Monday, March 02, 2009

517 Paul Harvey 1918-2009

517 Paul Harvey 1918-2009

The temptation to avoid saying anything about Paul Harvey's death was great.  After all, the bios and obits were everywhere.  And there were several recent references to the guy in this space.

But none of these captures the man.  So, here's an attempt from a stranger:

We met twice.  Once was at ABC Radio headquarters at 1926 Broadway in the final days of 1975.   It was a small meeting.  The participants were Charles P. Arnot, an ABC News executive, Paul Harvey, Harry Reasoner, Howard Cosell, Roger Grimsby and Wes Richards.  The presence of the last guy seemed irrelevant.  Perhaps the invitation came as a sop to a network beginner.  The topic of the meeting?  How to survive as a news network if Paul Harvey quits.  Harvey was 57 or 58 at the time.  He announced to the room that he wasn't going anywhere.  But even then, ABC, one of the "big three" broadcast networks depended on him.  He knew it.  They knew it.  You'd have expected him to hold it over them.  He did not.

Harvey had come in from Chicago just for this meeting.  It took about ten minutes.  Then, we watched him work.  After all, he did have to do his programs, right?

He took the same AP, UPI and Reuters teletype copy all of us in the newsroom received.  But when it came out of Paul's Olympia Large Type office typewriter, it had a life of its own.  All the while, the guy's joking with the rest of us.  Asking questions, answering questions.  We all made carbons of our scripts at ABC in those days.  Reasoner took one of Paul's and read it and put it down and said something along the lines of "how does he do that?"  Reasoner's impressed?  So should be the rest of us.

Even Cosell, who refused to seem impressed by anything but Cosell was impressed.

Richards looked at the script, too.  And he asked Harvey "How do you do that?"  And Paul Harvey said "think about telling the story to some hard of hearing woman in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.  She's listening to you, but she's also doing the laundry or cooking dinner and she's not so smart and she doesn't follow the news every day.  Remember her, he said.

The second encounter was in the studios of WOR radio at Broadway and 40th and was in 1990.  WOR carried Paul's shows at the time.

WOR's General Manager, Bob Bruno, told us that Paul's shows on WOR had more listeners in New York than Rather at CBS and Brokaw at NBC combined.

One early morning, there's Paul in the newsroom and then in the studio.  Now,  he's 72 years old.  The hair is thinner, but still that reddish brown.  We say "You and I met in 1975 at ABC.  He says "I'm sorry, I don't remember, I hope you can forgive me."  Still so much milder than his broadcast image.  Still the gentleman that the listeners don't hear -- not the assertive, confident guy they DO hear.

So what was so special about this guy?

He was a doctrinaire conservative, at least most of the time.

You may disagree with his politics.  But you couldn't disagree with this:

Paul Harvey could tell a story of great color and significance or minuscule color and significance and make you want to listen and it was impossible to misunderstand. 

Now, about that meeting in 1975?  We came to no conclusions about how ABC was to survive without Paul.  But only one of the participants is still alive.  And he was and is clueless.

I'm Wes Richards.  Good day.

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