Paul Harvey Dies at 90, Leaves Broadcasting Legacy

March 01, 2009 03:15 PM
by Emily Coakley
Paul Harvey's prolific radio, television and print career spanned several decades and led many to analyze what made him so popular.

Cause of Death Not Reported


Harvey, a radio announcer and commentator, died on Feb. 28 while hospitalized near his winter home in Arizona, according to the Los Angeles Times. A cause of death hasn’t been reported.

His brief  “Paul Harvey News and Comment” programs were syndicated on more than 1,500 U.S and armed forces radio stations around the world.

“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,” according to the Times.

His national broadcasts began in 1951, and he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990. Harvey received the prestigious Medal of Freedom from Pres. George W. Bush in 2005.

Harvey, with the help of his late wife, Lynne, expanded his syndicated radio show into an empire that included television commentaries, books and speaking engagements.

A 1979 “People” magazine profile chronicled a day in the life of Harvey and examined his success: “More than 11 million listen to his radio programs daily and 30 million households watch his telecasts. Harvey's annual income is in excess of $2 million—conceivably as much as the earnings of Barbara Walters, Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace put together.”

Besides his unusual manner of speaking, described as “staccato” or “telegraph,” Harvey was known for his “The Rest of the Story” broadcasts in which he told unusual stories about well-known figures whose identities were not revealed until the end of the story.

One story involved a lawyer who never finished law school. Harvey revealed that the lawyer was Clarence Darrow, who in 1925 famously defended a professor who taught about evolution in Tennessee. The segments started in 1946 and “eventually became its own series in 1976,” according to the Hall of Fame.

Harvey was also a conservative who supported McCarthyism. He also supported Vietnam until 1970 when, reporting on the war moving into Cambodia, Harvey said, “Mr. President, I love you. But you're wrong," the Times reported. Thousands of angry listeners called and sent 24,000 letters to Harvey.

Paul Harvey Jr., his only child, said in a statement yesterday: "My father and mother created from thin air what one day became radio and television news. So in the past year, an industry has lost its godparents and today millions have lost a friend.”

Early Life: Love of radio developed in childhood

Harvey was born in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 4, 1918. His mother raised him after his father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty when Harvey was still a toddler.

People described the tragedy: “His father had died heroically in a Bonnie-and-Clyde-like shootout which was played big in Tulsa newspapers during Christmas week, 1921.” 

Harvey, whose real name is Paul Harvey Aurandt, built radio sets out of cigar boxes as a child. In 1933, while still in high school, he hung around the KVOO radio station and eventually started helping out by reading announcements on the air. He worked at other small radio stations around the Midwest: it was at a Saint Louis station that he met his future wife, Lynne. Harvey proposed to her at the end of their first date, and they married in 1940. Lynn Harvey died in 2008. 

Context: Paul Harvey in perspective

Paul Harvey's popularity and works have been analyzed repeatedly since the 1979 profile in People. In 2001, Salon wrote about Harvey's success: "Sure, he's an astute dissector of current events, cultural phenomena and middle-American minutiae."
The magazine went on to call him "perhaps the finest huckster ever to roam the airwaves." 

"He is so good that sponsors are said to be stacked high and deep, waiting to wow him with their products," the magazine said.

Though he is most associated with the news, Harvey didn't see himself as "a serious newsman, one to whom listeners turn for an unbiased, cut-and-dried view of the world," Salon reported.

The magazine quoted excerpts of an interview with Larry King in which Harvey said he didn't consider himself "a profound journalist."

"[I]t seems more honest to me to call it 'Paul Harvey News and Comment' and just let it all hang out," Salon quoted Harvey telling Larry King. 

He was also quoted in a 1998 American Journalism Review article as saying, "I have never pretended to objectivity. I have a strong point of view, and I share it with my listeners."

In the AJR piece, Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher said Harvey represented both the past and future. 

"He is the last of the wartime generation of radio commentators," Fisher wrote, adding that commentators like Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh have, "remained true to Harvey's basic formula of personalizing the news, turning the events of the day into a longform diary of American life," Fisher wrote.

Audio clips of Paul Harvey are archived and available at WGN Radio's Web site.

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