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If you were never a listener of US daily news radio between, oh, about the 1950s and early 2009, you won’t really understand. Folks of my generation remember Paul Harvey as a voice they began to hear, powerful and distinguished, in their early years.
Paul Harvey was an institution. He was an icon, in a sense. He was one of the Last Great Upstanding Men of Journalism, trivial though that may seem in today’s world. But his voice and his thoughts were known to tens of millions daily and hundreds of millions by influence. He was part of the underlying infrastructure of American life for more than half a century. No matter what horrors might transpire in the world, Paul Harvey was always there, five days a week, to tell you the rest of the story and bid you good day at the end.
His segments were not always enlightening, yet often were. He was not always the most brilliant commentator, but thoughtful always. He rarely broke news, at least in the years I knew his voice, preferring instead to add perspective to the stories already on the airwaves. Sometimes his segments were rather trivial human interest pieces which, despite their lack of deep philosophical significance managed to captivate the listener’s ear by simple virtue of the man’s talent for delivery. Still, what Paul Harvey did with his voice and with his words was monumental. He reflected a culture — a flawed, broken culture, yes — and aimed to reflect the best of it. He remained a gentleman where gentility had passed out of fashion, and occasionally was a subtle (and, less often, not so subtle) firebrand where those making the news deserved derision in the reporting of it. At his best, he poked sticks in the eyes of the boobs in the highest offices. At his worst, he was a flawed human being just like those around him. And he emerged from the same, now nearly entirely extinct, tradition of quality broadcasting that brought such radio voices as Garrison Keillor and Walter Cronkite to well-deserved fame, defining entire genres of reporting, commentary and humor, while transcending and redefining them in the process.
Thanks, Paul Harvey. You done good.
Good night, Paul Harvey, and good day.