Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Paul Harvey

"Good morning, Americans, this is Paul Harvey." That clarion Midwestern voice, heard in two daily 15-minute blocks for 58 years, was its own time machine; it carried listeners back to the golden age of radio. The opinions Harvey expressed were old-fashioned as well — politically and socially conservative, the musings of a grandpa who had seen it all. When Harvey died, he took the history of radio with him.

Born in Tulsa, Okla., in 1918, and on the air there at age 17, Paul Harvey Aurandt settled in Chicago after stints at several Midwest stations, including one in St. Louis, Mo., where he found a lifelong partner, his wife Lynne. His show, News and Comment, began on ABC radio in 1951 and eventually had a weekly audience of 12 million. In 2000, ABC reupped Harvey with a 10-year, $100 million contract.

A stern defender of the right, he backed Joe McCarthy's search for imaginary Communists and, a month before his death, was ripping at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But sometimes he just got fed up with policies he'd supported; Harvey famously reversed himself on Vietnam, telling Richard Nixon, "Mr. President, I love you, but you're wrong."

Right or wrong, Harvey was an artist of elocution, making music of news copy, building suspense with pauses Harold Pinter might envy. Though his voice wavered toward the end, he refused to quit. "Retiring, " he said, "is just practicing up to be dead." He was still broadcasting the week before he died. Nobody, himself included, wanted Paul Harvey to stop talking.

—Richard Corliss