man of God that you are, my thanks. May He bless you and Ruth as
you start your next 20 years.”

The National Religious Broadcasters owes a
debt of gratitude to Armstrong – a man of courage and vision who grew
the association, and a man of deep faith who personally carried forward the
banner of Christ through the medium of mass communication. He will be missed, yet Heaven rejoices.

Dr. Ben Armstrong is survived by his
wife Ruth, son Robert, and daughters Bonnie and Debbie. His memorial service
will be held at the Silverdale Brethren in Christ Church in Silverdale, PA, on
Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011, at 1:00 p.m. Friends may meet with the family from
12-1 p.m. For additional information or to send condolences, please contact the
Anders-Detweiler Funeral Home.

This article is reprinted
from NRB Today, a weekly
e-publication of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). NRB Today has a circulation of 10,000, and
is available to both members and non-members alike. NRB is a non-partisan,
international association of Christian communicators whose member organizations
represent millions of listeners, viewers, and readers; their mission is to keep
the doors of electronic media open for the spread of the Gospel. Learn more at

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