RIP Paul Harvey, 1918-2009

    Paul Harvey in 2005 with his Presidential Medal of Freedom. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Quality and excellence are rare, and becoming more so. Where they exist, we need to celebrate and promote. When they have passed, we should mourn…and so it is.

There aren’t too many living members of the broadcast media to whom I pay much attention, given its general shallowness, shameless greed, absence of integrity, shrill hypocrisy, proclivity for meaningless pop-culture gossip and insufferable pandering to ten-second attention spans.

Now there is one fewer such broadcaster. We lost an American treasure this weekend, Paul Harvey, age 90.

Paul Harvey was a giant in radio commentary, and a favorite of mine for as far back as I can remember. His longevity alone stands out, given how fickle and unforgiving the winds of change can be in the broadcast business. And yet, there he was, every day for decade after decade, delivering salient bursts of news and to-the-point commentary with his crip, concise diction and dry middle-American humor. [I didn’t know until recently that he was a native Oklahoman, born in Tulsa, who worked at KVOO-Tulsa and KOMA-OKC in his early days.]

How did he last so long in such a cutthroat industry? Two words: Excellence and integrity. The bottom line for his employers was that they knew Paul Harvey was beloved and admired for his steady demeanor, keen wit and plainspoken delivery, and more, for the simple, common sense values he conveyed in every broadcast — timeless qualities that transcend generations and trends. To drop him would mean mutiny in the heartland. It’s why my mom, 41 years my senior but still younger than Harvey, and I could listen to his shows with the same level of interest and attention, whether curious which news story would catch his eye next, or how soon one of us could figure out the identity of the real-life character in The Rest of the Story. He didn’t suffer fools and didn’t endorse substandard merchandise, but instead, was selective and stood strongly behind those products he did advertise. I didn’t know a lot about him personally, but anybody who stays married to the same woman for 68 years until her death surely was doing something right.

I remember eavesdropping on my mom’s listenership of Harvey’s broadcasts when I was a pre-teen kid, thinking, “Wow, this dude’s as old as dirt!” But I enjoyed his clear, plainspoken style, and most of all, the substance of his delivery. In the pre-Google era, Harvey specialized in uncovering and offering offbeat, yet pertinent, stories not always delivered by most media. Whenever I was home for his shows (Saturdays and usually during the summer, as they were during school hours), my mom and I would listen together. My radio listening became haphazard and erratic when I started a career of rotating shift work 19 years ago; but when I did catch a Paul Harvey show, the radio knob wouldn’t be touched ’til it was finished. Often I caught his broadcasts on storm chase trips, such that the association of one to another was reasonably strong. He seemed even older than dirt over the last few years as I heard a slightly more geriatric version of that same crisp voice, still there day after day as if he could go on broadcasting forever.

Sadly, we’ll never again hear a new Paul Harvey show. No more will we hear him announce anew, in that staccato locution of his, “Stand by for neeeews!” Fortunately we live in an era when that voice will live on through digital recording, to be transferred through future generations as digital media become more advanced, so that at least a few people who haven’t been born yet can appreciate his delivery, and perhaps, learn from it. And if Harvey was a religious man, perhaps his voice will live on forever in other ways too. I almost can hear him saying it: “And now, the rest of the story…”


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