Monday, March 2, 2009

Stand by... for news

Paul Harvey, arguably one of the most popular radio commentators of all time, has died.

His entire career, indeed his whole life, was filled with the kind of surprises, twists, and hidden with small details which when put together would have made for a fantastic Paul Harvey broadcast.

Harvey's distinctive halting pauses in his delivery were only a part of his magic for me. Yeah he was just about as conservative as he could get, but when I was a pre-teen in Pennsylvania, his politics were insignificant.

I would find myself pulled inside every beautiful summer day when his steady, deep voice and staccato delivery would thrill me. His was a regular segment on the noon TV news shown on a syndicate station out of Johnstown, PA. There was Baby Snooks lying on her belly, sprawled out on the floor in front of the family console TV, hanging on his every word in what must have been a three to five minute segment. All I could see was this gentle man who had an interesting spin on the day's news and a special way of telling a story.

With him I learned about wildfires in California, earthquakes in Asia, and the Love Canal environmental disaster in New York. With each of these stories he managed to not only tell me the facts of the event, but the emphasis was on the people who were in the middle of these tragedies.

In later years he enthralled me with his folksy "Rest of the Story" broadcasts. It was a special treat to listen as he described someone's humble beginnings and less than stellar circumstances only to find out after a his signature pause that the focus of the story was a famous person.

Suddenly two things would happen, not only had I gained a newfound respect for another human being, but I also learned that even powerful people very frequently start with ordinary lives, and that I too could grow up to be anything I want. "And now," he would conclude... caressing each syllable, "you know the rest of the story."

His broadcasts would uplift me, giving me hope and optimism that the world wasn't as bad as it seemed... that sometimes what we didn't know about a person was much more important than what we did know. Even the stories about people I didn't like would give me respect for that person. This probably is the basis of my belief that every person has some bit of good in them... maybe you have to dig deep to find it, learn more about them to see it... but it is there.

Actually if you think about it, Paul was the first pre-Internet blogger. He would pull a story from whatever source he had available to him, put his own spin and storytelling style onto it, then deliver it to the world in his own voice, with his emotions behind it. The story was still news, but it was a different thing than everyone else was reporting... it was the story behind the story.

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