JOHN "BERNIE" ARMSTRONG JR. / 1935-2008
Isle sales executive served as mentor
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John "Bernie" Armstrong Jr., a decades-long Honolulu media executive who helped dozens of people get started in the business, died last month in Walnut Creek, Calif. He was 72.
Armstrong had been battling cancer for two years and died in a hospice home among relatives on Dec. 21, his son Adam said.
Armstrong was born in Pittsburgh on Sept. 2, 1935, to parents who were entertainers. His father conducted a symphony orchestra on the radio, and his mother was a former stage personality.
After studying at the University of Miami in Florida and spending four years in the Navy, Armstrong found his first successful career -- music, recording four albums and several singles for Warner Bros. with folk groups during the 1960s.
In 1964 he became music and program director at a Pittsburgh radio station, and worked later at KGU-AM in Honolulu after moving to Hawaii in 1973.
In the 1980s he started a new career in television as a sales account executive at KGMB-TV and went on to launch CNN's radio affiliate, KHNR-AM. Afterward he worked as general manager of a four-station radio group, formerly Caribou Broadcasting. He returned to KGMB as marketing director and also worked as a sales executive at KHNL-TV and KHON-TV before retiring in 2003.
"Every place he went, he made everyone better," said longtime friend Stuart Chang. "He made the team better with his energy, his creativity and his experience."
Chang, director of sales at 94.7 FM, 93.1 FM and AM 1500, recalled Armstrong's humor and positive influence on others since first meeting at KGMB in the early 1980s.
"Bernie was always great with people," he said. "He was a mentor, a friend and a great teacher to me and also to many people."
Cheryl Oncea, who also met Armstrong at KGMB, said he had a youthful personality, even though he was older than those around him, staying out late and enjoying salsa dancing.
"He was older than all of us, but he had more energy than all of us," said Oncea, who is general sales manager at KGMB. Armstrong was always given time to mentor people. "I bet you could find a lot of people who are in this business because of Bernie," she said.
Jennifer Chandler is one of those people. She received her first sales job from Armstrong at KHNL in the late 1990s. She is now an associate professor with a Ph.D., teaching marketing, communication and management at the University of Hawaii's Shidler College of Business.
"He was a nurturer and a teacher," said Chandler, adding that she learned everything about the industry from Armstrong. "He had the patience to deal with people new to the industry. He just knew so much, and he was always warmhearted about it."
She recalled at their first meeting, Armstrong spilled soup all over his shirt.
"That's what Bernie was known for," she said. "He was just a big klutz."
Chandler said Armstrong's experience and knowledge came from all sides of the industry: on air, management, creative, promotion and clientele.
"There's probably a time where he's managed everybody in the industry," she said. "He gave individuals and sales teams wings."
In 2003, Armstrong retired and moved to Ventura, Calif., to open a Hawaiian-style surf shop with his son Adam.
"He was very outgoing. Everybody who came into our store loved him," said Adam Armstrong, who has since closed the shop.
With the help of Chandler, Armstrong began writing a book on marketing and the media industry in 2006. Two weeks before he died, he finished the manuscript, and his son is working to have it published.
Survivors are sons John Holt and Adam; daughters Marti Holt, Kelly Cambra and Malia; mother Dorothy; sisters Leslee Stockhausen and Tracy Taylor; and several grandchildren.
Armstrong considered Honolulu his home, and his family plans to scatter his ashes in the ocean off Hawaii Kai in compliance with his will. Services are pending.