Monday, March 2, 2009

Paul Harvey (1918-2009)

I didn’t grow up listening to Paul Harvey, though surely he was on the radio all the time. Our family didn’t listen to the radio, except for the occasional baseball game or an hour or two of Contemporary Christian. But when I started college I had an elderly professor in New Testament Studies who often would use the famous ‘And that’s the rest of the story,’ after literally filling in historical gaps left by the Bible’s authors.

Perhaps it was only due to a new relevance, but I started hearing Paul Harvey all the time. His voi
ce was the perfect for the radio, and he always entertained me with tales of the real Johnny Appleseed or some other slightly obscure historical figure. Up until the last few years, I’d frequently catch him every now and then and smile to myself.

What I didn’t realize until the past few days is how much of an effect Harvey’s delivery had on my own storytelling. I’ve always been more prone to forming short pieces that try to surprise the reader at the conclusion, and I’d mostly based this affinity on my love of old television shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. But just as much, if not more, came from the two-minut
e pieces that Harvey narrated each afternoon. He always kept the audience’s attention and gave them a little surprise at the end. It became part of my way of thinking without realizing it consciously.

And his brand of radio reminded me of my grandparents and their view of the world. However, not the conservative view that annoys most young people when dealing with their elders, but the magical sort feeling I would get listening to stories about their childhoods. Yet Harvey also reminded me of the more serious conversations I had with my grandfather concerning his time as a POW in World War II. It’s not that his broadcasts were about these subjects, only that listening to him put my mind in a similar place.

I grew up well after the age of radio. My family was more apt to listen to a cassette than anything else when driving, and for most of my youth we lived in a smaller town. But I feel very lucky that in my young adulthood, I’ve been exposed to the sorts of conventions that have made me more appreciative of the medium. I’ve learned quite a bit at the same time too.

I can’t remember the last time I heard Paul Harvey on the radio, and I’m not sure that I ever missed his show as much as I was merely delighted to hear it. But he did more for my sense of storytelling than most would guess, and the world will probably miss him much more than they would guess too.

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