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Paul Harvey dies at 90; radio personality known for his distinctive delivery

March 01, 2009|Dennis McLellan
  • Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey (Los Angeles Times )

Paul Harvey, who was long considered the most-listened-to radio broadcaster in the world and whose distinctive delivery and daily mix of news, commentary and human interest stories informed and entertained a national radio audience for nearly 60 years, died Saturday. He was 90.

Harvey, called "the voice of Middle America," "the apostle of Main Street" and "the voice of the Silent Majority" by the media for his flag-waving conservatism and championing of traditional values, died at a hospital near his winter home in Phoenix, the ABC network announced. The cause was not given.

The Chicago-based Harvey was syndicated on more than 1,200 radio stations nationally and 400 Armed Forces Radio stations around the world. Harvey had not been on the air on a daily basis in the last few months, but he did do some prerecorded segments. His son, Paul Harvey Jr., had been filling in as host.

Coming of professional age in the late 1930s and the 1940s, a time when broadcasters such as Lowell Thomas and Gabriel Heatter were household names, Harvey continued to flourish in the era of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, March 03, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Paul Harvey obituary: The obituary of radio pioneer Paul Harvey in Sunday's California section said he and his wife, Lynne, were married for 58 years. They were married for 68 years.

Telegraphic style

For more than 50 years, beginning in 1951, ABC Radio Network listeners were greeted by Harvey's trademark telegraphic delivery punctuated by his patented pauses:

"Hello, Americans!" he'd boom into the microphone in his studio high above Michigan Avenue, "This is Paul Harvey! [pause] Stand by for news!"

He'd end each broadcast with his signature: "Paul Harvey. [long pause] Good day!"

The "Paul Harvey News and Comment" broadcasts -- five minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at midday six days a week -- were consistently ranked first and second in the nation among network radio shows.

Equally popular were his five- minute "The Rest of the Story" broadcasts in which Harvey told historical vignettes with surprise endings, such as the 13-year-old boy who receives a cash gift from Franklin D. Roosevelt and turns out to be Fidel Castro. Or the one about the famous trial lawyer who never finished law school (Clarence Darrow).

Harvey's various broadcasts reached an estimated 24 million listeners daily.

"He certainly was among the last great radio commentators," Michael C. Keith, communications professor at Boston College and author of "The Broadcast Century," told The Times in 2001.

Part of Harvey's enduring appeal, Keith said, was his writing style, "a kind of down-home flavor yet sophisticated quality. It grabs you and holds on to you.

"His delivery was always reminiscent of the great broadcasters of the past, which made him a unique sound on contemporary radio. But he was always relevant to the present. Paul Harvey was never out of fashion. Once he came on the air, he was just irresistible. He really had you from the moment he said, 'Page One!' "

Oklahoma native

He was born Paul Harvey Aurandt in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 4, 1918. His father was a Tulsa police officer who was killed in the line of duty when Harvey was 3, and Harvey's mother raised him and his sister. (He dropped his last name for professional reasons in the 1940s. "Ethnic names were not very popular," he once explained. Besides, "no one could spell it.")

Growing up in the 1920s, Harvey developed an early infatuation with the new medium of radio, picking up stations from a homemade cigar-box crystal set.

A champion orator in high school, he was encouraged by his English teacher-coach to go into broadcasting. Beginning as an unpaid gofer at Tulsa radio station KVOO in 1933, Harvey soon began filling in at the microphone, reading spot announcements, the news and even playing his guitar on the air.

By the time he was taking speech and English classes at the University of Tulsa, he had worked his way up to a job as a staff announcer at KVOO. Jobs at other small radio stations in Abilene, Kan., and Oklahoma City followed.

While working as news and special events director at a radio station in St. Louis, Harvey met Lynne Cooper, a student teacher from a socially prominent St. Louis family who read school news announcements at the station.

Instantly smitten with the young woman he nicknamed "Angel" the day he met her, Harvey later asked her to dinner. On the night of their first date, he proposed as they sat in her parked car. They were married in June 1940.

Lynne Harvey, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Washington University, was her husband's strongest supporter and his closest professional collaborator. She died last year after nearly 58 years of marriage.

Besides serving as a director, writer and editor on his radio program, she edited "You Said It, Paul Harvey," a collection of broadcasts published by the family company. She also edited two "The Rest of the Story" books: compilations of Harvey's historical-vignette broadcasts, which began in 1976.

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