Paul Harvey's singular voice falls silent
By Thomas K. Arnold, Special for USA TODAY
Paul Harvey was radio's original Prairie Home Companion.
The legendary commentator, 90, who died Saturday in Phoenix (no cause of death was released), was known for his homespun take on the day's events, which reached 18 million listeners a day on the ABC Radio Networks. Harvey's 15-minute monologues, delivered with frank but rhythmic drama, were punctuated by a signature signoff: "This is Paul Harvey. ... Good day."
Harvey's radio career spanned more than 70 years, predating TV and continuing into the Internet age. And for the past 57 years, the appeal of Paul Harvey News & Comment truly transcended generations. Recalls Catherine Miller, a mother of two from Carlsbad, Calif.: "I have loved Paul since I was a kid. I remember listening to him on summer days, driving in the car with the adults, thinking that he had it right."
Indeed, Harvey was known as the "voice of Middle America" for his apple-pie conservatism, although he was hardly part of the extreme breed who dominate talk radio today. When he first went national in the early 1950s, he was a staunch defender of communist hunter Sen. Joe McCarthy, and in the 1960s he frequently railed against the counterculture and what he perceived as permissiveness on college campuses and in the news media.
But in what many consider his most famous broadcast, Harvey in 1970 blasted his friend Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War and instead urged the president to get out.
"Mr. President, I love you," Harvey said, "but you're wrong."
In a statement, former president George W. Bush said: "Paul was a friendly and familiar voice in the lives of millions of Americans. His commentary entertained, enlightened and informed. Laura and I are pleased to have known this fine man."
Harvey was born in Oklahoma in 1918 and made his on-air debut in Tulsa at age 14, at the urging of a teacher. He read the news and commercials. He gradually worked his way into bigger markets and ultimately hit Chicago in the late 1940s.
In 1990, Harvey was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. Ten years later, when Harvey was 81, ABC signed him to a 10-year, $100 million contract. Harvey's two daily news and commentary segments, and the evening "Rest of the Story" human-interest clip, were carried on more than 1,100 ABC radio stations and an additional 400 belonging to the Armed Forces Radio Network.
Said ABC Radio chief Jim Robinson: "As he delivered the news each day with his own unique style and commentary, his voice became a trusted friend in American households."