March 1, 2009— -- The "most listened to man" in broadcasting passed away Saturday. After more than seven decades on the air, venerable radioman Paul Harvey's folksy speech and plain talk are no more.
Harvey died at the age of 90 at a hospital near his winter home in Phoenix.
His death came nine months after that of his wife, Lynne Cooper Harvey, whom he often called "Angel" on air, and who was also his business partner and the first producer ever inducted in the the Radio Hall of Fame. She died in May 2008 at age 92.
"My father and mother created from thin air what one day became radio and television news," Paul Harvey Jr. said Saturday. "So, in the past year, an industry has lost its godparents. And, today millions have lost a friend."
Harvey's career in radio spanned more than 70 years, and his shows "News & Comment" and "Rest of the Story" made him a familiar voice in Americans' homes across the country.
From his humble beginnings as a teenager helping out cleaning up at a local radio station, Harvey went on to have his broadcasts carried by 1,350 commercial radio stations, as well as 400 stations of the Armed Forces Radio Service, and he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990.
"Paul Harvey was one of the most gifted and beloved broadcasters in our nation's history," said ABC Radio Networks President Jim Robinson in a statement released Saturday. "As he delivered the news each day with his own unique style and commentary, his voice became a trusted friend in American households.
"Countless millions of listeners were both informed and entertained by his 'News & Comment' and 'Rest of the Story' features," Robinson said. "Even after the passing of his loving wife Angel in May 2008, Paul would not slip quietly into retirement as he continued to take the microphone and reach out to his audience. We will miss our dear friend tremendously and are grateful for the many years we were so fortunate to have known him. Our thoughts and prayers are now with his son Paul Jr. and the rest of the Harvey family."
Former President George W. Bush said he and former first lady Laura Bush were saddened to hear of Harvey's death.
"Paul was a friendly and familiar voice in the lives of millions of Americans," Bush said in a statement released late today. "His commentary entertained, enlightened, and informed. Laura and I are pleased to have known this fine man, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Bush presented Harvey with the nation's highest civilian honor, the medal of freedom, in November 2005.
Harvey entertained and informed generations of Americans by paying attention to the people and places most others overlooked.
Born in Oklahoma in 1918, he was broadcasting from Tulsa by age 14. His love and respect for simple American values permeated his broadcasts, and he celebrated that life.
"Emporia, Kan., is home to this state's national champion honeymooners: Margaret and Joe Pearson," he said in one broadcast. "Theirs has endured 72 years."
Harvey started working at a local radio station at the suggestion of one of his high school teachers. He started out just helping clean up, but soon was on the air himself, filling in with reading the news or commercials.
After a stint at radio station KFBI in Abilene, Kansas, he moved to KXOK in St. Louis.
By 1940, Paul Harvey's easy wit and laconic speech made him Chicago's most popular newscaster and gave him his own show.
He also settled down with Cooper, whom he had met the year before. Harvey said he invited her to dinner, proposed to her after a few minutes of conversation and from that moment on called her Angel.
Cooper was credited with coming up with many of the programming innovations that became Harvey's trademarks.
Among her ideas were the concepts of including news features within hard-news broadcasts and the humorous "kicker," which became a Paul Harvey trademark. She also developed and edited her husband's best-known feature, "The Rest of the Story."
In 1951, "Paul Harvey News" went national with broadcasts stretching coast-to-coast and reaching millions of listeners each night. Though he broadcast six days a week for more than half a century, it never seemed like hard work.
His gift for drawing in listeners and making them see what he did was an art form.
Harvey explained it simply: "As a boy, I fell in love with words and ran away from home and joined the radio. And it really was something."
By the early 1960's, Harvey was trying his hand at television. He conducted interviews from the floor of the Republican National Convention in Chicago. Angel produced the 1968 television series "Paul Harvey Comments" that ran without interruption for 20 years in national syndication.
But television was not quite suited to Harvey's brand of storytelling. In a medium meant to convey images, his power was in conjuring them out of thin air. He, better than anyone, understood this and said as much in a speech he gave in 2003.
"You trust me to paint pictures on the mirror of your mind," he said, "and I will let you feel such agony and ecstasy ... as you would never be able to feel by looking at it."
Over the years, Harvey won nearly every honor or accolade imaginable. He was named Salesman of the Year, Commentator of the Year, Person of the Year, Father of the Year, and American of the Year. He was elected to the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Hall of Fame and appeared on the Gallup poll list of America's most admired men.
In addition he has received 11 Freedom Foundation Awards as well as the Horatio Alger Award. In 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' most prestigious civilian award, by President George W. Bush.
Paul Harvey's particular style relied on exaggerated pronunciation, pregnant pauses, delayed revelations and a staccato delivery. His quirky openings and catchphrases were often parodied -- "Hello, Americans, this is Paul Harvey! Stand by … for News!" -- but his rapt audience ate it up.
This devoted following made him an advertiser's dream: He could as effortlessly weave a pitch into his program as he could capture images in words that lingered in his listeners' minds.
His programs, "News and Comment" and "The Rest of the Story", were carried on the ABC Radio Network and could be heard Monday through Saturday for more than five decades. "The Rest of the Story," a look behind the stories of events and people, was developed and produced by Harvey's only son, Paul, Jr.
At the age of 82, when most broadcasters have long been off the air, Paul Harvey signed a 10-year contract with ABC Radio in 2000. An executive with another network, who had hoped to sign Harvey to a deal, said "Call me when the contract's over so I can try again."
Traug Keller, then president of ABC Radio Networks, explained the rationale behind the 10-year deal.
"Paul Harvey is, without question, one of the most influential Americans of our time," Keller said. "In fact, political adviser and communications specialist Frank Mankiewicz noted that Paul Harvey's name appears most often in lists of the 10 most influential opinion-shapers of each decade since the 1930s."
Harvey's voice was carried on more than 1,200 radio stations, 400 Armed Forces Network stations that broadcast around the world and 300 newspapers.
The program also aired twice daily on the Internet, bringing the wit and wisdom of Paul Harvey to a whole new audience.
All told, with more than 25 million listeners tuned in each week, Paul Harvey was the largest one-man network in the world.
A Chicagoan throughout his life, Paul Harvey resisted offers to move the broadcasts to New York.
"That would never have been a good choice; I would have lost touch with so much of the country had I done that," he told The Chicago Tribune in 2002. "From here I think I can see the world with a wider lens."
Fellow broadcaster Bob Sirott summed up Harvey's longevity to The Tribune succinctly and simply: "He stands for the America that sits west of the Hudson."
Good day, Paul Harvey. Good day.