Monday, March 2, 2009

Paul Harvey, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

For most broadcasters, they would be hokey gimmicks: Stand by for news! Page two. And now you know . . . the rest of the story. Good day!

For most broadcasters, perhaps, but for over 70 years Paul Harvey was one of a kind.

My friend Peter does a wonderful impression of Paul Harvey, and one of the reasons it’s so hilarious (besides the fact that it’s very good) is that you already know the punchlines. You’ve heard the shilling for Amway and HGTV and Citracal (Cit as in citrus, cal as in calciumCit-ra-cal), done so seamlessly that they were virtually a part of his newscast. You’ve listened to the rest of the story, heard the remarkable coincidences and obscure facts that make up the lives of the rich and famous. You’ve probably used some of his catchphrases yourself.

People recognized them, just as they recognized Paul Harvey and welcomed him into their homes every day. He had a wonderful voice for broadcasting, a marvelous ear for phrasing, and a natural talent for connecting with his listeners. He wasn’t just a disembodied voice reading a script from some isolated broadcasting booth – he was an old and trusted friend telling you a story, as if it were just the two of you sitting on the front porch.

And there was something terribly American about him. Although his broadcast originated for many years from Chicago, his audience was the entire country – farmers and housewives, schoolchildren and shopkeepers, in small rural areas and large metropolitan cities. He spoke to us in the pages of big city newspapers, but also in the small-town publications like Grit. Think of the phrase from sea to shining sea – that was Paul Harvey’s territory. There was nothing fancy or pretentious about him; he was just one of us. An American.

In listening to various media yesterday, I was struck by how many of them mentioned Harvey, from the morning show host on the classical music station to the NASCAR broadcaster on Fox. He had been a part of their lives too, and had played some role in their own “rest of the story.” For many years he was one of the best and most articulate voices for political conservatism, and today’s talk-show hosts, from Rush to Hannity to Beck and all the rest –owe a lot to Paul Harvey – and they’ll be among the first to admit it.

Paul Harvey was 90 when he died in Arizona on Saturday. He had struggled with health problems in recent years and his wife, the often-referenced Angel, had died the previous year, so you figured it might not be much longer. His son, Paul Jr., wrote the famous “rest of the story” tales that entertained and enlightened and were later collected in books, capturing his father’s voice and spirit perfectly, and I suppose he’ll carry on his father’s legacy. But he won’t imitate it, because you can’t copy Paul Harvey. A writer for Time said that when he died, he took the whole history of radio with him – but I think we can agree that he left a great deal with us.

And so good day, Paul Harvey. Here's hoping that you now know the rest of the story.

UPDATE: Our good friend Adoro has this warm reminiscence at her site. This is precisely the kind of thing I was talking about - how Paul Harvey transcended the airwaves and became almost a part of the air that we breathed, as familiar as the flag or apple pie. No matter where you were, he was there as well - and all was right with the world.

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