Paul Harvey . . . good day!
There’s no question that I owe a debt to Paul Harvey. In fact, I think all Americans are beholden to the man, whether they know it or not.
On a personal level, I had the privilege of guest-hosting for him on occasion. That opportunity to converse with America twice a day, connecting with more than 20 million loyal Paul Harvey listeners, led some folks to give me my own shot in talk radio today.
Not that Paul took too many days off. When he wasn’t on the air, he missed talking to his listeners just as they missed him. I have often said that filling in for Paul Harvey was like pinch-hitting for Babe Ruth. No one will ever duplicate his distinctive voice and style. Nor will anyone ever surpass his professional accomplishments or his commitment to excellence in radio.
I’ll also admit that my appreciation went beyond the professional. Like a lot of people, I grew up looking forward to that turning to “Page Two,” that O. Henry twist, that dramatic pause, and the rest of the story. This is the first time in my life that his voice isn’t cheering me up and reminding me what a great place America is, even during the hard times.
I read recently that he got his first job in radio cleaning up at KVOO in Tulsa, Okla., when he was only 14 years old. I don’t even know if that’s legal today, but it means his career and personal dedication to radio spanned 76 years. That’s the wonder of radio, and the remarkable gift Paul Harvey shared with America: a voice that was like a fine instrument that never really aged to the listener’s ear. His talent was timeless.
Then there’s that other debt that I owe him — as an American and a conservative. A lot of the articles written about him in the last few days quote something he said to the American Journalism Review in 1998. “I have never pretended to objectivity,” he said. “I have a strong point of view, and I share it with my listeners.”
I get the feeling, reading some of those articles, that the writers were using that quote against Mr. Harvey, trying to play one final game of “gotcha” with him. But, as usual, they missed his point. Unlike most journalists who “pretend” not to have a point of view, Mr. Harvey had enough respect for his listeners — and his profession — to play it straight. You took him at his word, or not. His 20 million regular listeners — and those sinking circulations numbers at papers like the New York Times, Los Angeles Time and The Washington Post — pretty much confirm who got it right.
Yet somehow, over the past decades, the pretenders have managed to dominate the American media. Broadcast television and newspapers, other than this one and a few others, became hostile territory for those of us who share Paul Harvey’s love of country and his respect for the traditional American values of family and faith, perseverance and entrepreneurship. AM radio, though, was different.
Most radio listeners knew that the most successful radio program in history was coming up at noon. Paul Harvey would make us feel at home. He made it clear that he understood who we were, where we came from, and he didn’t think we were hicks or rubes for believing in America.
Paul Harvey made the radio waves a comfortable place for people made to feel unwelcome just about everywhere else. He created a sense of community that helped others, like Rush Limbaugh, come into their own.
At this point in history, liberals dominate nearly every major cultural institution, from Hollywood to the presidency to our banking and financial system. Paul Harvey helped carve out a gathering place for a majority of Americans to talk and rally.
It’s true that the Internet is an important virtual town square, too, but not everybody works at a desk with a computer. On their and my behalf, I’d like to say one last thanks to the master, Paul Harvey.
Fred Thompson, former U.S. senator from Tennessee, is the host of radio’s “The Fred Thompson Show,” which is nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio.