Legends: Voice of Hope

UPDATED: August 8, 2011
PUBLISHED: August 8, 2011

Studies show that, among the many types of memory linked to the five senses, auditory memories are some of the strongest and longest-lasting. Consider how a certain lullaby can evoke the comfort of a mother’s nighttime serenade or how the trill of a school bell can instantly place you back, mentally and emotionally, in the seat of a high-schooler. For many, the voice of Paul Harvey—a real trumpet of a voice, with a distinctive Midwestern accent and unique quirks of cadence—will forever hark back to the golden age of radio and a transformative time in the history of the United States.

“Paul’s signature voice would carry you on a tour of that day’s America,” writes Sean Hannity in Stephen Mansfield and David Holland’s Paul Harvey’s America: The Life, Art, and Faith of a Man Who Transformed Radio and Inspired a Nation. “That was what made Paul Harvey one of the great broadcasters of our time: his ability to bring both the grand and the commonplace of American life to his listeners.”

When Harvey died in 2009, he had spent more than seven decades on the airwaves, and at one point, he had some 24 million listeners on 1,200 radio stations and 400 Armed Forces Network affiliates tuning in weekly. Although not all agreed with his conservative political leanings, most found reassurance in his old-fashioned, plainspoken take on the events of the day. “In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these,” he liked to say. Harvey had a way of putting things in perspective, and obviously, he had a knack for one-liners, too.

“The most listened-to man” in broadcasting may be most remembered for one thing in particular: The Rest of the Story, a long-running feature that took a behind-the-scenes look at famous people and events. Listeners came to depend upon a twist ending and Harvey’s relentless pursuit of “the heartbeats behind the headlines.” Underscoring all of his stories was Harvey’s steadfast belief in the importance of the ordinary citizen and the happenings of everyday life.

A Friend to All

Even as the accolades piled up—over time, Harvey was named Salesman of the Year, Commentator of the Year, Person of the Year, Father of the Year and American of the Year, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005—Harvey remained an everyman himself, holding fast to his ideals and modesty until the end.

“If fame has been the ruination of some people, it has only magnified the many virtues of Paul Harvey,” said American storyteller Philip Gulley in Good Day! The Paul Harvey Story by Paul J. Batura. “He was Mr. Approachable, Mr. Decent, Mr. Never Forgot His Roots, all rolled into one. He was what I hope someday to be—a friend to all.”

Born in 1918 in a working-class neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., Paul Harvey Aurandt lost his father when he was 3. Harry Aurandt, a police officer, was off duty when fatally shot by robbers, and the incident instilled in his son a lifelong respect for the uniform. “I’ve never known a policeman who was paid enough money for what we expect them to do,” he once said.

Despite that early tragedy, Paul experienced a relatively normal childhood for an Oklahoma boy, and he developed an early fascination with radios, even fashioning his own receivers. Later, in high school, a teacher recognized potential in his rich voice and quick wit and encouraged him to work at a local radio station, KVOO. Although the 14-year-old was just doing menial labor at first, Harvey soon found his way onto the airwaves, delivering commercials and the news. He was hooked. Or, as Harvey told it, “As a boy, I fell in love with words and ran away from home and joined the radio. And it really was something.”

He continued to work at KVOO through college and then went on to jobs in Abilene, Kan., Oklahoma City and St. Louis. It was in that last stop, at St. Louis radio station KXOK, that Harvey met graduate student Lynne Cooper, whom he would marry in 1940.

Harvey liked to tell the story of how he proposed to Lynne after a scant five minutes of conversation. Lynne, whom Harvey referred to as “Angel” both on and off the air, would go on to serve as his longtime producer and business partner, eventually becoming the first producer inducted to the Radio Hall of Fame.

‘Hello, Americans’

After a stint in Hawaii, the Harveys landed in Chicago, where he quickly became one of the city’s most popular broadcasters while hosting the postwar employment program Jobs for G.I. Joe on WENR.

“What Chicago listeners of WENR hear from this newcomer likely reflects much of what Americans in later decades will come to know as Paul’s signature style,” write Mansfield and Holland. “The fast pace, the superb writing, the playful way with words, and the mixing in of humor and human interest stories that lighten the heaviness of the negative news are all there.”

It was then that Harvey, with the help of Lynne, coined his signature “the rest of the story” tagline for more in-depth stories—which he would later develop into an institution in and of itself. So it wasn’t long before Harvey earned his own show, with Lynne producing and co-writing, and Paul Harvey News became the top-rated program in its time slot. “Today, many broadcasting historians trace the near-universal tradition of having television news at 10:00 central daylight time to Angel’s original insight with this program,” Mansfield and Holland write.

In 1950, Harvey was introduced to the landlord of the Merchandise Mart, where he worked. That man was Joseph P. Kennedy. Already a fan of Harvey’s work, their meeting convinced Kennedy that “more people should be hearing this innovative conservative commentator,” write Mansfield and Holland. Kennedy contacted the head of ABC Radio Networks and persuaded him to promote Harvey to a nationwide network, formally introducing Harvey to Americans everywhere.

So it was that, in late 1950, Harvey spoke his trademark sign-on for the first time: “Hello, Americans, this is Paul Harvey. Stand by… for news!” That was the beginning of Paul Harvey News and Comment, which remained the name of Harvey’s primary newscast until his dying day.

Listeners also tuned in to be buoyed by his ever-optimistic perspective, especially as the Korean War and then the Vietnam War rocked the country. Harvey’s positive outlook was unflappable. “I’ve never seen a monument erected to a pessimist,” he’d say.

In Good Day!, Gil Gross, a nationally syndicated radio host for ABC and Harvey’s former replacement on News and Comment, remembers the effect of that optimistic mindset when, as a youngster in 1971, Gross showed up for work at ABC News Chicago looking like something the cat had dragged in: “The first time [Harvey] saw me I would not have been surprised if he had called building security…. Instead he nodded, said, ‘Good morning’ with a note of optimism that it would indeed be good…. There was no note of judgment on my looks.”

The Rest of the Story

Harvey’s influence would eventually spread to other media as well, hitting the lecture circuit, appearing on television and penning his own newspaper columns and books. One of those books was 1977’s The Rest of the Story, which contained 82 of Harvey’s signature mystery-history anecdotes. Lynne wanted to spin the idea into its own five-minute radio feature, and The Rest of the Story—a nightly series with an American history angle—was created for the bicentennial in 1976. Because Harvey was spread too thin to pen the show himself, the Harveys’ son, Paul Jr., began writing it, and their collaboration proved a smash hit.

Some simply loved guessing the subject of each story while others believed the program revealed a different—and more meaningful—side of our national history. Whatever the appeal, Americans fell back in love with their country, as told by Harvey. As Mansfield puts it: “[Harvey] did something I thought no one could do: He made me love the past. His Rest of the Story helped me see beyond the numbing dates and dead people of history class to the dramatic nobility of generations before.… How very grateful I am.”

Those two franchises—Paul Harvey News and Comment and The Rest of the Story—remained viable enterprises through Harvey’s late career. In 2000, their combined advertising revenues were estimated in excess of $40 million annually. That year, Paul and Lynne, ages 82 and 84, respectively, signed a deal with ABC Radio Networks for more than $100 million over the following decade.

Yet, it turned out that the rest of the story came sooner than either had anticipated: Lynne died in 2008, and Paul followed 10 months later. After his father’s death, Paul Jr. said, “An industry lost its godparents and today millions have lost a friend.”

“We took him for granted, of course,” Mansfield and Holland write. “It was easy to assume that Paul Harvey would always be on our radios. After all, he had been a comforting fixture there as long as almost any living American could remember.”

But the irony is that, by instilling in generations of Americans a love of history and a belief in human character, Harvey ensured that his voice would continue to be heard long after it left the airwaves.

Broadcaster Paul Harvey was known for his turns of phrase and memorable one-liners.

Here are some favorites.

❜ My job is to make what is important, interesting. And what is interesting, important.

❜ If life were logical, it is men who would ride sidesaddle.

❜ I’m just a professional parade watcher who can’t wait to get up every morning and get to the curbside.

❜ The years don’t always add wisdom, but they do add perspective.

❜ Like what you do; if you don’t like it, do something else.

❜ I am fiercely loyal to those willing to put their money where my mouth is.

❜ Each generation imagines that we’re all going to hell. Each generation goes through a little hell and comes out heat tempered and better than before.

❜ Tomorrow has always been better than today. And it always will be.