Saturday, February 28, 2009

Paul Harvey........good day

On Friday night I signed off my radio show on KABC at 7:00 and was followed by Paul Harvey News and Comment. It wasn’t actually Paul Harvey, it was someone filling in for him doing a woeful impression. But I drove away feeling very proud that I was on the same radio station as the great Paul Harvey.

Paul Harvey passed away on Saturday. He was only 90.

I’m sure there will be tributes galore the next few days. They will talk about his influence. For almost 60 years he broadcast on the ABC radio network. At one time he was heard on over 1200 radio stations. They’ll praise the uniqueness of his delivery. They’ll all end their pieces with … “And now you know the rest of the story” thinking that no one else thought of that.

But they’ll probably overlook the one attribute that I think was his real genius. Paul Harvey was the greatest salesman that ever lived. I used to listen to him every chance I got, not for the news, not for the profile of the guy who invented leotards, but for the commercials. He was absolutely spellbinding. He made every product sound like something you just had to have. He was so convincing even I went out and bought Bose speakers and arthritis medicine… and I don’t even have arthritis. (I did stop short of Amway products though.)

I must say I have a soft spot for pitchmen. At State Fairs I always make a beeline to the tent where guys in bad suits and worse toupees are selling car wax and miracle vacuum cleaners. I love hearing their spiels. There’s a genuine art to being persuasive. And I always think, these hawkers are good, but Paul Harvey could sell them a miracle vacuum cleaner, and they know it’s a piece of crap.

What was his secret?

He truly communicated. He talked right to YOU. In words you could understand. He looked straight into your eyes even on the radio. He spoke with conviction, enthusiasm, and all of his arguments made so much doggone sense. Someday I may get arthritis so I better have this stuff just in case.

He ended every broadcast with: “This is Paul Harvey”… and then a beat, “Good day.” Forevermore that beat will be a moment of silence for radio’s greatest newscaster and Madison Avenue’s greatest Mad Man.


Mike Barer said...

I'll always remember him telling a story about a lady who wanted to get a present for her dog. The shop owner wanted her to bring the dog in and have it measured, the lady said she couldn't because she wanted it to be a surprise. Harvey reported it with a straight face but his producer couldn't do a live commercial without cracking up at the story.

Rob said...

I used to love Paul Harvey. My local 50,000 Watt Clear Channel (and clear channel) station here in Louisville had him three times a day up until the end of last year, when they dropped him because he was no longer doing it every day. The station manager essentially said the same thing you did, that the fill-ins were woeful impressions.

It's a sad day, even if I think he did stay in the game for at least a decade too long.

I'm going down to my True Value hardware store, buying some ocuclear, and listening to my Bose Wave Radio. It's true!

Joey H said...

You are dead on, Ken. But one of the reasons he was such a great salesman is that he believed in the products. He would only take sponsors of products that he and Angel actually used. And he bought stock in those companies himself.

So, when he would tell about going down the road to the local hardware store near his farm in believed that he was going there because they offered Trrruuuee Valuuuue.

I learned a lot from listening to PH...writing tight, the value of a pause, having your own style.

Dave said...

I didn't like Harvey, but understand his popularity.

I must say, though, that I loved Rich Hall's impressions of him on SNL, even if they seemed to go miles over the audience's heads.

VW: frande: she's a fine Nanny; what a good wife she would make.

Anonymous said...

I thought the guy wo filled in for him wasn't doing an impression. I thought that was his son. If it was just an impression after all, that was kind of cheesy. If it was his son, it's endearing.

Anyway, Paul Harvey was the one guy who could rock the pregnant pause. Listening to him was like getting another chance to hear grampy tell stories again.

Anonymous said...

Paul Harvey was the most skillful purveyor of a certain kind of kitschy b.s. that a large segment of the American public finds irresistible. That he was highly competent at his work was without question, but he was less a reporter and more a teller of tales of questionable provenance that people happened to find entertaining. I'm not happy he's gone, but I can't get all that worked up about it, either.

WV: nalect - vote against.

Carl said...

This is weird, but just yesterday my son said something that made me think of Paul Harvey. I told my wife, in my best possible impersonation, "And now you know... the rest of the story." She thought it was hilarious. I think it is the first time in nine years of marriage that I have ever even muttered the words Paul Harvey. The day Paul Harvey died.

I haven't listened to him in years, but as a teenager in a small town that was only able to receive one station, an AM one at that, I used to look forward to Paul Harvey's time slot. It was about the only thing on the station worth listening to.

Anonymous said...

He did not end his show with "This is Paul Harvey" He ended his show with "Paul Harvey,,,,,Good Day"

Anonymous said...

I think it was his son who filled in for him some of the time. For a while, Fred Thompson, better known as Foghorn Leghorn (see The Daily Show's Republican convention coverage), was his fill-in.

Paul Aurandt edited a collection of "The Rest of the Story" and told in the conclusion how as a kid he listened to Paul Harvey and fell in love with how he broadcast, and even wrote broadcasts like his. He told his mother he wanted to work for him someday. He concluded by saying he did just that and knew a secret: Paul Harvey wasn't his given name. He dropped his last name, which was Aurandt. The editor was Paul Harvey, Jr., and "now you know ... the rest of the story."

Harvey was very right-wing in his younger days and mellowed a bit with age, which tends to be the reverse of what happens. He was indeed a great pitchman and just a classic storyteller of the sort we don't encounter in broadcasting any more. He came from an era where Arthur Godfrey and Garry Moore just talked directly to you. I really think that the last link to that kind of broadcasting is another of the voices that appears on the same radio station as Ken Levine ... the magical, one-and-only Vinnie.

Karen from Mentor said...

Hi Ken,
Even though you didn't know him personally, someone familiar and good that you admired has gone from your life. I'm sorry for your loss.

Tom Quigley said...

There was an impressionist named Rob Bartlett who worked on Don Imus's show and did a dead-on impersonation of Paul Harvey, even to the point of inserting the ever-present pregnant pause in the wrong place for more effect. One day when he was supposed to be PH doing a story about something that took place in California's southernmost city, he finished the story with " Sandy [LONG PAUSE] aigo."

As much of a parody of himself as Paul Harvey was, and despite his obvious right-wing leanings, America seemed to love him. I think it's because whenever you heard his voice, he sounded so committed to what he was saying, and it brought you back to a time when our lives, our country and our world all seemed a lot simpler and much less confused. And who knows? -- The instantly identifiable ring of his voice might make us think of some of the great nineteenth century orators in the U.S Congress, if we were able to travel back in time and hear them...

Mike Barer said...

Paul Harvey belongs in a special class with Sam Walton, Billy Graham, and Arthur Godfrey. Redmeat midwesterners who are plain spoken, and connect with middle Americans.
We picture 'em wearing American Legion hats and shedding a tear when the flag passes by. They are well-known, but not celebrities.
Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly cannot do not make this list.

Unknown said...

I was hired to do afternoons at a small market AM in 1969. I was told to be there at 10:30 to tape Paul Harvey off the net for noon playback. The PD said if I missed that feed, I could catch it at 11:30. If I missed that one, I should simply take my license and leave, because I wouldn't work there any longer.

Later, when I did some sales, I discovered why. Regular spots ran about three bucks. PH was sold out annually for $25 a spot.

I sometimes disliked his politics and his kitchyness, but always loved his writing and delivery. He was one of a kind.

Anonymous said...

I can see why radio/TV professionals might admire Paul Harvey, but I thought he was air pollution. Still, he had a remarkable career.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cap'n Bob said...

One of my favorite bits he did was saying, "Page Two." I've always wondered if he accidentally read the page number on his copy when he was starting out and decided to leave it in.

Funny, I used to listen to him in the sixties in New York, but didn't catch him again until recently, here in Washington. I thought his son did a decent job filling in, and I'm guessing he'll continue now that PH is dead.

Anonymous said...

I refuse to think Paul Harvey is dead. I prefer to think Paul Harvey is just taking a really long pause.

Beth Ciotta said...

I can hear Paul Harvey's voice in my head. The tone, inflection, pitch. I'm thinking that says something for the man's influence on an everyday Joe's/Jane's life.

Wonderful tribute, Ken. Adored the 'salesman' angle.

RIP, Mr. Harvey.

Anonymous said...

There were a few substitutes during this last year after PH's wife Angel passed... one was Paul Harvey, Jr a long time writer/producer and fill-in host on his father's show. But another--who I thought did a surprisingly good job without copying the style--was KVIL Dallas legend Ron Chapman.

TCinLA said...

Sporry, the Paul Harvey I remember is not the Paul Harfvey you remember. I remember a rightwing nut bag who was the progenitor of Rush Limbaugh, a man who once personally called me a traitor 40 years ago for the crime of believing in the First Amendment, a little law that had more than a bit to do with his success.

Paul Harvey was a goddamned fascist shill and I hope the devil is slow-roasting him. Unfortunately, I rather suspect ol' Snatch is taking lessons from ol' good buddy Paul on how to slip the knife betseen the ribs and directly into the heart while keeping a smile a mile wide and managing not to have blood spurt on him.

If you want to say "Wow!" to Paul Harvey, say "Wow!" to the guy he learned from: Josef Goebbels, inventor of The Big Lie.

I wish I knew where he was buried so I could go piss on his face.

Go read his "political commentary" for content and you won't think I'm off my rocker here.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Anonymous said...

Paul Harvey will always equal "summer" for me and my family. The only time I ever heard him was when we were in the car, driving while on vacation. No matter where we were in the country, we could tune around and find him at noon.

And Ken--I share your love for the live pitchmen at the LA County Fair and their graduates on TV, like Billy Maize and the guy with the Sham Woows.

Anonymous said...

Paul did have a habit of integrating some of his sponsors into his shows pages, as opposed to in-between them. Our paper got a not-very-friendly little note from Paul's newspaper syndicator about 20 years ago, when one of our columnists noted that all of Paul's stories on the wonders of the automobile industry seemed to focus on the positives coming out of one of his main sponsors, General Motors (so I suppose there's a certain irony in Harvey's death coming at a time when GM is showing a pretty erratic pulse, if not straightlining).

But Harvey had a style all his own, and that's what people are going to remember him for, and my guess is most people who listened understood eventually that the "news and comment" part could also mean commentary in the middle of the news.

(Of course, his death also ends my idea to rescue some of the struggling AM stations with a 24-hour Paul Harvey channel, where he's locked in a room and has to do Pages 1 through 416 every day. Probably would have been a more feasible format option 40-45 years ago...)

Anonymous said...

TCinLA...I don't know what the specifics of your problem with Paul Harvey, but he certainly was not a facist in any sense of the word. Sure he was a Conservative, but not like Rush Limbaugh (who I labled in print "a noxious gas bag"). Harvey was pro choice, and told President Nixon, one the air, he was wrong about the Viet Nam war.

Anonymous said...

TC: Isn't the devil's nickname "Old Scratch," not "Old Snatch?" I think the latter was the working title for "The Golden Girls."

Mike McCann said...

I also recall that broadcast when Paul came out against the Vietnam War, thinking the tide had turned and it wasn't just all us wild long-haired kids who saw the charade going on half a world away. From that point on, I knew Harvey, besides being one who engaged the power of words, was one who actually took time to learn a subject and not just parrot what others were saying.

In the late-'70s, while programming an ABC affiliate that ran Paul three times a day, I recall taping him to pull a line to be used in a pre-recorded promo. It was classic Harvey, quoting an official opposed us giving up miles, pounds and degrees -- "I do not like the metric system ever a liter-bit."

Mike Barer said...

I also remember a show where he heaped praise on his Liberal co-worker, Howard Cosell.

Anonymous said...

Paul Harvey was successful and loved for one reason. He was just being himself. That, in and of itself, obviously was sufficent to indear him to millions of Americans and support a long life of doing exactly what he loved doing . . . being himself. There is an important lesson for all of us in his example.

Bob Thomas said...

For the guy that wanted to piss on Paul Harvey grave, here's the GPS coordinates: 41.86719, -87.83153