Iconic radio personality Paul Harvey died on Saturday in Phoenix at the age of 90, less than a year after his wife of 68 years, Lynne “Angel” Cooper Harvey, passed away. Harvey informed and entertained three generations of Americans with his signature upbeat shows.
Paul Harvey, born Paul Harvey Aurandt, was destined for radio, playing with a crystal radio set before he was 10 years old. His radio career began with an unpaid internship at KVOO in Tulsa, Oklahoma radio station in 1933, and he never looked back.
Following stints in Kansas, Oklahoma, and St. Louis, Harvey moved to Hawaii in 1940 to cover the US Navy Pacific Fleet’s buildup. He was on his way home when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, but was given a discharge for an injury just three months later. Paul Harvey then moved to Chicago, which remained his home base for the next 6 decades, broadcasting primarily for ABC, with whom he signed a 10-year $100 million contract in 2000.
By the end of his more than 70-year career, Paul Harvey was the most listened-to man on radio, a man who won essentially every award in radio (a partial list of which takes up a full page of his bio at the official Paul Harvey web site) in addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he was awarded by President George W Bush on November 28, 2005.
Paul Harvey was “the most listened to radio personality in America”, with over 20 million listeners on over 1200 radio stations, plus more than 400 Armed Forces Network stations worldwide. According to WGN-radio’s web site, “His broadcasts and newspaper columns have been reprinted in the Congressional Record more than those of any other commentator.”
Despite his great success, Paul Harvey never stopped working hard. Even in his late 80’s, he would still be at his studio “without fail”, by 4 AM. His beloved wife was much of his inspiration. “Angel” was his producer and collaborator, and the first producer ever inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
He brought a distinctive style, a distinctive voice, and a distinctly Midwestern attitude, mixing politics with human interest and humor. Listening to a Paul Harvey show, one was always struck by his mastery of the “pregnant pause”, a few seconds between when he teased you with a question or the beginning of a story, leaving you anxiously waiting to hear the conclusion.
As a history buff and occasional radio talk show host, I particularly loved “The Rest of the Story”, in which Harvey would tell a usually fascinating tale about an historical figure, but tell it in a way in which most listeners would not guess who the figure was until Paul Harvey satisfied our burning curiosities with the name. Most of these segments were actually written and researched by Harvey’s son. “The Rest of the Story” has been a Paul Harvey tradition for over 60 years, since, to put it in remarkable perspective, my father was 6 year old.
Harvey said he relied on his “Aunt Betty” test — apparently referring to a sister-in-law named Betty — to decide whether a story would appeal to middle America, or whether it would be too “highfalutin” for the audience he cared about most…the audience of people he believed to be the heart and soul of the nation.
Of course, radio isn’t all fun and games, despite how enjoyable it seems (and is) to be on the air. It’s a serious business as well. And few people made the most of the business in the way Paul Harvey did, becoming an extremely sought-after endorser of products, whose ads he would mix in to his broadcasts as if they were the next page of news. It is no surprise that fewer than 7% of applications for Paul Harvey sponsorship were accepted.
According to a 2006 Forbes.com article, “In the course of 55 years with the ABC Radio Networks Harvey has probably brought it close to $1 billion in revenue. So strong is the bond of trust that he has built with listeners that when Paul says, "Buy," they do — everything from Buicks to Bose Wave radios to steel buildings. He may be the greatest salesman in the history of the medium.” And “Harvey brings in more than 10% of the network’s $300 million in billings….ABC’s loss of Harvey "would be like Krakatoa, East of Java" compared with the "tremor" felt by CBS from its loss of [Howard] Stern.”
Paul Harvey is survived by his son, Paul Harvey Aurandt Jr, the man actually who wrote and researched most of the “Rest of the Story” segments, and who, through occasional radio appearances and writing books about his father, continues to honor the indelible legacy of Paul Harvey.
We’ll all miss him.