Tulsa History: February 2009 Archives

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.

A couple of years ago, I told you about historian Currie Ballard's amazing find of films taken in Oklahoma in the 1920s of African-American families, communities, businesses, and events. (This YouTube user has some clips from the films.)

These were in the news again recently, and in looking for more information I came across the website of Global ImageWorks, a service that provides stock footage. They list Ballard's collection in their online catalog:

BLACK AMERICAN TOWNS FROM 1920s

Global ImageWorks is exclusively representing a rare and unique film collection discovered by historian Currie Ballard consisting of six hours of film documenting the daily lives of successful black towns in Oklahoma thriving in the aftermath of the infamous Tulsa Riots of 1921. The footage illustrates a little known piece of history and includes footage showing entire black communities visiting one another's country homes, parading through downtown Muskogee in some two dozen Packards, crowding an enormous church in Tulsa not long after the riots, gathering at the National Baptist Convention, and traveling to Europe. It includes black cowboys riding horses amidst oil derricks rising from their ranches, various sporting events including rare footage of the 1928 Los Angeles to New York "Great American Foot Race" in which three of the finishing runners were black Americans. The material found by Ballard came in 29 cans and was shot by the Rev. S. S. Jones, a circuit preacher assigned by National Baptist Convention to document the glories of Oklahoma's black towns of Guthrie, Muskogee, and Langston.

The embedded video on that catalog page is a series of short clips from the collection, which appears to have been beautifully restored.

A site search turns up six "tapes" containing footage from the collection. Here are the titles links to each item page, each of which includes a detailed list of the scenes contained therein:

OKLAHOMA COVERAGE 1924 -1928 - MIDDLE CLASS BLACK LIFESTYLE Tape #: 3382 | Date: 1920s | Location: Clearview, Muskogee, Langston, Bristow, Tulsa, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Oklahoma coverage of middle class black family life in Clearview, Muksogee , Langston and Bristow showing families on their farms and their oil wells. Unique footage from the Currie Ballard Collection. 1925-1927

AFRICAN AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS LIFESTYLE IN BLACK RUN TOWNS IN OKLAHOMA 1920S
Tape #: 3383 | Date: 1920s | Location: Muskogee, Harlinville, Depew, Boley, Duncan, Okemah,Taft, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Scenes of black middle class lifestyle in Oklahoma in completely black run towns of Muskogee, Duncan etc. in 1920s. Church, train scenes, Antioch cadets, black kids in school, grocery and filling stations, farms, and local commerce. From the Currie Ballard Collection.

PEOPLE AND LIFESTYLE IN BLACK RUN TOWN OF MUSKOGEE, OKLAHOMA IN 1925
Tape #: 3384 | Date: 1920s | Location: Muskogee, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Various residences of people living in Muskogee, Department store, basketball team and high school speling contest, classes, faculty etc. From the Currie Ballard Collection

MIDDLE CLASS LIFE STYLE SHOWING RESIDENCES, FAMILIES AND SCHOOLS.
Tape #: 3385 | Date: 1920s | Location: Okmulgee, Tulsa, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Middle class life style showing residences, families and schools. From the Currie Ballard Collection

OKLAHOMA - AFRICAN AMERICAN LIFESTYLE
Tape #: 3386 | Date: 1920s | Location: Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Various towns of Oklahoma, residences,schools, baptism, construction, lifestyle, Masons parade, Masonic lodge, Church. From the Currie Ballard Collection.

OKLAHOMA AFRICAN AMERICANS
Tape #: 3387 | Date: 1920s | Location: Germany, Jerusalem, Italy, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Oklahoma African Americans from the Currie Ballard Collection.

Some of the Tulsa-related scenes:


  • The Oklahoma Eagle Divinity Company, Greenwood Street 1927 Tulsa

  • Tulane Avenue Baptist Church Bus from New Orleans, Louisiana at Gen Convention Tulsa Brady Theater 1927 Tulsa

  • Church members leaving church winter brick church inner city

  • Scenes from Thanksgiving Day 1925 parade and football game: "MTH Muskogee vs. BWH of Tulsa" (Tulsa won, 13 to 9)

  • Mr. Jessie Brown new $75,000 Funeral Home, 540 E. Easton 1928 Tulsa

  • Brown Funeral Service 1928 Tulsa

  • Union Baptist CadetS at State SS & BYPU Convention, Rev. D.C. Cooksey August 4, 1928 Tulsa

  • Train loaded with cars, oil derrick in background

  • Church Baptist Cadets

  • Ground Breaking Union Baptist Church Pastor D.C. Cooksey Officers and Members August 4, 1928 Tulsa

  • Church ground breaking (older Church burned down during Tulsa Race Riot 1921)

  • Tulsa Business League Dr. S.S. Jones (right to left) Tulsa

  • Dr. S.S. Jones eyeglasses Tulsa

  • Mt. Zion Baptist Church after the Riot Photo Stills (right to left) Tulsa

  • Greenwood Street seven years after Tulsa Race Riot 1921

  • C.B. Bottling Works, 258 E. Archie (right to left) Tulsa

  • Soda Pop Bottling Company

  • Jackson's Undertaker Co. (right to left) Tulsa

  • Booker T. Washington High School, noon hour Tulsa

  • Dunbar Grade School (right to left) Tulsa

  • Dunbar Agri Gardens (right to left) Tulsa

There are scenes from many Oklahoma cities and towns, including Okmulgee, Muskogee, Haskell, Coweta, Ardmore, Langston, Bristow, Taft, El Reno, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Depew, Boley, Wewoka, Boynton, Gibson Station, Wetumka, Eufaula, Red Bird, Porter, and Holdenville plus scenes from travels to Paris, London, Chicago, and the Holy Land.

These, along with old street directories, newspaper microfilm, and Sanborn fire insurance maps, could be the makings of a fascinating documentary.

MORE: From an Oklahoman story on the films from September 2006:

The significance, he said, is the "positive light it puts on blacks in this state. Under the heat of Jim Crow laws, it showed that blacks were prosperous."

Many blacks living in the 1920s were former slaves, and the films show a bustling and prosperous way of life, Ballard said.

"It was rare for a white person to have the camera and equipment in those days," he said. "For someone black to have a camera was unreal. That's what makes it so rare. The movies are from an African-American point of view....

Some of the movies were taken just a few years after the Tulsa race riots of 1921, which virtually destroyed the city's Greenwood district. Jones chronicled the 1925 (black) National Baptist Convention in Greenwood and an accompanying parade.

"The movies showed the strength and resilience of the people of Greenwood to pull off a national convention and to rebuild what was burnt to ashes," Ballard said.

That's the footage that also impresses Blackburn. Like Blackburn, he said it shows the people were able to not only recover but to prosper.

"It would have been easier to be intimidated and to run away and go to St. Louis or Chicago," Blackburn said. "This film footage is very important."

What is interesting, Blackburn said, is that the films show no signs of destruction, but vitality of the Tulsa black community.

STILL MORE: Currie Ballard was recently appointed Assistant Secretary of the Oklahoma State Senate.

Cracks and tracks

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I was driving around the Pearl District -- the topic of my upcoming column -- this evening just about sunset. Looking south on Quincy Ave. from 6th St., I noticed a tell-tale pair of parallel cracks in the asphalt, each crack about the same distance from the middle of the street. The distance between the two cracks was about the same as the width of a standard gauge train track. I had noticed this phenomenon before, on Archer St. downtown, where the Sand Springs Railway once ran down the center of the street.

Quincy Ave. was the route of a branch of the Tulsa Street Railway, which ceased operation in 1936. The line left downtown on 3rd and branched north and south on Madison. The north branch ran along 1st to Lewis to 7th to the TU campus.

The south branch turned east on Fostoria (now known as 5th Pl.) running past the house where Paul Harvey grew up, then headed south on Quincy, terminating just north of 15th St.

As I passed 8th St. heading southbound on Quincy, the parallel cracks swerved to the right. A bit further on, I noticed another pair of parallel cracks, about a foot away from the pair I had been following. The two pairs of cracks, swerved back toward the middle just north of 10th St. It looked very much like a spot where a single track split in two to allow streetcars heading in opposite directions to pass each other.

My jaw dropped when I spotted this.

I don't know for sure that there are still rails beneath the asphalt, but if there were rails, I would expect them to have some effect on the integrity of the asphalt as they expand and cool at a different rate than the other material in the roadbed.

Keep your eyes open. You may just see a remnant of a Tulsa that no longer exists.

On May 20, 2008, the famed Rock Cafe on US 66 in Stroud was gutted by fire, but the stone walls remained standing. Owner Dawn Welch was determined to rebuild. After some false starts, reconstruction is on track for completion in late spring, according to Dawn's latest update, posted on January 20. The interior framing is complete and the roof trusses are now in place. If she meets that late spring target, the cafe would open just about a year after the fire.

It gives me hope for the old Temple Israel building at 14th and Cheyenne, which was gutted by fire in late January. The brick walls are still up, and I'm hopeful that Kevin Stephens, who owns the historic building and adjacent lots, will press ahead with his planned restoration and repurposing of the building. It's an important part of our city's history. After Temple Israel moved away in the '30s, to 16th & Rockford (now home to a playground for Christ the King Parish), the building was home to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Its companion, the original home of Congregation B'nai Emunah, just three blocks away near 11th and Cheyenne, was torn down some years ago for parking for the Teamsters hall next door.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa History category from February 2009.

Tulsa History: January 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa History: March 2009 is the next archive.

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