Saturday, February 28, 2009

Media: Paul Harvey, Good Life!

TORONTO, ONTARIO - For decades, virtually anywhere in the United States, at high noon it was possible to tune one's radio dial and find Paul Harvey's "News and Comment" on the ABC Radio Network. Harvey, a legend who worked in broadcasting for more than 75 years, died today at the age of 90.

Harvey's longevity in broadcasting was unprecedented. Entering the field at age 15, the first "Paul Harvey News and Comment" was broadcast on ABC on 1-April-1951, beginning a run that would last more than a half-century until his recent last commentary. Multiple generations of families grew up listening to Paul Harvey; my parents have childhood memories of him just as strong as my own of hearing him on KOMO and KONA-AM.

While he probably came to be better known for his "Rest of the Story" features on a single topic, my personal favorite was always the noon edition of "News and Comment," a fifteen minute summary of the news of the day opening with "Hello Americans, this is Paul Harvey. Stand by for News!" Along the way, commercial messages would be introduced by "Page Two" through "Page Five" but would often be voiced by Harvey himself, a practice which was often controversial for its potential blurring of news and advertising.

Like any famous broadcaster, Harvey was often parodied. His distinctive style making creative use of pauses and tone changes and well as a full slate of mannerisms ("US--U.S.", "who would want you to know his name" while not giving it, and more) provided ample material. During the O.J. Simpson trial, Harry Shearer did an imagined phone call of Harvey calling Simpson during the slow speed chase, ending with (what else), "O.J.--Good day!" My all-time favorite was heard on KGO in San Francisco by Brian Copeland and Chicago C. Barkley in which "an attempt at reaching out to minority audiences" resulted in "P. Diddy Harvey," who offered "word up for news!" and reported on the "the movie you sneaked into most often last weekend."

It was on KGO that I first heard Harvey referred to as an "ultra-conservative commentator," which I felt said more about the person making that description than about the ABC legend. Harvey was conservative, but more in the sense of being quaint and not in an aggressive sort of way. His conservatism came through in features like "this is not one world," with which my disagreements have already been documented on this blog, but also in much gentler ways like a day when he spent several minutes describing how rap star André 3000 of OutKast insisted on bathing every day.

Harvey ended each "News and Comment" broadcast with a story those in the business call a "kicker"--an amusing story worth waiting for the end of a broadcast to hear. I often stole Harvey's kickers to close my own news compilations, citing him as a source. There was a certain appropriateness to this as Harvey himself relied on a network of mostly midwestern colleagues and friends to help him find such stories. A Google search for "Paul Harvey and Ron Dettinger" returns as one of its top results one of my News Beyond the Farm reports from 1995, closing with a Dettinger story.

Of course, after the kicker Paul Harvey always ended with the same words, in his distinctive cadence--"Paul Harvey, good DAY!" Perhaps now, the most appropriate close is to say, "To Paul Harvey, good AFTERLIFE!"

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