Memories Of a "Good Day" With Radio Legend Paul Harvey
When I heard about radio great Paul Harvey's death at his Phoenix home at age 90, it got me thinking about a memorable interview I had with him about 30 years ago.
At the time, I'd already been listening to Harvey's "News and Comment" segment for many years.
Despite its corniness, I loved the show.
It truly was unique, a mixture of Americana, straight news and fervently pro-American, pro-president, pro-business, and anti-hippie sentiments.
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Harvey's style was mesmerizing: He would pause for what seemed like seconds before delivering a punchline (he favored oddly touching
little stories about heroic animals, good Samaritans, and war heroes).
Pauses of any length obviously are a no-no in radio, but they worked fabulously and famously for the man who sounded like an Oklahoma grandpa.
Harvey also made it a point of slipping in a loving word about his wife and onetime radio partner, "Angel".
Think about it: The guy was the nation's most popular radio personality by a long shot for almost a half-century, and with good reason. He spoke plainly and with enthusiasm about his subjects, and unlike, say, a Rush Limbaugh-type, he rarely was mean-spirited.
So,as a aspiring journalist in the mid-1970s, I decided to take a crack at interviewing a local celebrity -- local meaning I was freelancing for the Tucson Weekly and Harvey was wintering in Phoenix (where he did his show for several months every year).
Actually, the story was on spec, which meant the editors weren't promising anything until after they'd read it.
After a few phone calls, I was summoned on a day's notice up to the Valley -- promised 20 minutes with the Great Man -- "that's 20, not 30," some guy said snippily on the phone -- at his beautiful home.
The minutes turned into almost two hours. My first question to this gentleman (and he was a gentleman) was something lame about his beginnings in radio. He began to answer, then stopped abruptly and asked me to put away my interview notes.
"Why don't we just have a conversation?" he said. "You've done your homework, right?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
It went swimmingly from there. I asked him how it had felt to publicly call out one of his heroes, President Richard Nixon, on the air circa 1970.
Harvey had been a consistent and prominent supporter of America's controversial and contentious involvement in the Vietnam War, but he had soured as the bloody campaign had continued unabated.
His line on the air had been something like, "I love you Mr. President, but you're wrong."
Harvey became emotional while answering me, practically whispering and turning away for a moment to compose himself.
By the end of our conversation, I felt comfortable enough to ask if Harvey would deliver, just for me, the trademark sign-off he used at the end of every broadcast.
Without missing a beat, he stood up, stared from a few feet away and bellowed, "Paul Harvey......Good Day!"
By the way, the Weekly didn't buy the piece.
Too corny, its editors said.
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