||03-01-2009 02:08 AM
Paul Harvey, RIP
Radio Broadcaster Paul Harvey Dies
Paul Harvey, 90, a Chicago-based radio broadcaster whose authoritative baritone voice and distinctive staccato delivery attracted millions of daily listeners for more than half a century, died Feb. 28 in Phoenix.
A spokesman for ABC Radio Network told the Associatd Press that Mr. Harvey died at his winter home, surrounded by family. No cause of death was immediately available.
Mr. Harvey was the voice of the American heartland. Decades before devoted listeners tuned in to Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern or Don Imus, an audience of some -- million at its peak --was tuned in mornings and at noon to Harvey's trademark greeting: "Hello Americans! This is Paul Harvey. Stand by! For news!"
On any given day his listeners were likely to include farmers inside the cabs of cultivators lumbering across Midwestern wheat fields, housewives going about their daily chores, over-the-road truck drivers pushing giant behemoths full throttle along America's interstate highways and millions of others for whom listening to Paul Harvey was as much a part of daily routine as the morning cup of coffee.
"Paul Harvey News and Comment" was a distinctive blend of rip-and-read headline news, quirky feature stories and, usually, a quick congratulation to a couple in Topeka or Omaha or Sarasota who had been married for 75 years or so. The news stories, and Harvey's distinctive take on them -- usually, but not always, from a conservative political perspective -- flowed seamlessly into commercial messages for products Mr. Harvey himself endorsed.
Perhaps the most effective radio pitchman in the history of the medium, his sponsors stayed with him for decades. Other potential sponsors lined up to buy time on the news and commentary segments or on "The Rest of the Story," mesmerizing little tales, cleverly written, that featured a surprising O Henry-style twist to stories listeners thought they already knew.
In 2001, ABC Radio Networks awarded Mr. Harvey, then 83, a 10-year, $100-million contract, a tribute not only to his gargantuan listening audience of some 22 million people but also to his uncanny ability to inspire trust in his listeners -- trust that the products he pitched, whether mattresses, nutritional supplements or Bose radios, were worth buying. Worth buying because Paul Harvey said so.
A 1985 survey found that the four most popular radio programs on the air nationally were, in descending order, "Paul Harvey News and Comment" on weekday mornings, "Paul Harvey News and Comment" weekdays at noon, the Saturday "Paul Harvey News and Comment" at noon on Saturday, and "The Rest of the Story" each weekday afternoon.
Descended from five generations of Baptist preachers, Paul Harvey was born Paul Harvey Aurandt in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 4, 1918. His father, an assistant to the Tulsa police and fire commissioner, was shot to death while Mr. Harvey was still an infant, either by outlaws or in a hunting accident; Mr. Harvey himself never knew which version was true.
He developed an interest in radio as a youngster and built his own cigar-box crystal sets. In high school he was a champion orator, coached by an English teacher who urged him to go into broadcasting. When he was 14, the teacher took him to radio station KVOO in Tulsa and told the management, "This boy should be on the radio." The station hired him as a gofer but also allowed him to fill in at the microphone occasionally. He did spot announcements, played his guitar and read the news off the wire.
He worked as a staff announcer at KVOO while taking classes at the University of Tulsa and then became the station manager at KFBI in Abilene, Kan. From Abilene, he moved to Oklahoma City to become a newscaster at KOMA and then to St. Louis, where he became the news and special events director at KXOK.
From 1941 to 1943, he was program director at WKZO in Kalamazoo, Mich., and, at the same time, news director for the Office of War Information in Michigan and Indiana. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1943 and received an honorable medical discharge a few months later after lacerating a heel on an obstacle course.
Following his military service, Paul Harvey Aurandt shortened his name to Paul Harvey and moved to Chicago, where he began doing his twice-daily, 15-minute news commentaries. Originally on local station WENR, the broadcasts soon were tops in the ratings in the greater Chicago market. In 1951, he persuaded an advertising agency to take the broadcast nationwide over a new network, ABC.
Earlier that year, Mr. Harvey was involved in one of the stranger episodes of his career, one that was never fully explained. He was arrested and detained by federal authorities while climbing a fence surrounding the Argonne National Laboratory, a federal atomic research facility in Lamont, Ill. He said he was attempting to demonstrate that security was lax at the facility, although he never really explained how a radio reporter could effectively use the demonstration.
Mr. Harvey also was a supporter of Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s in the fiery senator's crusade against Communists and Communist "dupes" in the federal government. In a 1976 New York Times article, he denied that he and McCarthy were personal friends, although he admitted supporting the senator's crusade.
"I believe it took a roughneck in those days to do a very dirty job, focusing attention on the vulnerability of our country to its internal insecurity," he said. "But then when he got carried away and began making statements he couldn't support -- you know, 69 card-carrying Communists in the State Department -- I did not go down the line with Joe McCarthy."
When third-party presidential candidate George C. Wallace ran in 1968, Mr. Harvey was high on the former Alabama governor's list of potential running mates. (He eventually chose Air Force General Curtis LeMay.) With his broadcast colleague Walter Cronkite, he was a runner-up in the 1969 Gallup Poll's choice of the most admired man in America.
In the 1960s, he editorialized against what he saw as a culture of permissiveness on college campuses and in the media and in support of the Vietnam War. As early as 1966, however, he called on the Johnson administration to bring the troops home.
Perhaps his most famous broadcast occurred on May 1, 1970, when he urged President Richard Nixon to reverse his decision to expand the war into Cambodia. Swayed by his son, a conscientious objector, he began by saying, "Mr. President, I love you. . . but you're wrong." He called on the president to stop the war altogether.
His broadcast, as influential in its way as CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite's announced opposition to the war, prompted a barrage of 24,000 letters and thousands of phone calls, including one from the White House.
A self-described "student of biographies," Mr. Harvey in 1976 inaugurated a five-minute daily broadcast called "The Rest of the Story." Recounting the lives of history makers without revealing their identities until the end of his narrative, he reveled in quirky tidbits, coincidences and twists of fate.
Among "The Rest of the Story" items was the 13-year-old boy who received a cash gift from President Franklin Roosevelt and later led a socialist revolution (Fidel Castro), the rickets-afflicted, bow-legged child who became an National Football League all star (O. J. Simpson) and the celebrated trial lawyer who never finished law school (Clarence Darrow). Most were written by Mr. Harvey's son, Paul Aurandt.
For his newscast, Mr. Harvey relied on what he called his "Aunt Betty" test. Betty was his sister-in-law, an "old-fashioned housewife" who lived in Missouri. If the decided that a story was too complicated or dull for Betty, he either rewrote or discarded it.
He wrote all his own copy, including the commercials, and insisted that he would not endorse a product that he did not believe in. He also invented words that found their way into the vernacular, including "guesstimate," "Reaganomics," "bumpersnickers" and "skyjacker."
In 2000, Mr. Harvey signed a 10-year contract with ABC Radio Networks that paid him $10 million a year.
Survivors include his wife, Lynne Cooper Harvey whom he married in 1940 and a son Paul Harvey Aurandt.
His voice was unforgettable...