Paul Harvey, a Chicago radio man whose melodious voice and hearty “Hello America” were cherished by millions for more than 57 years on national broadcasts that were an entrancing mix of news, storytelling and gently persuasive salesmanship, died Saturday. He was 90.
Called “the voice of Middle America,” and “the voice of the Silent Majority” by the media for his flag-waving conservatism and championing of traditional values, Harvey died surrounded by family at a Phoenix hospital, according to an ABC Radio Networks spokesman. The cause of death was not immediately available.
“Paul Harvey was the most listened-to man in the history of radio,” said Bruce DuMont, president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications and host of the nationally syndicated radio program “Beyond the Beltway.” “There is no one who will ever come close to him.”
Paul Harvey Jr., who began writing his father’s show, “The Rest of the Story,” after he was hit by a car in 1976, offered condolences to those who loved to listen, even amid his own loss.
“My father and mother created from thin air what one day became radio and television news. So in the past year, an industry has lost its godparents and today millions have lost a friend,” he said in a statement.
The show reached an estimated 24 million listeners daily on more than 1,200 radio stations nationally and 400 Armed Forces Radio stations around the world, according to his web site, http://www.paulharvey.com/.
In Chicago, Harvey was heard on WGN 720-AM, but his local ties ran deeper.
Returning to civilian life after a three-month stint in the Army, Harvey moved to the radio big-time in Chicago.
While broadcasting the news at WENR-AM in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart in 1951, Harvey became friends with the building’s owner, Joseph P. Kennedy, who helped him get on ABC nationally. With a recommendation from the Kennedy-clan patriarch, ABC Radio Network began using him as a substitute newsman. Network affiliates began calling for more Harvey.
His 45-minute routine started at the ungodly hour of 3:30 a.m., when the alarm clock would ring in the Harveys’ 22-room home in west suburban River Forest, Ill. It never varied: brush teeth, shower, shave, get dressed, eat oatmeal, get into car and drive downtown. It all took a well-organized 45 minutes or so.
He dressed formally - in shirt, coat and tie - as if going to work as the president of a bank.
“It is all about discipline,” Harvey told the Tribune in 2002. “I could go to work in my pajamas, but long ago I got some advice from the man who was the engineer for my friend Billy Graham’s radio show. He said that one has to prepare in all ways for the show. If you don’t do that in every area, you’ll lose your edge.”
Harvey rejected numerous offers to move his show to the East Coast so he could “stay in touch with his listeners and the American people,” DuMont said.
Coming of professional age in the late 1930s and ‘40s, a time when broadcasters such as Lowell Thomas and Gabriel Heatter were household names, Harvey continued to flourish in the era of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.
Listeners were greeted by Harvey’s trademark telegraphic delivery punctuated by his patented pauses:
“Hello, Americans!” he’d boom into the microphone in his studio high above Michigan Avenue, “This is Paul Harvey! (pause) Stand by for news!”
The “Paul Harvey News and Comment” broadcasts - five minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at midday six days a week - were consistently ranked first and second in the nation among network radio shows.
His five-minute “The Rest of the Story” broadcasts featured Harvey telling historical vignettes with surprise endings, such as the 13-year-old boy who receives a cash gift from Franklin Roosevelt and turns out to be Fidel Castro. Or the one about the famous trial lawyer who never finished law school (Clarence Darrow). He’d end each broadcast with his signature: “Paul Harvey. (long pause) Good day!”
Harvey’s various broadcasts reached an estimated 24 million listeners daily, by some accounts.
“He certainly was among the last great radio commentators,” Michael C. Keith, communications professor at Boston College and author of “The Broadcast Century,” told The Los Angeles Times in 2001.
Part of Harvey’s enduring appeal, Keith said, was his writing style, “a kind of down-home flavor yet sophisticated quality. It grabs you and holds on to you.
“His delivery was always reminiscent of the great broadcasters of the past, which made him a unique sound on contemporary radio. But he was always relevant to the present. Paul Harvey was never out of fashion. Once he came on the air, he was just irresistible. He really had you from the moment he said, ‘Page One!’ “
He was born Paul Harvey Aurandt in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 4, 1918. His father was a Tulsa police officer who was killed in the line of duty when Harvey was 3, and Harvey’s mother raised him and his sister. (He dropped his last name for professional reasons in the 1940s. “Ethnic names were not very popular,” he once explained. Besides, “no one could spell it.”)
Growing up in the 1920s, Harvey developed an early infatuation with the new medium of radio, picking up stations from a homemade cigar-box crystal set.
A champion orator in high school, he was encouraged by his English teacher-coach to go into broadcasting. She went so far as to escort her prized 14-year-old student down to Tulsa radio station KVOO where she told station managers, “This boy should be on the radio.”
Beginning as an unpaid gofer at a Tulsa radio station in 1933, Harvey worked his way up the radio ladder and soon began filling in at the microphone, reading spot announcements, the news and even playing his guitar on the air.
By the time he was taking speech and English classes at the University of Tulsa, he had worked his way up to a job as a staff announcer at KVOO. Jobs at other small radio stations in Abilene, Kan., and Oklahoma City followed.
While working as news and special events director at a radio station in St. Louis, Harvey met Lynne Cooper, a student teacher from a socially prominent St. Louis family who read school news announcements at the station.
Instantly smitten with the young woman he nicknamed “Angel” the day he met her, Harvey later asked her to dinner. On the night of their first date, he proposed as they sat in her parked car. They married in June 1940. The couple later kept the restored car - a white Nash LaFayette - parked in a specially built garage on their 260-acre ranch in Missouri.
“Since the first day of our marriage, we’ve worked side by side,” Harvey told the Tribune. “We are so used to it, and I think that if we had not worked so closely the marriage would not have survived. There has never been the opportunity for neglect.”
Lynne Harvey remained her husband’s closest professional collaborator until she died in May 2008.
She served as president of Paulynne Productions Ltd., general manager of “Paul Harvey News and Comment,” and executive producer of “Paul Harvey Comments” on television. She also edited “You Said It, Paul Harvey,” a collection of broadcasts published by the family company, as well as two “The Rest of the Story” books: compilations of Harvey’s historical-vignette broadcasts, which began in 1976 and which were primarily written by the couple’s only child, Paul Jr., a former concert pianist.
“Even after the passing of his loving wife Angel in May 2008, Paul would not slip quietly into retirement as he continued to take the microphone and reach out to his audience. We will miss our dear friend tremendously and are grateful for the many years we were so fortunate to have known him, Our thoughts and prayers are now with his son Paul Jr. and the rest of the Harvey family,” said Jim Robinson president, ABC Radio Networks.
While working as program director at radio station in Kalamazoo, Mich., from 1941 to 1943, Harvey served as the Office of War Information’s news director for Michigan and Indiana. That was followed by a three-month stint in the Army, which resulted in a medical discharge in early 1944 after he cut his heel on an infantry obstacle course.
Harvey’s typical broadcast included human interest stories he loved to tell in order to satisfy the public’s “hunger for a little niceness.”
Stories such as the 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.”
Dumont said Harvey had a litmus test for all his stories: Would Aunt Betty care about this? He thought about the interest level of his real Aunt Betty to get away from “highfaultin” foreign affairs discussions to discuss “meat and potato” issues like health care, Dumont said.
A Harvey broadcast from the late 1980s included these items:
“Spec-tac-u-lar liftoff from Cape Canaveral this morning, into an azure sky.” Harvey said, describing a rocket launch. Then it was on to “New York City. Last year. 8,064 people bitten by dogs. 1,587 people bitten (pause) by people.” And “fashion-wise, oh-my-goodness, Paris designers showing things for men for next spring . . . include silky suits and trousers and flashy shirts . . . and designer Jean-Paul Gaultier has caused a fuss by including in his display a few skirts (pause) for men!”
Harvey said his trademark pauses were originally developed as “a lazy broadcaster’s way of waiting for the second hand to reach the top of the clock.” But they quickly became part of his on-air vocal style.
“I’ve always felt the pregnant pause is more useful for emphasis than shouting, but it can’t be done deliberately. It has to just happen,” he said. Harvey liked to joke that ABC radio executives threatened to compile all of that dead-air time and sell ads to fill it.
“I remembering being transfixed by the baritone and those long pregnant pauses - the pauses that you could drive a truck through ... From a professional standpoint, one of the things that radio broadcasters are taught from day one in the profession, is that dead air is a big no-on and it’s only after years and years in the field that you realize that silence is your most power tool (and) he did it better than anyone,” said Steve Edwards, acting program direction at Chicago Public Radio who remembers listening in the back seat of his parents’ station wagon.
“He was one of the voices, among several, that captivated my imagination, that made me spellbound by the power of radio,” said Edwards, 38, and former host of Eight Forty-Eight.
MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, at one time a regular fill-in for Harvey, said that Harvey’s program was one of the models and inspirations for his “Countdown” show, with its eclectic mix of the important and merely interesting, serious and funny, perspective and punch.
Known for his staunch conservatism - he called it “political fundamentalism” - Harvey supported McCarthyism in the 1950s. During the turbulent 1960s, Harvey echoed the sentiments of many older Americans by saying that he felt like “a displaced person” in his own country.
But in 1970, Harvey shocked many of his listeners with his most famous broadcast. In the wake of Richard Nixon’s expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, Harvey said, “Mr. President, I love you. But you’re wrong.”
Before Rush Limbaugh and George Will became household conservative commentators, there was Paul Harvey, DuMont said.
“From a political standpoint, he was in the vanguard of conservative political thought,” DuMont said. “Barry Goldwater used to listen to Paul Harvey. That’s the real power of the guy.”
Harvey heard plenty of criticism and praise and assessment, but preferred to stay away from the whole issue.
“What makes Paul Harvey tick? That question is better asked of the listeners,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “If I thought too much about it, it might be self-defeating.” Instead, he went about his business with that buoyant optimism that characterized his broadcasts and his life.
Harvey’s about-face, which he later acknowledged “was shattering to my old American Legionnaire friends,” triggered a flood of some 24,000 letters and thousands of phone calls from outraged listeners.
Harvey’s son, who reportedly had a medical deferment that kept him out of the draft but who publicly declared himself a conscientious objector, was said to have influenced his father’s view of the war, as did, some said, Harvey’s wife.
But Harvey’s dovish stance was not new. As early as October 1966, he had come out in favor of pulling out of the “winless war” that was being waged in behalf of “an unworthy government” in South Vietnam.
And while he favored the death penalty and railed against growing taxes, welfare cheats and forced busing, Harvey would again veer to the left by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights and criticizing the Christian right for attempting to impose their views on others.
“I have never pretended to objectivity,” Harvey told the American Journalism Review in 1998. “I have a strong point of view, and I share it with my listeners. I have no illusions of changing the world, but to the extent I can, I’d like to shelter your and my little corner of it.”
In addition to his radio broadcasts, numerous books and TV commentaries, Harvey wrote a thrice-weekly column that was syndicated in 300 newspapers and he received up to $30,000 for speeches.
He gave up many of the extracurricular activities in his later years but not radio.
Harvey, who also read his own commercials over the air, has been credited with coining words such as “guestimate,” “trendency,” and “snoopervision.”
While he made his living with words, retirement wasn’t in his vocabulary. In 2000, at age 82, he signed a reported $100 million contract that would have kept him on the air for 10 more years.
Only a virus that settled in his vocal cords in mid-2001 kept him away from the microphone. His three-month absence ended with a still-hoarse but clearly happy-to-be-back Harvey breaking into song at the end of his return broadcast: “It’s been a long winter without you . . . “
Simply put, Harvey preferred a life “sitting at that typewriter painting pictures” - and then reading those “pictures” over the air.
As he once said, “I’m just a professional parade watcher who can’t wait to get to the curbside.”
In 2005, Harvey received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civil award, in a White House ceremony.
(Dennis McLellan of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune reporters Mary Owen, Rick Kogan, Trevor Jensen contributed to this report.)