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Radio Fans Mourn Paul Harvey


Today, fans of radio are mourning the loss of a legend. Paul Harvey died yesterday at age 90 at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. For more than 75 years, he told stories on the radio, 50 years as a newscaster and commentator for ABC Radio, with his signature…

Mr. PAUL HARVEY (Syndicated Commentator): And now, the rest of the story.

SMITH: Harvey's style was unique and always compelling, even when he got to the ads.

Mr. HARVEY: Page 2. Free sample today. I know you've never heard an insurance man offer you a free sample of anything before. You know, one of the reasons, I think, is because for so many years, we had to use what they called court-tested language.

SMITH: That's from a broadcast in 1963. And listen to how he does it, with a jaunty Page 2, Harvey would seamlessly move into his pitch, making it into a story just as riveting as the news around him.

Mr. HARVEY: Please let me see that you get a free sample of the policy, a free sample policy. You're not asked to buy it now, just to look it over because it sounds too good to be true, unless you see it in black and white.

SMITH: Harvey made advertising an audio art form and kept the old-time style even until his final Saturday broadcast last month.

Mr. HARVEY: Now, Page 5. Valentine's Day is fast approaching. This year, let's show that special person in your life how very much you care with the gift of a Bose Wave Music System.

SMITH: The products changed, but the intensity was the same, and for it, he was paid handsomely. He signed a $100 million, 10-year contract at the age of 82. To talk about Paul Harvey and his golden touch, we called Bruce Dumont. He's the head of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in a town where Harvey built his career, Chicago, and a broadcaster himself. Welcome to the show.

Mr. BRUCE DUMONT (Founder, Museum of Broadcast Communications): Nice to be with you.

SMITH: So, advertisers loved Paul Harvey. Why was he so valuable?

Mr. DUMONT: Well, because he moved product. I mean, that was the key thing. People would wait in line for years to have the honor of paying about a million dollars a year to have Paul Harvey read your spots. And one thing that Paul did, however, is that he never took a spot for a product that he didn't try out for himself.

SMITH: And so, that was implied that he believed in it. When he said, I use this product, he used it?

Mr. DUMONT: He did. You know, when he would frequently talk about products that he was about to put on his broadcast, he would usually regale me with stories at lunch or dinner about how he had discovered this new product, and how wonderful he thought it was.

SMITH: So, he really considered this part of his broadcast?

Mr. DUMONT: He did, very much so, and also the relationship that Paul Harvey had with his advertisers was not typical in the radio industry. I mean, he really cared about who these people were. I know he would tell me all kinds of stories about Amar Bose and what a wonderful scientist he was.

SMITH: Now, for most newscasters, this would be a breach of ethics, or at least considered unseemly.

Mr. DUMONT: Very unseemly. And again, whenever he heard about critics or when he read about them referring to him as just a sales guy, I mean, he took that as a badge of honor. He was very proud to be a salesman and saying that, you know, he likes to move products and move ideals.

SMITH: You know, I have a quote from him here. He said: Without advertising in this country - I can't do him justice. He said; Without advertising in this country, my goodness, we'd still be in this country what Russia mostly still is, a nation of bearded bicyclists with BO.

Mr. DUMONT: Right. That sounds like Paul Harvey.

SMITH: Bruce Dumont of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, thanks for helping us remember Paul Harvey.

Mr. DUMONT: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: In a few minutes, baseball's powers that be keep swinging despite the downturn. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.