20 December 2007

Stand by for BLOG!

It's amazing how a name buried in an otherwise unrelated message-board post can bring so much to my mind's forefront. It's a name and a voice I've known from just about day one of my recollectable childhood.

In spite of pushing 90, he's still going strong. He has an unforgettable style of announcing. His catch-phrases are universally known. He might be infuriatingly right-wing in his political views, however there's no denying his incredible talent of storytelling. And his diction, that broken staccato rhythm ... in 56 (!) years, it's become a recognizable trademark.

In the day, even a large number of top-40 stations carried his broadcasts. One five-minute program in the morning, a 15-minute show at noon, and a five-minute feature, The Rest of the Story, in the afternoon.

Of course I'm talking about Paul Harvey. The 'official' name of his show is Paul Harvey News And Comment, and it's been featured on the ABC Radio Network since 1951. For a time -- late '60s into the '70s -- he also syndicated a five-minute television commentary, as well. That's the first recollection I have of Paul Harvey. The TV module was seen both in Birmingham and in Huntsville following the 6:00 local news.

After we moved to Mississippi, I'd hear Harvey on WTUP/Tupelo. It was always on the radio as Mom took my brother and me to school each morning. What I remember best about Paul Harvey's morning newscast was how he came out of the opening commercial on Fridays: "Good morning, Americans .... it's .... FRIIII-DAAAAAY!!!" I lived to hear that, as an official affirmation that week's end was near, and Donny & Marie were waiting that evening at 7:00.

In 1978, we moved to Cape Girardeau, Mo. And Harvey followed us there, because on their local top-40 (KGMO), Paul Harvey was on the air, complete with his cleverly-disguised commercials, made to resemble real news stories, and partitioned only by his "PAGE TWO!!", "PAGE THREE!!", etc. I remember most of the sponsors well ... Buick ... Banker's White Cross ... True Value Hardware ... the Bose Acoustic Wave Machine ... Allstate Insurance .... I'm sure there were more. And they work, too. Because when I hear "True Value" (as in, hardware), I hear those words in Harvey's voice.

In 1982 we left Missouri for Rot--er, Hot Springs, Ark., where Harvey was carried on KBHS, The Mighty 590. My first radio job.

I think my only breather from Paul Harvey occurred in college. Then, when I entered 'the real world' in the garden spot known as Pine Bluff, Ark., it was heard "four times daily" on KOTN. And I had the honor of running one of said times. 12:06-12:21 p.m. Since I had the midday shift, it gave me 15 minutes to wolf down a sandwich, or whatever I brought for lunch.

There were the "bumper snickers", the "traveling microphone", and of course, "Our 'For What It's Worth' Department...." which always prefaced a funny 'kicker' story, followed by his iconic close: "Paul Harveyyyy ................ good-DAY!!"

And one Fall day in 1989, Paul Harvey caused a 24-year-old Talmadge Gleck to completely lose his composure on the air. He was delivering his FWIW segment (the above intro was always my 'warning cue', should I have been distracted onto something else, edible or otherwise). Harvey was reporting on a doctor who lost his license to practice medicine. The reason? He had his female patients completely disrobe. "Okay", I thought to myself, "What's the big deal? He's a doctor, right?"

Then Paul Harvey laid down the punchline. And it wasn't just that, it way the way he delivered it. "Dr. Smith ... was ... an optometrist-PAUL-harveyyyyyy..." He said it in such a way as to almost minimalize it. But suddenly my mind had the image of a nude woman reading an eye chart, with a horny eye doctor off to the side (the one in Employee of the Month, perhaps? "Are you staring at my breasts?" "I don't know.").

And then came "good-DAY!" He was finished, and I was on. And I began howls of laughter. I couldn't stop, either. I went straight to a promo spot. However, 30 seconds wasn't enough time to regain composure. I could barely get through the weather. I thought I'd made it, but then I looked at the record which I'd cued up .... some 10 minutes earlier.

The record was Jackson Browne's 1972 hit "Doctor My Eyes."

Ahhhh yes, that's my unforgettable memory of Paul Harvey.

In my vast vintage radio vault, I have a copy of a News And Comment program from 1963 which Paul Harvey made from Savannah, Georgia. It's really something to listen to; his voice and delivery haven't changed one iota in 40+ years.

I have another piece of audio in my collection, a fun parody of Paul Harvey's commentary, done by a guy who called himself "Harvey Appalling." He had Harvey's entire style down nicely, even using his catchphrases to devastatingly humorous effect.

And then there's the brilliantly-produced piece of audio put together by someone back at WTBF/Troy, Ala. (which - surprise! - began taking Harvey when they joined ABC in 1999 after the demise of Mutual) . It's a montage of Paul Harvey's catch-phrases, set to a hip-hop beat.

The man is 89 years old. And he's been married to the same woman for more than 60 years, a woman to whom he proposed over their first date. Her real name is Lynne, but he gave her a name on that day, and it's a name he's used to refer to her on-air ever since: Angel.

That's neat. Paul Harvey has an "Angel." And I have a "Seraphim."

Back in May, Harvey announced that his wife was stricken with Leukemia. And his voice broke on-air while saying as much. While I didn't hear this broadcast, it's sobering to imagine this singly distinctive voice crossing the line into emotion. Sure, Arthur Godfrey broke down on-air during the funeral procession of FDR ... but he was Arthur Godfrey. This was the stoic Paul Harvey. A comforting voice of strength and durability.

Yet I could understand it. Paul Harvey loves his wife very much. I gathered as much from how he'd talk about "Angel" while I was at KOTN.

He's 89, and, like the other great voices of radio's greatest days, isn't getting any younger. While I think Paul Harvey is a bit looney with some of his politics, for me it's easy to separate the beliefs from the man. I don't listen to his broadcasts with regularity, but it doesn't mean I won't miss him when he's gone. I have a melancholy feeling that when "Angel" becomes a real one, that Paul won't be far behind. Some marriages are like that. Johnny Cash and June Carter come quickly to mind. I think of Seraphim and I can understand - completely - what that feeling is like.

And now you know ... the rest of the post.

Talmadge Gleck...................ciao-for-NIAO!!

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