Harvey was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The son of a policeman killed in 1921, Harvey made radio receivers as a young boy. He attended Tulsa Central High School where a teacher, Isabelle Ronan, was “impressed by his voice.” On her recommendation, he started working at KVOO in Tulsa in 1933, when he was 14. His first job was helping clean up. Eventually he was allowed to fill in on the air, reading commercials and the news. While attending the University of Tulsa, he continued working at KVOO, first as an announcer, and later as a program director. Harvey, at age nineteen spent three years as a station manager for KFBI AM, now known as KFDI, a radio station that once had studios in Salina, Kansas. From there, he moved to a newscasting job at KOMA in Oklahoma City, and then to KXOK, in St. Louis in 1938, where he was Director of Special Events and a roving reporter.
Harvey then moved to Hawaii to cover the United States Navy as it concentrated its fleet in the Pacific. He was returning to the mainland from assignment when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He eventually enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces but served only from December 1943 to March 1944. His critics claimed he was given a psychiatric discharge for deliberately injuring himself in the heel. Harvey angrily denied the accusation, but was vague about details: “There was a little training accident…a minor cut on the obstacle course…I don’t recall seeing anyone I knew who was a psychiatrist…I cannot tell you the exact wording on my discharge.”
In the latter half of his career, Paul Harvey was also known for the radio series The Rest of the Story, described as a blend of mystery and history, which premiered on May 10, 1976. The series quickly grew to six broadcasts a week, and continued until Harvey’s death in 2009. The Rest of the Story series was written and produced by the broadcaster’s son, Paul Harvey, Jr., from its outset and for its thirty-three year duration. Harvey and his radio network stated that the stories in that series, although entertaining, were completely true. This was contested by some critics, including urban legend expert Jan Harold Brunvand. In November 2000, Harvey signed a 10-year, $100M contract with ABC Radio Networks. A few months later, after damaging his vocal cords, he went off the air, but returned in August 2001. His success with sponsors stemmed from the seamlessness with which he segued from his monologue into reading commercial messages. He explained his relationship with them, saying “I am fiercely loyal to those willing to put their money where my mouth is.”
Former Senator Fred Thompson substituted for Harvey regularly from 2006 to 2007. Other substitutes for Harvey have included his son, Paul Harvey, Jr., Doug Limerick, Paul W. Smith, Gil Gross, Ron Chapman, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Mort Crim, Art Van Horn, Scott Shannon, and Tony Snow. Three weeks after Harvey’s death, the entire News and Comment franchise was canceled. Harvey did not host the show full-time after April 2008, when he came down with pneumonia. Shortly after his recovery, his wife died on May 3, causing him to prolong his time away from broadcasting. He voiced commercials, new episodes of The Rest of the Story and News & Comment during middays a few times a week, with his son handling mornings.
Harvey’s on-air persona was influenced by that of sportscaster Bill Stern. During the 1940s, Stern’s The Colgate Sports Reel and newsreel programs used many of the techniques later used by Harvey, including his emphatic style of delivery, and the use of phrases such as Reel Two and Reel Three to denote segments of the broadcast—much like Harvey’s Page Two and Page Three. Harvey was also known for catch phrases he used at the beginning of his programs, such as “Hello Americans, this is Paul Harvey. Stand by for NEWS!” He always ended, “Paul Harvey … Good day.” A story might be “This day’s news of most lasting significance.” At the end of a report about someone who had done something ridiculous or offensive, Harvey would say, “He would want us to mention his name,” followed by silence, then would start the next item. The last item of a broadcast, which was often a funny story, would usually be preceded by “For what it’s worth.” Other phrases made famous by Harvey included “Here’s a strange…” (a story with an unusual twist) and “Self-government won’t work without self-discipline.”
In addition to the inquiry into whether Harvey’s Rest of the Story tales are true, Harvey’s trademark ability to seamlessly migrate from content to commercial brought scrutiny. In that context, Salon magazine called him the “finest huckster ever to roam the airwaves.” Some have argued that Harvey’s fawning and lavish product endorsements may be misleading or confusing to his audience. Harvey’s endorsed products included EdenPure heaters, Bose radios, Select Comfort mattresses, and Hi-Health dietary supplements, including a supplement that was claimed to improve vision but was later the subject of a Federal Trade Commission enforcement action against the manufacturer (but not Harvey himself) for misleading claims made on Harvey’s show. In one of the tribute broadcasts, Gil Gross said Harvey considered advertising just another type of news, and he only endorsed products he believed in, often interviewing someone from the company. His success with sponsors stemmed from the seamlessness with which he segued from his monologue into reading commercial messages. He explained his relationship with them, saying “I am fiercely loyal to those willing to put their money where my mouth is.”
Harvey was also an avid pilot. He had been an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association member for more than 50 years, and would occasionally talk about flying to his radio audience. He also was a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, and was frequently seen at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. He was responsible for funding the Paul Harvey Audio-Video Center at EAA headquarters in Oshkosh. According to AOPA Pilot contributing editor Barry Schiff, Harvey coined the term “skyjack.” He is also credited with popularizing the terms “Reaganomics” and “guesstimate.” Beginning in 1952, Harvey was a friend of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Harvey would often submit “advance copies of his radio script for comment and approval.” It is believed that Harvey’s friendship with Hoover helped Harvey escape criminal charges relating to his trespassing at Argonne National Laboratory. Harvey was also a close friend of Senator Joseph McCarthy and supporter of his search for Communists.
Harvey was also a close friend of Reverend Billy Graham. From the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s, Harvey attended Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park. When the church moved from its original location on Madison Street to the former Presbyterian Church on Lake Street, Harvey asked his friend Graham to preach at the dedication service. Paul Harvey associated with various congregations of different denominations. He and his wife regularly attended the Camelback Adventist Church in Scottsdale, Arizona during his winters there. He often quoted Adventist pioneer Ellen G. White in his broadcasts and received the “Golden Microphone” Award for his professionalism and graciousness in dealing with the church. He was also active with a small Plymouth Brethren meeting in Maywood, Illinois called Woodside Bible Chapel.
Harvey died on February 28, 2009, at the age of 90 at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by family and friends. No cause of death was announced. In response to his father’s death, his son, Paul Harvey Jr., said, “millions have lost a friend”. At the time of his death, he had less than two years left on his ten-year contract. Former President George W. Bush issued a statement on Harvey’s death, calling Harvey: “a friendly and familiar voice in the lives of millions of Americans.”
On March 4, Gil Gross was chosen to become the next host of News & Comment. New owners Citadel Broadcasting, which had bought ABC Radio from Disney in 2008, chose Mike Huckabee, instead, but the show lasted only one week before being taken off the air. Gross was actually happy not to have to do the show as that would have had him going into KGO San Francisco at around 1:00 a.m. to prep for the show that morning for the East Coast broadcasts (and his talk show was not until the late afternoon). Harvey’s full-length biography, Good Day! The Paul Harvey Story, was published in May 2009 by Regnery Publishing. On Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, a recording of Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” commentary was used by Ram Trucks in a commercial titled “Farmer,” which aired during Super Bowl XLVII.
- September, 04, 1918
- Tulsa, Oklahoma
- February, 28, 2009
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Forest Home Cemetery
- Forest Park, Illinois