Forget Cronkite: Paul Harvey Is the Biggest Newscaster in America, and Getting Bigger
It is 7:28 a.m. in Chicago, and the dawn is exploring Wacker Drive, where the American Broadcasting Company’s Midwest radio headquarters is located. In Studio Two, a tall, bulky man in razor-pressed brown trousers, a Pierre Cardin necktie and rimless eyeglasses sits down before a microphone and shuffles through a sheaf of typewritten pages. Within a few moments he is going through a series of vocal warm-ups that contort his deeply seamed face. “Tee-da-ta-tee.” “Nang-nang-a-nang.” In the control room, engineer Bob Benninghof marvels, “Isn’t he amazing? How many big news guys still write their own material?” Precisely at 7:30 the on-the-air signal flashes, and Paul Harvey’s voice rings out across the country, loud, clear and staccato: “Good Morning! Americans!…Stand by for news…”
Five million Americans do as they are told, standing by in farmhouse kitchens, in automobiles enroute home from the lobster shift, in front of shaving mirrors, in warm beds. The news that Harvey delivers to 818 U.S. radio stations and more than 400 Armed Forces transmitters abroad is a curious mix of headlines from wire service reports, human-interest stories, boilerplate trivia that would be used as column filler in most newspapers, homespun jokes, tidbits from the morning mail and personal opinions that usually yaw far to the political right.
The items are measured out…in a burst of words…and pauses…that have become the Harvey trademark. He opens the program with the announcement of some changes the new pope will be making, quotes his old friend Billy Graham from Poland saying that Christianity is faring better behind the Iron Curtain, then adds his own comment: “You can’t…turn out…THAT light.”
The poignant story of a blind, ailing resident of Dennison, Texas follows: She “deeded over her little house to her son…to be kind…to save him inheritance taxes…only to have him die…and his heirs kick her out.” In the middle of the five-minute newscast Harvey sandwiches in a commercial, written by him too. He urges his listeners to buy a sponsor’s tire “for your family’s sake…please.”
As he talks, Harvey chops the air, using his open palm like a metronome, timing each dramatic pause, each vocal crescendo. He reads the day’s “bumper snicker” sent in by a listener from Silver City, N.M.: “Save our kids…Bus…the judges!” And finally, with seconds to go, he signs off: “Paul Harvey…Goooooood Day!”
Harvey’s day normally begins at 3:45 a.m. when he wakes up in his 27-room mansion in suburban River Forest. By 3:58 a.m. he is in the pink breakfast room digging into a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with bran dust, chased with glasses of orange and apple juice and a handful of vitamins and minerals, including a large capsule of garlic oil. Off the air as well as on, Paul Harvey’s words come out in pontifical phrases. Papa Bear addresses his porridge: “This…is too hot!” Carrying his dishes to the sink, Harvey picks up his diet lunch, packed in a chic Elizabeth Arden shopping bag, and heads for a limousine purring at the curb. As it speeds him 11 miles to the studio he flips through the pages of U.S. News & World Report, scarcely pausing to read. “I scan fast,” he explains. “The only time I have to read…is in transit.”
Arriving at 4:23 Harvey unlocks the studio doors, changes into an Ultra-suede shirt, plugs in the coffee pot—filled with Kava, his sponsor for nearly five years—and gathers up the coils of AP and UPI teletype copy from the wireroom floor. Returning to his office, he begins to piece his newscast together. As he reads, he mutters: “Oh, my goodness…Betty Ford is certainly…refreshingly candid…Doggone…I just realized…this is the first time I’ve ever been older than a pope!” By 5:14 he has an outline ready and turns to a typewriter to punch out his script—a single page for each two-or three-sentence item, with his trademark ellipses included. By 6:31 he is finished and turns to other chores. One is his daily TV commentary, syndicated by Harvey’s Paulynne Productions in three-and-a-half-minute and 90-second versions to 120 stations. He also writes a three-times-a-week column (300 newspapers, many in small towns). Added to this grind are upwards of 100 speeches (at a nonnegotiable $12,000 apiece) and work on his books (seven so far). As if that were not enough, Harvey will appear once a week as a regular commentator on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America beginning January 31.
This frenzied schedule has established Paul Harvey, at 60, as the most popular individual on radio and TV in America. More than 11 million listen to his radio programs daily and 30 million households watch his telecasts. Harvey’s annual income is in excess of $2 million—conceivably as much as the earnings of Barbara Walters, Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace put together. In late 1944, when Harvey made his first network broadcast, Barbara Walters was 13, Cronkite was a European war correspondent for UP, and Wallace was serving in the Navy.
At 7:51 Harvey drinks a mug of instant soup, the first of two lunches. The second—coffee yogurt, a scoop of cottage cheese, raw cashews and apple sauce—is set for 11:08, before he leaves to tape his TV commentaries. Such Spartan consumption, plus daily jogging, has pared 50 pounds off Harvey’s once-blimpish figure. He is 6’2″, 180 pounds. Preparing for TV, he shaves again with an electric razor and indulges in some kittenish banter with June Westgaard, chief of staff of four secretaries who handle the Harvey correspondence and research. She is also arbiter of his speaking schedule. “Come on, let me go,” he pleads. “Medical people are so nice. Pretty please.” Westgaard is stern: “No, you just can’t.” Harvey wants to accept an invitation to address a Georgia doctors’ convention, but she points to his schedule that week: back-to-back speeches in Las Vegas, requiring that he originate his broadcast from there and get up at 1:45 a.m., two hours earlier than usual; the next day lunch in Kansas City, dinner in Philadelphia, and, on the third day, another speech in Lake Charles, La. “But the medical people are Friday night, Miss Westgaard,” Harvey cajoles. “I can sleep late Saturday.” Westgaard yields, but when she calls the doctors, they are already talking to Cronkite. Paul howls in anguish.
Precisely at 11:30 Harvey heads for his limo and the Catholic Television Network, where “Angel,” 60ish, his wife of 38 years, is waiting with a change of clothes and his TV-only toupee. Angel, born Lynne Cooper, the daughter of a socially prominent St. Louis family, met Harvey, born Paul Aurandt, the son of a Tulsa cop, in 1940. (“Harvey is easier to spell and pronounce,” Paul says of his name change.) The scene was the elevator of a St. Louis radio station where he was a fledgling announcer and she a student teacher who made radio spots on education. She accepted Paul’s brash invitation to drive him to the airport in her snazzy white Nash Lafayette, and he proposed that same evening. Angel accepted—but not until her family had checked out the credentials of Paul’s widowed mother. His father had died heroically in a Bonnie-and-Clyde-like shootout which was played big in Tulsa newspapers during Christmas week, 1921, when Paul was 3. His mother supported him and his sister through the Depression by renting rooms. Paul and Angel (the nickname he gave her the day they met) were married three months later.
Angel is a shrewd businesswoman who has made a full-time career of promoting Paul Harvey. It was Angel who decided in 1944 that they should head for the big time in Chicago. It was Angel who talked an ad agency into putting The Paul Harvey News on network radio. And it has been Angel, over the years, who has masterminded, promoted and edited Paul’s books—mostly collections of mini-essays distilled from his radio commentaries. They have proved to be a lucrative sideline. Angel acts as her husband’s agent and runs Paulynne Productions from the third floor of their home, with the aid of a staff of three. Recently their only child, Paul Aurandt, 30, a talented pianist, gave up a concert career to work full time with his mother as an editor and writer. Angel scrutinizes all bottom lines and occasionally exercises a velvet-glove influence on her husband’s editorial judgments.
During the Vietnam war, she helped persuade her son to become a conscientious objector and her husband to make an astonishing about-face on the air. Until the late ’60s, Harvey was a belligerent hawk. Then on May 1, 1970, he made a celebrated broadcast, addressing himself to Richard Nixon: “Mr. President, I love you…but you’re wrong.” The dramatic switch to dove was talked out at the family dining room table, brought 24,000 letters and thousands of telephone calls and, says Harvey, “by the time I got back to the office, the White House was on the phone.”
Such a reversal is unusual for Harvey, who almost never admits he has been wrong. And he can be. Occasionally he misinterprets the headlines relayed on the news service wires, not bothering to read deeper into the stories. His generally conservative views have earned him the title, “Voice of the Silent Majority.” They also made him a serious contender for the Vice-Presidential nomination in George Wallace’s 1968 campaign (Air Force General Curtis LeMay beat him out). Harvey stridently defended the Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s (“I was not a fan of Joe McCarthy…but of McCarthyism”). He says of Richard Nixon and Watergate, “Five years ago the news media overthrew the United States government.” Free enterprise inspires him as much as welfare dismays him. (“If this magnificent republic…should go down in red ink…it will go down screaming…’Help Wanted!’ “) Harvey inveighs against government spending (“Politicians can still buy our vote…with our own money”), drugs, drinking (although he likes wine himself), smoking, promiscuity and the IRS.
The Chicago press mercilessly ridiculed the broadcaster when he tried one midnight in 1951 to climb the wall of the Argonne National Laboratory where nuclear research was in progress. Harvey was caught. A grand jury investigated but threw out the case when a naval intelligence officer swore he had been informed ahead of time by Harvey that he would be testing lax security at the installation. The press also raised an embarrassing question during the furor. Why was Harvey given a medical discharge from the Army in World War II just three months after enlisting? He had signed up, Harvey says, under the impression he was to be an Air Corps cadet, and instead was consigned to the infantry. An argument with the brass ensued, and “I was thrown out of the Army. It was an honorable medical discharge…There was a little training accident…a minor cut on the obstacle course…” His critics claim he was given a psychiatric discharge for deliberately wounding himself in the heel. He angrily denies the accusation, but is vague about certain details: “I don’t recall seeing anyone I knew who was a psychiatrist…I cannot tell you the exact wording on my discharge.”
At 1 p.m. exactly Paul Harvey’s working day ends; he has taped 10 TV commentaries with only one retake. He and Angel leave the studio hand in hand. Back in River Forest, he puts on a red-white-and-blue warmup suit and jogs through the streets for an hour. Promptly at 6 p.m. dinner (crown roast of lamb) is served in the rose-colored dining room. Paul Jr. and Tanya, his wife of two years, join the family, from their 14-room Tudor house next door. By 7:30 the day is over, and the senior Harveys retire to their bedroom—with pink moiré walls and a specially commissioned “Wedding Ring” quilt on the bed, autographed by their “closest friends,” including Richard M. Nixon, Bess Truman, Jack Benny and Oral Roberts. By 8 p.m. the lights are out. Paul Harvey…Gooooooood Night.