Monday, March 2, 2009

Paul Harvey, RIP

Your next pizza delivery will be late and cold.

On Saturday,February 28, 2009 radio lost it's voice for a generation. Paul Harvey died at the age of 90.

For over fifty years, Paul Harvey supplied AM stations what can best be described in radio vernacular as "keystone programming." Long before Rush Limbaugh became the Voice of the Republican Party - make of that what you will - listeners made it a point to tune in to hear what Paul Harvey had to say about the day's events. To work in radio anytime during the last fifty years meant that at some point in your career you either taped the Harvey feed from ABC (channel 52 - Harvey's was such the presence that the network dedicated a satellite channel just for him.) or you made damn sure you back timed correctly into his feed live. And once he was on you could eat your lunch, because the next fifteen minutes was all Harvey. And you marvelled at him. All the rest of the day, the slightest pause in programming was condemned as "dead air," triggering a tirade from the program director. Paul Harvey swam in silence to the point where the union engineers would sometimes bolt to make sure the transmitter was actually still on. There was nothing else like Paul Harvey.

For a kid growing up watching Woodstock, civil rights protests, Viet Nam protests, and Nixon self destruct on TV, Paul Harvey was like listening to a slightly out-of-touch uncle at Thanksgiving. His flag waving made post boomers like me squirm a bit. His transitions straight into "Page 2" for a commercial for Wells Lamont work gloves ("SSSStub-burn about quality.") walked right over the line of journalistic neutrality. He probably left this world still bemoaning the Beatles and disgusted with Elvis the Pelvis, but by golly you knew exactly where he stood on things.

Or did you? In the 1950's he championed Senator McCarthy's red baiting, until he came to realize it had gone too far when the McCarthy hearings aired on live television. But video did not kill this radio star. Harvey admitted his change of heart and moved on. He backed the US involvement in Viet Nam until his son's number came up in the draft. Ah, so it all changes when it's your own son headed for Cambodia. Harvey's generation wasn't accustomed to their newsmen telling the president point blank, "You are wrong." Paul Harvey: the Original Shock Jock.

Those reversals did not lessen my respect for the man. If anything, I gained a new respect. Unlike the blowhards that populate talk radio today, Harvey was more than willing to admit he was human, filled with faults and fears and not always fully understanding the crazy world spinning around him. I don't pretend to know how to write for Paul Harvey. That was his son's job. But I can imagine what he might say to today's 7,000 point plunge in the stock market.

"Another round of Chicken Little on Wall Street today. Stocks down... seven... thousand... their lowest level since 1997. This latest dive was a reaction to the Asian market's dive, which was a reaction to economic news from the US, which was a reaction to world market news. (chuckle) You know, maybe it's time we need to stop reacting and start... leading."

So, with the loss of roughly five hours of Paul Harvey programming AM radio had come to rely on, you have wonder how much of a financial hit these stations will take. According to Forbes Harvey was responsible for about $30 million for ABC. Figure in the local advertisers, some of whom I'm sure only wanted to run during Harvey, and you're looking at a major revenue loss. And, although there are those who can try, there really is no successor to the Harvey throne. The time slot might be filled for a while, but there's certain to be an audience erosion over time, and nearly 1,300 local stations who depended on the Harvey linchpin in their programming will have to hope Rush can fill the void.

And he can't. Not in my eyes.

And so, that's why today, March 2, 2009, 1,300 hapless radio station managers are turning in their applications for the only job for which they are qualified... Dominoes Pizza. So, the next time you order a pizza, and it arrives in 45 minutes... cold... with the delivery person apologizing for getting lost... then you'll know... the rrrrest of the story.

Good day.

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