Radio icon Paul Harvey died today at the age of ninety. We’re all so much more the poorer for his passing:
Radio legend Paul Harvey dies at 90
By Peter Johnson, USA TODAY
Network spokesman Louis Adams says Harvey died Saturday at his winter home in Phoenix, surrounded by family. No cause of death was immediately available.
Harvey never viewed himself as a newsman, even though some 18 million people tuned into his daily reports to hear his 15-minute take on the day’s events.
“I’m a professional parade watcher who can’t wait to get out of bed every morning and rush down to the teletypes to pan for gold,” he told CNN’s Larry King in 1988.
That he did with a vengeance since those teletype days in 1951, arriving at his Chicago studio in the pre-dawn hours to produce two news and commentary segments and his evening The Rest of the Story (written by his son, Paul) which were carried on some 1,100 radio stations and 400 Armed Forces Radio Network stations.
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He based himself in Chicago, flew aboard his Lear jet to give corporate speeches and commuted by limo each day from his 27-room home in suburban River Forest, Ill., to his 16th floor studio above a street sign that reads Paul Harvey Drive.
When Harvey was 81 in 2000, his sole employer for all those years, ABC Radio Networks, signed him to a 10-year, $100 million contract. Rivals who had lost in the bidding told him they’d be back in 2010.
Harvey’s ability to sell products in advertisements, via spots that read and which flowed seamlessly from his news stories, were legendary. He is considered the greatest radio salesman of all time and sponsors — only one in 15 were accepted — were required to sign on for at least a year.
“I can’t look down on the commercial sponsors of these broadcasts,” he told CBS in 1988. “Too often they have very, very important messages to put across. Without advertising in this country, my goodness, we’d still be in this country what Russia mostly still is: a nation of bearded cyclists with b.o.”
The idea of retirement never occured to either Harvey or his wife, Angel, whom he married in 1940 and who was his producing partner throughout his career.
“I’ve got an old country boy’s philosophy,” he told The Chicago Tribune in a 2002 interview. “When the car’s running, you don’t look inside the carburator. Just keep rolling.”
He got his start in radio in high school in Tulsa at age 14 when a speech teacher was so impressed with his voice that she took him to a local radio station, KVOO-AM and told the program director that Harvey belonegd on radio.
He began reading news, making announcements — and sweeping floors — and a year later began getting paid.”It is impossible in print to capture the rhythm and flow of his delivery, a series of pauases, dramatic and playful inflections that combine to create somethng like a piece of perfomance art, a verbal telegraph,” writer Rock Kogan wrote in his Tribune profile.
The conservative label attached itself to Harvey, a God-and country advocate who called welfare recipients “pusillanimous parasites.” He supported Sen. Joe McCathy’s tactics in the early 50s.
Critics blasted him during the tumultuous Vietnam War years in the 60s and 70s, but he made one of his most famous flip-flops on that war, declaring on the air to President Nixon: “Mr. President, I love you but you are wrong.”
But unlike partisan radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, Harvey’s appeal was “that he did not represent any kind of movement, not any kind of format,” said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers magazine, a radio trade publicatio. “He just represented himself and that is highest compliment and highest form broadcasting: when are successful for just who you are and for being there so long.”
Tom Taylor, editor of Inside Radio, said that Harvey was “like the oldest and still the tallestredwood in the wholeforest, a living reminder of the power ofwords on the radio — and of silence. Most talent in radio rushes to fill ‘dead air’ but Paul understood the value of the right pause at the right time. You’d sometimes literally hold your breath to see what ‘the rest.. .of the story’ was.
Said Taylor: “Paul had absolutely no equal when it came to the sheer art of how to use a radio microphone, and several generations of radio newspeople studied his delivery. He tried television but it wasn’t his medium. Radio was, and he owned it.When Paul was speaking, how could you not listen, even if you disagreed with his commentary.”