Good Day!: The Paul Harvey Story
Paul J. Batura, with a foreword by Mike Huckabee
(Regnery Books, 291 pages, $27.95)
Almost everyone who hears the name Paul Harvey thinks of one of his most famous lines, said with a pause and crackly voice: “And now you know the ressst of the story!” Turns out, the rest of Paul Harvey’s story — told now in Paul J. Batura’s first comprehensive portrait of the Norman Vincent Peale of radio — has more to it than a five-minute narrative.
Batura’s timing and tone suggest a eulogy in book form. Harvey died in February at 90 and from page one, Good Day! paints Harvey as a patriotic American brimming with optimism. Unlike the lives of media personalities today which buzz with drama and controversy, Harvey’s story forms a pleasant arc — from rags to riches with few detours into sorrow, until the end.
Though Harvey spent his boyhood battling the Great Depression and plagued by the loss of his father, troublesome times in Tulsa, Oklahoma never led to a troubled spirit. Recollections of his first kiss from a teacher, catching Saturday matinees with his friends, and eating at Ike’s chili parlor seem like they’re from a Norman Rockwell painting. The radio made an early appearance in Harvey’s life and the curious, ambitious boy not only built and sold his own crystal radios, but preferred to listen to the Lowell Thomas and the News daily feature while his friends played baseball outside.
Still, none of the radio personalities Harvey soaked up during childhood were as influential as his high school speech and drama teacher, Isabelle Ronan, who spotted Harvey’s talent for radio. She marched him to the station studios of KVOO, declaring, “This boy needs to be in radio!” The producers agreed. It was during his first stint at KVOO that Harvey — even as a sixteen-year-old –developed his “distinctive voice and crisp elocution, along with his dramatic use of the pause.” Despite being taken off on-air announcing assignments until his teenage acne cleared up (he covered events with live audiences), Harvey learned he loved radio and radio loved him.
After graduation, he bounced from radio station to radio station around the Midwest — wherever he could land a job — broadcasting news, developing his trademarks, and sharpening his journalism skills. This included developing “man on the street” interviews that endeared him to his listeners and separated him from other broadcasters.
Harvey even met his wife, Evelyn “Angel” Cooper at a radio station. With her imaginative talents as a writer and editor, the two became a powerful productive team, his “creative and administrative heartbeat,” that remained strong until her death. It was Angel who recognized Harvey’s on-air talent and thought they should move to Chicago so he could try and make it in the “big time” as a network news commentator. He balked. She persisted. They lived there 64 years; his career would never be the same.
During his first permanent gig at a new station that had been recently renamed ABC, Paul Harvey News was launched as a fifteen-minute, six-days a week news program. Though producers thought the 10:00 P.M. timeslot seemed too late, the Harveys — particularly Angel — persuaded them it was the time Americans were getting their news. It was another career move.
Many times while reading this easy, poignant biography, you can hear Harvey’s voice, booming and melodious, optimistic and satisfying. Nevertheless, there are places the narrative gives way to bubbly clichés. From boyhood to adulthood, his life seems so buoyant the chapters unfolding his success become predictable. Where’s the rest of the story?
The story of Harvey’s political views is well known. More conservative than liberal and more pro-American than partisan, Harvey was outspoken about every major news event from the Vietnam War to post-9/11 understanding of Islam. Described by Batura as a student of the Founding Fathers, Harvey “embraced capitalism and despised anything remotely associated with socialistic policies.” Listeners always got two for the price of one: the reported news event and Harvey’s patriotic commentary take on it. As with many talk radio hosts who mirror Harvey in some form, this only added to his appeal.
It was Harvey’s love of history that spawned his most famous radio creation, what listeners know as the Rest of the Story. Harvey thought “history cheats the history student by telling him the end of the story from the beginning” and the riveting blurbs about famous historical events or people changed that. Even Paul and Angel’s only son, Paul Jr., got in on the act. Though a musician for much of his life, he helped write many of the stories, continued with the family enterprise as his parents failed in health, and was awarded the Edward R. Murrow Award in 2004 for one of the moving stories.
Though Batura originally intended to write a biography specifically about Harvey’s faith, he only devotes one chapter to Harvey’s religious life., Nevertheless, it’s evident that throughout his life, especially as an older man, Harvey valued his Christian faith. His commitment deepened after his baptism in his fifties and was reflected in his lifestyle.
Despite the fact that Batura’s book portrays a life constantly on the upswing, almost too good to be true, it’s easy to see why given the man’s successful career and strong faith. Maybe that is the rest of the story.