All the wire service obits I’m reading place his peak audience at some 24 million people nationwide, but please allow me to be the first to respectfully call bullshit on that ridiculousness: if you’ve listened to a frickin’ radio in the last half-century plus — and, honey, that’s everybody — you’ve damn well heard his program no less than once. And even though so few of us were fortunate enough to meet him in person, all of us who listened regularly considered him a dear, treasured friend.
American radio — hell, America period — lost one of the true giants yesterday, as 90-year-old broadcasting pioneer Paul Harvey passed away from unknown causes in Arizona. On some 1200 stations across the country, Harvey’s magnificently melodious voice could be heard twice a day — once narrating a noon newscast which was filled with blurbs both silly and profound, and again during evening drive time, when he’d pop up out of nowhere to deliver unto us “The Rest of the Story,” a daily five-to-seven-minute anecdotal yarn, generally about a famous person or event, whose brilliant gimmick was that you wouldn’t know about whom or what Harvey was speaking until the final sentence. (True story: I used to stay up until the wee hours of the morning reading some of the best of “The Rest” to Sherry Ann over the telephone, from the two great books in which Harvey compiled his favorite such tales.) Staccato ramblings and intonations never sounded so good.
Literally, I can’t remember my life without Mr. Harvey in it. When I was a tender ingenue, I used to so love listening to Harvey’s noon broadcast (with its classic proclamation, “Stand by… for news!”) on good ol’ 1490 KQTY out of Borger, Texas, that I would actually mute “Days of Our Lives” for the entire length of Harvey’s show. (It’s hard to comprehend now, considering what a godawful war-torn hot mess that once-mandatory serial has degenerated into, but in those days, “Days” was sacrosanct, babe. I wouldn’t even turn the volume down on that show for my mother!) Such was my devotion to his magnificent mastery of his chosen craft.
And having recently gotten my own radio show off the ground, it’s never been more apparent to me how hard he worked to make what he did, and did with such gorgeous and breathtaking grace, seem so effortlessly easy.
Godspeed, Paul. My one wish, sir, is that somewhere up there tonight, for a change, the angels are telling you the rest of the story.