Archive for Thursday, March 5, 2009

Memories of radio legend live on

March 5, 2009

Hello, America … stand by for news: Paul Harvey is dead.

The dean of American radio newsmen died Saturday in a Phoenix hospital, surrounded by family members. Americans from coast to coast had been listening to his signature delivery for more than 57 years. He was 90 years old. His weekday radio show reached an estimated 24 million listeners on more than 1,200 radio stations nationally and 400 Armed Forces Radio stations around the world.

I hadn’t heard him for years, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. For me, he’ll always be floating out of the old radio on my aunt’s dresser. I may well have heard him a thousand other times, but when I remember Paul Harvey, it’s always that place and that time, in the late 1950s.

Some memories are like that — for me, any way. I have some memories that are truly fixed in time and place. For example, I know I probably heard Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” hundreds more times, but that song is fixed in my memory at one time, one place: driving down Roe Boulevard in my parents’ car a few days after I got out of the service in September 1967.

So it is with Paul Harvey. I’m sure I heard him before, and I know I heard him countless other times, but the one time that sticks in my memory was that summer in either 1958 or 1959. I spent both those summers working for a big wheat farmer in western Kansas, and so I suppose it must have been one of the days when we got rained out, because that’s the only time I would have been around the house during the hours when Harvey was heard.

I suspect that another reason I remember him there might be because his values may seem from today’s perspective to be more closely allied with those of a small town. I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense, but the values of a small town are not those of a large city.

Paul Harvey Aurandt was born on Sept. 14, 1918, in Tulsa, Okla. He was raised by his mother after his father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty when young Paul was 3. He said once that he “ran away to the radio.” Whatever, he started as an unpaid gofer on a Tulsa station at the age of 15.

After World War II he moved up to Chicago. By 1951 he signed a contract with ABC, where he remained for the rest of his life. He never retired. In 2000, he signed another contract that would have lasted until 2010.

For most of his life he worked in partnership with his wife, Lynne. She died last May.

His son, Paul Harvey Jr., also participated in the program, writing many of his father’s “The Rest of the Story” pieces.

Harvey read the news, of course, but his signature pieces were the bright little features he loved that satisfied the public’s “hunger for a little niceness.”

Such as, as quoted in Harvey’s obituary in The Chicago Tribune, a story about a woman in Sheboygan, Wis., who was saved from a knife-wielding assailant: “The rescuer?” Harvey asked rhetorically. “Well, the rescuer is a gutsy woman who just happened to be passing by. And she says if I won’t tell her name, it’s all right to tell her age. [pause] Eighty.”

He was decidedly conservative. (He called it political fundamentalism.) During the turmoil of the 1960s he said he felt like “a displaced person” in his own country.

Nevertheless, he finally broke with President Richard Nixon when he expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia in 1970. “Mr. President, I love you,” Harvey said, “but you’re wrong.”

Small-town values? Probably. Still, I think most of us are pretty comfortable with small-town values. I think that probably counts a lot for his enduring popularity.

So we’ll sign off just as he would, one last time:

“Paul Harvey.” [pause] “Good Day.”

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