Ra­dio hero to the ‘quiet Amer­i­can’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Feb. 28, 2009, one of talk ra­dio’s much ad­mired vet­eran broad­cast­ers of­fi­cially signed-off. News of leg­endary ra­dio per­son­al­ity Paul Har­vey’s death shocked gen­er­a­tions of fans who, un­be­knownst to them, had lis­tened to his fi­nal broad­cast — de­liv­ered just days ear­lier from the Mayo Clinic where he pri­vately lay dy­ing.

A flurry of rec­ol­lec­tions of the iconic fig­ure’s daily news up­dates and his in­ter­est­ingly off­beat hu­man-in­ter­est sto­ries flooded the bl­o­gosh­phere, as Mr. Har­vey’s loyal au­di­ence paid trib­ute to this re­mark­able man and mar­veled over his ex­traor­di­nary 70year ca­reer. Many lamented that his sweet, yet au­thor­i­ta­tive Santa-type voice would never be heard again, and noted that the one or two pre­dictably out-of­pitch words Mr. Har­vey threw in dur­ing most broad­casts would re­main inim­itable and fondly re­mem­bered.

How­ever, Mr. Har­vey’s unique skill at read­ing copy was not sim­ply in­for­ma­tive and fun, but it was also clever. Who else could make an ad­ver­tise­ment for a baggy of Smart Bal­ance Pop­corn sound more like en­thralling break­ing news rather than just a com­mer­cial? Amaz­ingly tal­ented be­hind the mi­cro­phone, it came as no sur­prise when ABC signed a new 10-year, $100 mil­lion con­tract with him in 2000 when he was 82 years old.

Per­haps even more com­mend­able is he fact that Mr. Har­vey achieved this level of suc­cess when one learns that he was a fa­ther­less boy raised by a wid­owed mother in a board­ing house in Tulsa, Okla. The fam­ily had few re­sources and the boy had only a high school diploma. Truly an ex­am­ple of the Amer­i­can dream.

From a very early age, Paul Har­vey loved lis­ten­ing to lo­cal broad­casts. Fas­ci­nated by the ra­dio, Mr. Har­vey mirac­u­lously learned how to con­struct crys­tal sets be­fore the age of six. As a fresh­man in high school, his in­ter­est in­ter­sected with the in­flu­ence of a tal­ented speech and drama teacher who was in­stru­men­tal in get­ting him his first job at a ra­dio sta­tion looking for cheap la­bor.

Cer­tainly Is­abelle Ro­nan could not have known, when she ar­ranged an au­di­tion for Paul Har­vey at KVOO, that she was see­ing him off on a life­time voy­age. But his first job, read­ing the lead-in to the broad­cast of the Satur­day mati­nee at the Metropoli­tan Opera, was the beginning of a oneway trip over the air­ways that lasted for the rest of his life.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school in 1936, the sta­tion of­fered him a full-time po­si­tion at a wage of $29.50 per week. For a short while, Paul at­tended classes at the Uni­ver­sity of Tulsa while work­ing on the air, but gave up all as­pi­ra­tions to­ward a col­lege de­gree when a sta­tion in Salina, Kan. of­fered him a job and he moved away from Ok­la­homa. Thus be­gan his life as a ra­dio no­mad, switch­ing sta­tions and lo­ca­tions al­most ev­ery year.

Early in his ca­reer, Mr. Har­vey in­tro­duced in­no­va­tive tech­niques to his shows such as do­ing re­mote broad­casts, man-on-thestreet in­ter­views, us­ing live mu­sic as back­ground and even talk­ing the Mu­tual Net­work into car­ry­ing his live on-site re­ports from the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. One of his jobs in St. Louis brought more good for­tune into his life when he met a sub­sti­tute school­teacher, Lynne Cooper, who also worked at the sta­tion. He mar­ried her in 1940.

A very canny woman, Lynne Har­vey may well have been re­spon­si­ble for the growth of her hus­band’s fame as she guided his ca­reer with in­tu­itive busi­ness savvy. It was she who con­vinced him to set­tle per­ma­nently in Chicago and to spe­cial­ize in re­port­ing the news. His 15-minute, six days a week shows al­ways ended with a hu­mor­ous or poignant kicker. One would have to pity the man who was his stand-in as he, “never missed a broad­cast. Even when he had the mumps once, he broad­casted from home.”

Chicago loved him. An ironic fact about his ini­tial days in the Windy City was that he al­most got fired be­cause his boss, John Fet­zer, hated the way he ended his pro­gram with “Good day,” think­ing it too abrupt.

The sta­tion where Har­vey worked was lo­cated in the Mer­chan­dise Mart owned by Joseph Kennedy, a fan. Kennedy got him an au­di­tion with ABC Net­work in 1950 and, for the first time, the lo­cal per­son­al­ity got na­tional ex­po­sure.

From his five-minute broad­casts of “The Rest of the Story” to his 15-minute daily news re­ports, Paul Har­vey was a news- man who never for­got who his au­di­ence was — the quiet Amer­i­can, whom he de­scribed as our coun­try’s true strength. He be­lieved in hard work and de­cried big gov­ern­ment: “if your gov­ern­ment is big enough to give you ev­ery­thing you have, it’s big enough to take away ev­ery­thing you have.”

At the same time, he seems to have had a crit­i­cal eye when it came to Wash­ing­ton and politi­cians, even be­com­ing what he called a neo-iso­la­tion­ist dur­ing and af­ter the Viet­nam era. Never ad­her­ing to a rigid po­lit­i­cal dogma, he cam­paigned against Rea­gan’s in­ter­ven­tion in Cen­tral Amer­ica and de­plored the fact that the abor­tion ques­tion had be­come a pub­lic de­bate. He was for the Equal Rights Amend­ment and urged Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush to ded­i­cate re­sources to the de­vel­op­ment of al­ter­nate en­ergy.

Paul J. Batura writes that his book is the only bi­og­ra­phy of Paul Har­vey ever pro­duced. Rec­og­niz­ing the in­flu­ence and length this man’s ca­reer, the reader can only won­der why this is the case. It is ob­vi­ous that Mr. Har­vey was a man who led an in­ter­est­ing life in a field he loved. The au­thor tells us that it was dif- fi­cult gath­er­ing all the in­for­ma­tion on his sub­ject, as he was a very pri­vate man who lived for the fu­ture and spoke lit­tle about his life ex­pe­ri­ences.

“Ever since I made to­mor­row my fa­vorite day, I’ve been un­com­fort­able looking back.” Per­haps paint­ing a pic­ture with a few more shades would have made for a richer ve­neer. Nev­er­the­less, the reader gets a lovely por­trait of a na­tional trea­sure who chased his dream and reached the stars.

Katie Wendy is a writer liv­ing in Boca Ra­ton, Fla.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.