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Paul Harvey dies at 90; radio personality known for his distinctive delivery

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Paul Harvey, who was long considered the most-listened-to radio broadcaster in the world and whose distinctive delivery and daily mix of news, commentary and human interest stories informed and entertained a national radio audience for nearly 60 years, died Saturday. He was 90.


FOR THE RECORD:
Paul Harvey obituary: The obituary of radio pioneer Paul Harvey in Sunday's California section said he and his wife, Lynne, were married for 58 years. They were married for 68 years. —


Harvey, called "the voice of Middle America," "the apostle of Main Street" and "the voice of the Silent Majority" by the media for his flag-waving conservatism and championing of traditional values, died at a hospital near his winter home in Phoenix, the ABC network announced. The cause was not given.

The Chicago-based Harvey was syndicated on more than 1,200 radio stations nationally and 400 Armed Forces Radio stations around the world. Harvey had not been on the air on a daily basis in the last few months, but he did do some prerecorded segments. His son, Paul Harvey Jr., had been filling in as host.

Coming of professional age in the late 1930s and the 1940s, a time when broadcasters such as Lowell Thomas and Gabriel Heatter were household names, Harvey continued to flourish in the era of Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.

Telegraphic style

For more than 50 years, beginning in 1951, ABC Radio Network listeners were greeted by Harvey's trademark telegraphic delivery punctuated by his patented pauses:

"Hello, Americans!" he'd boom into the microphone in his studio high above Michigan Avenue, "This is Paul Harvey! [pause] Stand by for news!"

He'd end each broadcast with his signature: "Paul Harvey. [long pause] Good day!"

The "Paul Harvey News and Comment" broadcasts -- five minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at midday six days a week -- were consistently ranked first and second in the nation among network radio shows.

Equally popular were his five- minute "The Rest of the Story" broadcasts in which Harvey told historical vignettes with surprise endings, such as the 13-year-old boy who receives a cash gift from Franklin D. Roosevelt and turns out to be Fidel Castro. Or the one about the famous trial lawyer who never finished law school (Clarence Darrow).

Harvey's various broadcasts reached an estimated 24 million listeners daily.

"He certainly was among the last great radio commentators," Michael C. Keith, communications professor at Boston College and author of "The Broadcast Century," told The Times in 2001.

Part of Harvey's enduring appeal, Keith said, was his writing style, "a kind of down-home flavor yet sophisticated quality. It grabs you and holds on to you.

"His delivery was always reminiscent of the great broadcasters of the past, which made him a unique sound on contemporary radio. But he was always relevant to the present. Paul Harvey was never out of fashion. Once he came on the air, he was just irresistible. He really had you from the moment he said, 'Page One!' "

Oklahoma native

He was born Paul Harvey Aurandt in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 4, 1918. His father was a Tulsa police officer who was killed in the line of duty when Harvey was 3, and Harvey's mother raised him and his sister. (He dropped his last name for professional reasons in the 1940s. "Ethnic names were not very popular," he once explained. Besides, "no one could spell it.")

Growing up in the 1920s, Harvey developed an early infatuation with the new medium of radio, picking up stations from a homemade cigar-box crystal set.

A champion orator in high school, he was encouraged by his English teacher-coach to go into broadcasting. Beginning as an unpaid gofer at Tulsa radio station KVOO in 1933, Harvey soon began filling in at the microphone, reading spot announcements, the news and even playing his guitar on the air.

By the time he was taking speech and English classes at the University of Tulsa, he had worked his way up to a job as a staff announcer at KVOO. Jobs at other small radio stations in Abilene, Kan., and Oklahoma City followed.

While working as news and special events director at a radio station in St. Louis, Harvey met Lynne Cooper, a student teacher from a socially prominent St. Louis family who read school news announcements at the station.

Instantly smitten with the young woman he nicknamed "Angel" the day he met her, Harvey later asked her to dinner. On the night of their first date, he proposed as they sat in her parked car. They were married in June 1940.

Lynne Harvey, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Washington University, was her husband's strongest supporter and his closest professional collaborator. She died last year after nearly 58 years of marriage.

Besides serving as a director, writer and editor on his radio program, she edited "You Said It, Paul Harvey," a collection of broadcasts published by the family company. She also edited two "The Rest of the Story" books: compilations of Harvey's historical-vignette broadcasts, which began in 1976.

While working as program director at a radio station in Kalamazoo, Mich., from 1941 to 1943, Harvey served as the Office of War Information's news director for Michigan and Indiana. That was followed by a three-month stint in the Army, which resulted in a medical discharge in early 1944 after he cut his heel on an infantry obstacle course.

Big break

Returning to civilian life, Harvey moved on to the radio big-time in Chicago. While broadcasting the news at WENR-AM in Chicago's Merchandise Mart in 1951, Harvey became friends with the building's owner, Joseph P. Kennedy. With a recommendation from the Kennedy-clan patriarch, the ABC Radio Network began using Harvey as a substitute newsman. In time, network affiliates began calling for more Harvey news broadcasts.

"If it were up to Madison Avenue, I still don't think I'd be on the networks," Harvey later told the Chicago Tribune. "It was grass-roots support that brought me where I am. It's also ironic that the Kennedys, with whom I was not in agreement on so many things, had only their daddy to blame."

Harvey's typical broadcast included a mix of news briefs, humor, celebrity updates, commentary and the kind of human-interest stories he loved to tell in order to satisfy the public's "hunger for a little niceness."

Stories such as the woman in Sheboygan, Wis., who was saved from a knife-wielding assailant: "The rescuer?" Harvey asked rhetorically. "Well, the rescuer is a gutsy woman who just happened to be passing by. And she says if I won't tell her name, it's all right to tell her age. [pause] Eighty."

Harvey always said his trademark pauses were originally developed as a "a lazy broadcaster's way of waiting for the second hand to reach the top of the clock." But they quickly became part of his on-air vocal style.

"I've always felt the pregnant pause is more useful for emphasis than shouting, but it can't be done deliberately. It has to just happen," he said.

Harvey liked to joke that ABC radio executives threatened to compile all of that dead-air time and sell ads to fill it.

Known for his staunch conservatism -- he called it "political fundamentalism" -- Harvey supported McCarthyism in the 1950s. "There was a dirty job to be done and it took a roughneck to do it," he said later.

In the '60s, a time when he viewed America's biggest problem as one of "moral decay," Harvey echoed the sentiments of many older Americans by saying that he felt like "a displaced person" in his own country. "I never left my country; it left me," he said.

He blasted homosexuality, left-wing radicals and black militants at the time and reportedly was a close second to Gen. Curtis LeMay to be running mate for unsuccessful third-party presidential candidate George Wallace in 1968.

Famous broadcast

But in 1970, Harvey shocked many of his listeners with his most famous broadcast. In the wake of Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, Harvey said, "Mr. President, I love you. But you're wrong."

Harvey's about-face, which he later acknowledged "was shattering to my old American Legionnaire friends," triggered a flood of some 24,000 letters and thousands of phone calls from outraged listeners.

And while he favored the death penalty and railed against growing taxes, welfare cheats and forced busing, Harvey would again veer to the left by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights and criticizing the Christian right for attempting to impose its views on others.

"I have never pretended to objectivity," Harvey told the American Journalism Review in 1998. "I have a strong point of view, and I share it with my listeners. I have no illusions of changing the world, but to the extent I can, I'd like to shelter your and my little corner of it."

In addition to his radio broadcasts, numerous books and TV commentaries, Harvey wrote a thrice-weekly column that was syndicated in 300 newspapers, and he received up to $30,000 for speeches.

He gave up many of the extracurricular activities in his later years but not radio.

For years, he'd rise at 3:30 a.m. and be picked up by limousine in front of his 27-room house in suburban River Forest. At his office in downtown Chicago, he'd cull material for his broadcasts from wire services, letters from listeners and scores of newspapers. Then he'd write the scripts himself, on an electric typewriter in large block type on yellow copy paper.

Harvey, who also read his own commercials over the air, has been credited with coining words such as "guestimate," "trendency," and "snoopervision."

In 2000, at age 82, he signed a reported $100-million contract with ABC Radio that would have kept him on the air for 10 more years.

In 2005, Harvey received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award, in a White House ceremony.

He is survived by his son.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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