Paul Harvey signs off

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I was sad to learn tonight of the passing of legendary radio broadcaster and Tulsa native Paul Harvey at the age of 90.

Harvey grew up at 1014 E. 5th Pl. -- the house is still there -- went to Longfellow School at 6th and Peoria, and then Central High School, starting his radio career at KVOO when he was still in high school. (They were all within walking distance of each other back in the '30s -- KVOO was in the Philtower.) A few years ago he reported receiving a letter from a more recent resident of that house, who had found a wood-shop project in the attic with his name on it -- bookends, I think it was.

I started listening to Paul Harvey's broadcasts in the mid-1970s, at a time when he wasn't carried by any Tulsa station, at least none that I could find. I listened to him on KGGF 690 out of Coffeyville, Kansas. Eventually -- sometime in the late '70s, I think -- KRMG picked him up.

When I started working in Tulsa after college, I often ate my lunch in the car at a nearby park, listening to his noontime broadcast. If I missed him on KRMG at noon, I could catch him on KGGF at 12:40.

It could be hard to listen to Paul Harvey's broadcasts over the last few years, as time finally took its toll on his vocal cords, but it was still the same interesting variety of news, still the same distinctive speech pattern.

See-Dubya has a fitting remembrance over at Michelle Malkin's blog:

Paul Harvey put news out there that no other outlet touched. His Paul Harvey News and Comment scoured the wires for random stuff-and ideologically inconvenient stuff- you just didn't hear on the Big Three mainstream TV news, and crammed it all in to crisp five minute chunks, complete with terse commentary and the occasional wry thwack of sarcasm-and he still had time for the inevitable personalized pitches for Buicks and the Bose Acoustic Wave Radio. Here's what he had to say about his advertisers:
"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."

Zing. He was always like that. Paul Harvey invented blogging; he just did his blogging on the radio....

His radio show wasn't particularly ideological-you could tell he leaned right but it was mainly through the choice of stories and headlines he picked out. He also had a syndicated column back in the day that my state paper carried, and he was a rock-ribbed Middle American (Tulsa native, in fact) social and fiscal conservative with a heart of gold, a deep love of country, and no illusions about the stakes of foreign policy. He was a Reaganesque thinker, as well as a Reaganesque communicator.

(See-Dubya notes: "I kind of trace the groundswell of interest in [Fred] Thompson back to his time broadcasting from Paul Harvey's chair, and likewise the deflation of the Thompson bubble to the time he left it." Hearing Fred in that setting certainly sparked my interest,)

THE REST OF THE STORY:

You can hear Paul Harvey in full voice in this clip on Lileks.com from 1968.

This page about Tulsa radio on Tulsa TV Memories notes that he was a student of Miss Isabelle Ronan at Central High School, and includes a Real Media clip of Paul Harvey speaking on the Larry King Show about his education, his career, and his optimism.

Here's Paul Harvey's entry in the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.

AND THERE'S THIS:

WGN radio, his Chicago home base, has audio clips from Paul Harvey's broadcasts and speeches and the ABC News radio special on the life and career of Paul Harvey which was heard this morning on KRMG.

KOTV has a story that includes video from his 1994 speech at a Tulsa fundraiser for the Salvation Army.

Route 66 News remembers Paul Harvey's support for a couple of Missouri Route 66 businesses.

Washington Post obituary: "Broadcaster Delivered 'The Rest of the Story'" (It's by Joe Holley. Wonder if he's any relation to the southpaw fiddler.)

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 Networks told the Associated 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, offering to millions his trademark greeting: "Hello Americans! This is Paul Harvey. Stand by! For news!"

For millions, Paul Harvey in the morning or at noon was as much a part of daily routine as morning coffee.

HERE IS A STRANGE:

Aaron Barnhart gives a couple of examples of Paul Harvey's impact -- one coming from Keith Olbermann. Keith Olbermann?

"I was his official fill-in from 2001-03 and I was overwhelmed by the thought that went in to the selection and flow of stories. Even when he was off, his rules were in place: each segment began with hard news, moved on to commentary, ended with celebrity and then something light or silly. Then a commercial. Then repeat. Then another commercial, etc.

"I stole it almost entirely for 'Countdown.'"

Bathtub Boy's interpretation of Harvey's demand that ABC replace him as his heir apparent seems a little off:

And though he liked my work, and consented to let ABC groom me to succeed him, when an executive flew to Chicago to get his consent to the network giving away free a Sunday version of his show, done by me, he immediately told them not only would he not agree, but if they did not find a different back-up and write it into a new contract, he would not go on the air the next day. Probably the most job-secure, most irreplacable man in broadcasting, without whom the franchise would sink to 10% of its value, and yet he was convinced he was about to be shown the door. The mind reels.

I don't think Paul Harvey was afraid of losing his job. I think he was afraid of the franchise he had built over 50 years being handed over to a nutter like Olbermann.

But wash your ears out with this, from Barnhart's closing paragraphs:

Finally, a word about Paul Harvey's non-verbal communication. No one in radio got away with the silences that he did. His pauses weren't just pregnant, they were Nadya Suleman pregnant. They were amazingly long, by radio standards. They challenged the listener's assumption that an interruption to the flow of continuous noise meant something was wrong. Nothing was wrong; Paul Harvey just wanted the listener's attention back, in case it had drifted. The great communicator was speaking to his invisible audience with invisible words. And they listened.

So now, as you finish this, don't just observe a moment of silence for Paul Harvey. Listen to the silence.

AND MORE:

Kimmswick, Mo., home of his Reveille Ranch, remembers Paul Harvey

Some childhood details from the New York Times obit:

He was born Paul Harvey Aurandt in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 4, 1918, the son of Harrison Aurandt, a police officer, and Anna Dagmar Christian Aurandt. His father was killed in a gun battle when he was 3, and his mother rented out rooms to make ends meet. He was raised a Baptist, and it influenced his views.

As a boy he was fascinated with radio and built a receiver out of a cigar box. As a teenager, he had a strong resonant voice, and in 1933 a teacher at Tulsa Central High School escorted him to local station KVOO-AM and told the manager: "This boy needs to be on the radio."

He was taken on as an unpaid errand boy, but soon was allowed to deliver commercials, play a guitar and read the news on the air; two years later, he got his first paycheck.

Christopher Orlet remembers the broad appeal of Paul Harvey's "Rest of the Story":

I remember crawling in from college football practice at 5:30 p.m. -- this was the early 1980s -- and collapsing on a locker room bench while over the loudspeaker came The Voice halfway through his evening broadcast, which wasn't news at all, but a feature story where some famous person's identity was revealed in a surprise, twist ending....

Talk about a surreal scene: fifty exhausted college football players from all across the country lying all over a locker room floor in silence waiting for Paul Harvey to reveal the identity of today's subject. "And now you know...the rest of the story...Paul Harvey...Good Day!" Only then would we hit the showers.

Columnist Bob Greene remembers the many times he sat in the studio for a performance of Paul Harvey News and Comment:

He would make these warm-up noises -- voice exercises, silly-sounding tweets and yodels, strange little un-Paul-Harvey-like sounds -- and he showed no self-consciousness about doing it in front of someone else, because would a National Football League linebacker be self-conscious about someone seeing him stretch before a game, would a National Basketball Association forward be worried about someone seeing him leap up and down before tipoff? This was Paul Harvey's arena, and he would get the voice ready, loosening it, easing it up to the starting line.

And then the signal from the booth, and. . .

"Hello, Americans! This is Paul Harvey! Stand by. . . for news!"

And he would look down at those words that had come out of his typewriter minutes before -- some of them underlined to remind him to punch them hard -- and they became something grander than ink on paper, they became the song, the Paul Harvey symphony. He would allow me to sit right with him in the little room -- he never made me watch from behind the glass -- and there were moments, when his phrases, his word choices, were so perfect -- flawlessly written, flawlessly delivered -- that I just wanted to stand up and cheer.

But of course I never did any such thing -- in Paul Harvey's studio, if you felt a tickle in your throat you would begin to panic, because you knew that if you so much as coughed it would go out over the air into cities and towns all across the continent -- so there were never any cheers. The impulse was always there, though -- when he would drop one of those famous Paul Harvey pauses into the middle of a sentence, letting it linger, proving once again the power of pure silence, the tease of anticipation, you just wanted to applaud for his mastery of his life's work.

He probably wouldn't have thought of himself this way, but he was the ultimate singer-songwriter. He wrote the lyrics. And then he went onto his stage and performed them. The cadences that came out of his fingertips at the typewriter were designed to be translated by one voice -- his voice -- and he did it every working day for more than half a century: did it so well that he became a part of the very atmosphere, an element of the American air.

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7 Comments

DavidS said:

A wonderful man he was with a son who hopefully continues to fill his shoes.

XonOFF said:

Haven't heard it lately, but it's said the reason he's not well embraced in Tulsa is due to his own repulsion of being from here. I understand he only reluctantly claims it as his home.

But, I did always enjoy listening to him, most times it was while traveling in my car late night (surely a repeat of an earlier broadcast). The last I recall, he had a full half-hour radio show, maybe an hour. I was always thrilled to find it while cruising and spining the dial on the radio, often complete with the static of AM radio broadcasts far, far away from whenced I drove.


XonOFF, regarding his attitude toward Tulsa, I think you may be confusing him with someone else, perhaps Tony Randall. I've never heard of Paul Harvey disparaging his hometown in any way.

XonOFF said:

You could be right. My mind has obviously not held up as well as his did. I may have transposed, but that's what came to mind. From where, exactly is anyone's guess.

I'll aquiesce to those more enlightened than I.

XonOFF said:

You could be right. My mind has obviously not held up as well as his did. I may have transposed, but that's what came to mind. From where, exactly is anyone's guess.

I'll aquiesce to those more enlightened than I.

sbtulsa Author Profile Page said:

I may be overkill, but I think of Billy Graham, Paul Harvey, and Ronald Regan as the great communicators/orators. Regan and Harvey are gone. Graham is not far behind them. Who will be the "great communicator" of the baby boomers? Limbaugh?

P-X Author Profile Page said:

Now heaven is going to get another star joining Reagan(who I met back in 1975),my father(former Oklahoma chapter president of the Associated Builders & Contractors).All of the aforementioned were voices for hardworking Americans.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 28, 2009 11:26 PM.

Film of Oklahoma's 1920s black communities available through Global ImageWorks was the previous entry in this blog.

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