By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Paul Harvey, 90, a Chicago-based radio broadcaster whose authoritative baritone voice and distinctive staccato delivery attracted millions of daily listeners for more than half a century, died Feb. 28 in Phoenix.
A spokesman for ABC Radio Networks told the Associated Press that Mr. Harvey died at his winter home, surrounded by family. No cause of death was immediately available.
Mr. Harvey was the voice of the American heartland, offering to millions his trademark greeting: "Hello Americans! This is Paul Harvey. Stand by! For news!"
For millions, Paul Harvey in the morning or at noon was as much a part of daily routine as morning coffee.
"Paul Harvey News and Comment" was a distinctive blend of rip-and-read headline news, quirky feature stories and, usually, a quick congratulation to a couple who had been married for 75 years or so. The news stories, and Harvey's distinctive take on them -- usually, but not always, from a conservative political perspective -- flowed seamlessly into commercial messages for products Mr. Harvey endorsed.
One of radio's most effective pitchmen, he kept sponsors for decades, attracted by such features as "The Rest of the Story," mesmerizing little tales, cleverly written, that featured a surprising O Henry-style twist to stories listeners thought they already knew.
In 2000, ABC Radio Networks awarded Mr. Harvey, then 82, a 10-year, $100 million contract, a tribute not only to his gargantuan listening audience of about 22 million people but also to his uncanny ability to inspire trust in his listeners -- trust that the products he pitched were worth buying because Paul Harvey said so.
A 1985 survey found that the four most popular radio programs on the air nationally were four of his broadcasts in different time slots.
Paul Harvey was born Paul Harvey Aurandt in Tulsa on Sept. 4, 1918.
Descended from five generations of Baptist preachers, in high school, he was a champion orator. A teacher helped him get his first radio job, at KVOO in Tulsa, when he was 14.
He worked as a staff announcer at KVOO while taking classes at the University of Tulsa and then became the station manager at KFBI in Abilene, Kan. Work at stations in Oklahoma City, St. Louis and Michigan followed.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943 and received an honorable medical discharge a few months later after a training injury.
After his military service, Paul Harvey Aurandt shortened his name to Paul Harvey and moved to Chicago, where he began doing his twice-daily, 15-minute news commentaries. In 1951, he persuaded an advertising agency to take the broadcast nationwide over a new network, ABC.
With his broadcast colleague Walter Cronkite, he was a runner-up in the 1969 Gallup Poll's choice of the most admired man in America.
In the 1960s, he editorialized against what he saw as a culture of permissiveness on college campuses and in the media and in support of the Vietnam War. As early as 1966, however, he asked that the troops be brought home. Perhaps his most famous broadcast occurred May 1, 1970, when he urged President Richard Nixon to reverse his decision to expand the war into Cambodia. Swayed by his son, a conscientious objector, he began by saying, "Mr. President, I love you . . . but you're wrong." He called on the president to stop the war.
His broadcast prompted a barrage of 24,000 letters and thousands of phone calls, including one from the White House.
A self-described "student of biographies," Mr. Harvey in 1976 inaugurated a five-minute daily broadcast called "The Rest of the Story." Recounting the lives of history-makers without revealing their identities until the end of his narrative, he reveled in quirky tidbits, coincidences and twists of fate.
Among the "Rest of the Story" items was the 13-year-old boy who received a cash gift from President Franklin Roosevelt and later led a socialist revolution (Fidel Castro) and the celebrated trial lawyer who never finished law school (Clarence Darrow). Most were written by Mr. Harvey's son, Paul Aurandt.
For his newscast, Mr. Harvey relied on what he called his "Aunt Betty" test. Betty was his sister-in-law, an "old-fashioned housewife" who lived in Missouri. If he decided that a story was too complicated or dull for Betty, he either rewrote or discarded it.
He wrote his own copy and insisted that he would not endorse a product that he did not believe in. He invented words that found their way into the vernacular, including "guesstimate," "Reaganomics," "bumpersnickers" and "skyjacker."
Mr. Harvey's wife, Lynne Cooper Harvey, died in 2008. He is survived by son Paul.