Sunday, March 01, 2009

Paul Harvey

Veteran radio commentator Paul Harvey passed away Saturday at age 90. In the course of his 75-year career, Harvey's catchphrases, homespun conservatism, and human-interest vignettes endeared him to millions of listeners.

He was born Paul Harvey Aurandt on September 4, 1918 in Tulsa, and lost his father at age three when he was murdered by robbers. A high school teacher was impressed by young Paul's voice and suggested that he might have a career in radio. At age 15, Harvey got his first job at KVOO in Tulsa, at first sweeping up, but eventually working as a fill-in for the regular announcers. Moving on to KXOK in St. Louis, he met Lynne Cooper, daughter of a prominent local family. Harvey proposed to Lynne on their first date. She turned him down, but they continued dating, and would end up marrying in 1940. Known to his listners as "Angel", Lynne also served as Harvey's producer and business partner, and was one of the first important women in the radio business.

Following a stint in the Navy in World War II, the Harveys settled in Chicago, where Paul landed a job at WENR and quickly became one of the city's most popular broadcasters. In 1946, he would also start giving his listeners in-depth features, ending them with the line, "And that's the rest of the story". In 1951, "Paul Harvey News And Comment" debuted nationally on ABC Radio, and would continue until his death.

Harvey modeled his idiosyncratic delivery, with its long pauses and odd inflections, after that of popular sportscaster Bill Stern. He worked plugs for just about everything into his newscasts, claiming he only advertised for products whose integrity he would vouch for personally. He introduced words like "guesstimate" and "snoopervision" into the American lexicon, and closed his broadcasts with a hearty "Good-Day!" Harvey became one of America's most popular radio broadcasters, heard on over 1200 stations nationally. During the 60's and 70's he also packaged TV editorials for national syndication.

Harvey was also the voice of rock-ribbed Midwestern conservatism. He was a supporter of Joe McCarthy, and through the years would use his influence in supporting a variety of conservative causes, and in decrying the cultural changes of the 60's. His editorials gave reassurance to many in the so-called "silent majority" lamenting the loss of the old America. Harvey shocked his listeners, though, in 1970 with his criticism of President Nixon's decision to invade Cambodia. With Paul Harvey, the voice of the conservative middle class, turning against the Vietnam War, Nixon knew that it was time to change course.

Despite growing health problems, Harvey signed a 10-year, $100 million contract to continue his program in 2000. He suffered a major blow when his wife and producer Lynne passed away in May 2008. In recent months, his son, Paul Jr., was handling most of the commentary.

Paul Harvey was not one of my favorites. His main appeal was that his show was the last vestige of old-time radio remaining on the dial. He was not especially talented (compare him to Rush Limbaugh, for example); his mannerisms seemed contrived, and his conservatism was often blockheaded and annoying. Still, he was listened to religiously by millions for over 50 years, and on longivity alone, I guess he rates. Good-day.