By Scott Westerman
In the days before automation, a rite of passage for many a young disk jockey was running the local control board for Paul Harvey News and Comment. My own experience came in 1971 at Ann Arbor’s WPAG. As the agricultural station for southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio, our noon-time Farm and Home Hour was punctuated with Paul Harvey’s “conversation across the back fence.”
Like the best radio communicators, he understood that he was talking to one person. His writing juxtaposed the small town story with international events, reminding us that what happened in our back yard was just as important as what was happening half way around the world. He knew his listeners well put the events of the day into a perspective that they could understand. His delivery took us through the emotional highs and lows of the news, at times approaching the poetic.
We didn’t always agree with Paul Harvey’s point of view but we respected his professionalism and energy. He could be forgiven for singing the praises of Bose, Neutrogena and Banker’s Life and Casualty with the vigor of a company spokesman. We all knew when he was switching personalities and the ad copywriters among us learned a thing or two about how to position a product after hearing his pitch.
At the peak of his powers, he augmented his newscasts with “The Rest of the Story”, a regular television commentary and a personal appearance schedule that took “this traveling microphone” across the country. He was always in demand as a speaker and during the height of the motivational movement, many of us bought tickets to see him on the same dance card with Denis Waitley, Earl Nightingale and Mary Kay Ash.
A few of us had the opportunity for one-on-one interactions, including Keener13.com co-founder Steve Schram. His on-air encounters with Paul Harvey began during his freshman year at Detroit Catholic Central.
“Every day, in the car pool driven in rotation by the two or three Dads that took us to school, Paul Harvey was appointment radio at the half hour.”
Steve’s radio career took him to WTWR in the 1980s, where he engineered the broadcast when Mort Crim would sub from the Tower 92 studios during Paul’s vacations.
“Later on, when I arrived as GM at WOWO in Fort Wayne, I asked Paul Harvey to cut some custom promos and liners, which was rarely allowed by ABC because they didn’t want to set precedent for every affiliate. He generously cut everything we wrote and then left me a special personal greeting at the end of the reel. It was impressive that he even bothered to do the greeting. It is one of my favorite possessions.”
Steve finally met Paul Harvey in person in 2004 at the Radio Hall of Fame annual inductions in Chicago. WKNR morning ace Dick Purtan, by then the long time star at WOMC, was being inducted and Paul Harvey and his late wife, Angel, were there.
“I introduced myself and my wife Laurie, and then mentioned my connection to Mort Crim as his Paul Harvey producer back in the 80’s. He smiled and recalled that time. He then looked at Laurie, then at me, and said in his wry smile ‘I see you married up!’” We enjoyed that moment (and of course he was right about that, too).”
The staccato baritone from Chicago earned the distinction of being the last man standing, morphing the styles of the great radio commentators of the 50s into a broadcasting legend that our generation will remember even a his broadcasts fade into history.