In 1965, I was 11 years old.
I was becoming aware of what was going on in the world.
My favorite news guy was Paul Harvey.
What was special about Paul Harvey, besides his cadence, his story-telling ability, his voice and his likeability, was his news judgment.
He was the discerning newsman’s newsman.
I can’t say there came a moment while listening to Paul Harvey that I determined to become a newsman, but I’m sure he was an influence on that decision.
But it was in 1965, with the Vietnam War raging, riots in America’s cities and upheaval on college campuses, that I first remember hearing what became his signature broadcast.
It was called “If I were the devil …”
I was far from a Christian believer when I was a kid.
That commitment wouldn’t come for about 11 more years, when I was in college.
But that broadcast stuck with me, made an impression; it is still indelibly etched in the synapses of my mind.
It smacked of truth – plain, honest, Bible-spoken truth.
Later, when I became a professional newsman, I thought about what made Paul Harvey so special, what gave him the universal appeal. It was clear to me it wasn’t just the voice, the cadence of his speech and the repetition of keywords. It was much more than the style – which was artistic, original, creative and captivating. It was mostly the content – again, his news judgment.
Paul Harvey made his living sorting out the news for America – giving us a glimpse of what was really important and entertaining. Long before the internet came along, Paul Harvey was giving us headlines we might not see in our local newspapers or hear on the network TV news.
And all during my many years running daily newspapers, I would often instruct my editors what I expected from them – Paul Harvey-style news judgment.
Paul Harvey passed away in 2009. I wondered who might take his place. Nobody did. I don’t think anyone can. I think Rush Limbaugh was the closet in news judgment. But his program was long-form radio.
Yes, Harvey could tell a great story, as in “the rest of the story.” But what I loved most about him was his ability to find those great little gems of news – stories that escaped the attention of so many of his colleagues. News that was spectacularly Americana.
I didn’t really know Paul Harvey, but I felt like I did.
He was a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Even though we never met, he was gracious to me and frequently acknowledged my work. One of my great thrills in life was hearing him promote my book “Taking America Back” to his massive listening audience as a great Christmas gift in 2003.
“There is a book called ‘Taking America Back’ – might make a real good Christmas present for the uninformed,” he said. “The book is called ‘Taking America Back.'”
Just those brief words gave my book a shot in the arm only he could give. (That’s not quite true. In 2009, the presidency of Barack Obama did even more for the book.)
But it was a total surprise when Paul Harvey made that endorsement. I had no idea it was coming. No one had pitched him. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
I was honored and privileged to be able to add that endorsement in the paperback edition.
I wish I had a chance to meet Paul Harvey before he died. I wish I had an opportunity to shake his hand. I wish I got to tell him how much he meant to me. But I guess saying it late is better than never.
Paul Harvey was a genius. What he brought to America in terms of daily wit and wisdom will be missed by the entire country – whether they know it or not.
Paul Harvey was an original – an icon, a unique personality and talent. He was bigger than life. No one who knew him had a bad word to say about him.
Paul Harvey would have been 104 on Sunday, Sept. 4.
Listen to Paul Harvey’s iconic broadcast:
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