'An Original': Ex-Colleagues Praise Paul Harvey

Iconic broadcaster who influenced generations in television and radio has died.

ByABC News
March 01, 2009, 9:40 AM

March 1, 2009 -- His peers and followers looked up to him as an "original," "the best," the Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig of radio.

After talk radio pioneer Paul Harvey's death late Feb. 28 at the age of 90, former colleagues and disciples in the radio world joined in an outpouring of praise for the broadcaster whose 70-year career as host of "News & Comment" and the "Rest of the Story" made his voice the most recognizable on the airwaves.

"People tuned in to Paul Harvey because they trusted Paul Harvey," said David Hinckley, radio and TV columnist for the New York Daily News. "And that was built up over more than 50 years.

"When a big event happened -- you'd be listening to the radio and there was Paul Harvey. And you'd be thinking, 'What's Paul Harvey going to say about this? How's he going to do this in a way that's different than everyone else?' And he always found a way to do it."

Harvey was famous for winning a listenership along rural byways as well as in big cities, in small-town cafes, the living rooms of World War II veterans and, in recent years, on the Internet. While he was the focus of controversy for certain polarizing stands, such as his support of the notorious demagogue and red-baiter Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin, Harvey's homespun manner and frank delivery made him a popular favorite beyond politics.

"If you think of baseball, you think of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, you think of some of the modern heroes," said Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity. "When you think of radio, you think of Paul Harvey. ... There is nobody that is up to the talent level of Paul Harvey and what he does."

Born in Oklahoma in 1918, Harvey was broadcasting from Tulsa by age 14. 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. 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.

"I think a lot of people have tried to imitate Paul Harvey and do imitate Paul Harvey, but it doesn't quite work with somebody else doing it because he was an original," said Charles Osgood of CBS News, a former colleague of Harvey's at ABC. "I don't know a broadcaster that didn't look up to Paul Harvey, I think he taught all of us the power of the spoken word."

Al Peterson of NTS Media recalled asking Harvey about his longevity.

"A number of years ago, I said to him, 'Why do you this anymore?'" Peterson recalled. And he said, 'Because I just can't wait to get up every single day and learn something that I didn't know yesterday.'

"I don't know a broadcaster that didn't look up to Paul Harvey," Peterson added. "I think he taught all of us the power of the spoken word."

Hinckley speculated that listeners gravitated to Harvey not for a humdrum reporting of the day's events but because he offered a piquant, opinionated take on what was happening and often highlighted curiosity pieces that listeners couldn't find elsewhere.

"He made it very clear what he liked and what he didn't like," said Hinckley. "And some of those likes and dislikes were as quirky as his delivery. But people accepted them, and that was part of the package of Paul Harvey, and I'm sure part of the trust for people, too."

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.

"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."

Osgood recalled Harvey's signature signoff.

"You were expecting it -- and only he would do it," said Osgood. "He would say, 'Paul Harvey ... Good day!'

"Nothing like it. He was the best."

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