On Friday night I signed off my radio show on KABC at 7:00 and was followed by Paul Harvey News and Comment. It wasn't actually Paul Harvey, it was someone filling in for him doing a woeful impression. But I drove away feeling very proud that I was on the same radio station as the great Paul Harvey.
Paul Harvey passed away on Saturday. He was only 90.
I'm sure there will be tributes galore the next few days. They will talk about his influence. For almost 60 years he broadcast on the ABC radio network. At one time he was heard on over 1200 radio stations. They'll praise the uniqueness of his delivery. They'll all end their pieces with... "And now you know the rest of the story," thinking that no one else thought of that.
But they'll probably overlook the one attribute that I think was his real genius. Paul Harvey was the greatest salesman that ever lived. I used to listen to him every chance I got, not for the news, not for the profile of the guy who invented leotards, but for the commercials. He was absolutely spellbinding. He made every product sound like something you just had to have. He was so convincing even I went out and bought Bose speakers and arthritis medicine... and I don't even have arthritis. (I did stop short of Amway products though.)
I must say I have a soft spot for pitchmen. At state fairs I always make a beeline to the tent where guys in bad suits and worse toupees are selling car wax and miracle vacuum cleaners. I love hearing their spiels. There's a genuine art to being persuasive. And I always think, these hawkers are good, but Paul Harvey could sell them a miracle vacuum cleaner, and they know it's a piece of crap.
What was his secret?
He truly communicated. He talked right to you. In words you could understand. He looked straight into your eyes even on the radio. He spoke with conviction, enthusiasm, and all of his arguments made so much doggone sense. Someday I may get arthritis so I better have this stuff just in case.
He ended every broadcast with: "This is Paul Harvey..." and then a beat, "Good day." Forevermore that beat will be a moment of silence for radio's greatest newscaster and Madison Avenue's greatest Mad Man.
You can read more from Ken at kenlevine.blogspot.com