Radio legend Paul Harvey died Saturday at the age of 90

The headlines may have gone to more flamboyant radio personalities, the Howard Sterns and Rush Limbaughs of the world. But in raw popularity, Chicago’s Paul Harvey topped them all.

He was the most-listened-to broadcaster in America, whose shows originating from studios at Michigan and Wacker in Chicago were heard by 25 million people every day at the peak of his career.

Radio legend Paul Harvey died Saturday at the age of 90. Harvey was the most listened-to broadcaster in America and his shows were heard by 18 million people every day.

Mr. Harvey, 90, died Saturday at a hospital in Phoenix, where he had a winter home, less than a year after his wife, Lynne “Angel” Harvey, had passed away.

“He was devastated by her loss. It took him a great deal of time to get back on the air,” said Mr. Harvey’s close friend, nationally syndicated radio talk show host Bruce DuMont.

When Mr. Harvey returned, he shared his grief with his listeners.

“He was never the same Paul Harvey,” said DuMont, president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications. “She was the spark, he was the talent. That relationship is now gone forever. It’s tragic.”

“My father and mother created from thin air what one day became radio and television news,” said the couple’s only child, Paul Harvey Jr., who like his parents is in the Radio Hall of Fame. “So in the past year, an industry has lost its godparents, and today millions have lost a friend.”

Heard locally on KFFB 106.1 FM, Mr. Harvey would commute from his River Forest home to his Chicago office, arriving by 4:30 every morning. He wrote his news shows and his staunchly conservative commentary, “Paul Harvey News.”

Paul Harvey Jr. wrote “The Rest of the Story” — a program his father would broadcast.

“Hello, Americans,” Mr. Harvey would say when delivering the show his son wrote. “You know what the news is. In a minute, you’re going to hear the rest of the story.”

In 2000, at age 82, Mr. Harvey signed a 10-year pact worth a reported $100 million, “the biggest deal ever cut with a radio personality,” according to the president of ABC Radio.

Born in Oklahoma in 1918, Mr. Harvey was based in Chicago since the end of World War II. A stretch of Wacker Drive has been given the honorary name “Paul Harvey Drive,” as his studios are nearby.

His programs were carried by 1,200 radio stations, plus an additional 400 stations of American Forces Radio. His syndicated newspaper column was at one time carried in 300 newspapers.

With an audience like that, words that Harvey coined — such as “Reaganomics” and “guesstimate” — have entered into American English. His TV program, “Paul Harvey Comments,” ran from 1968 to 1988 and was syndicated to 100 stations.

Mr. Harvey was never reluctant to go out on a limb. He sent out his “Eisenhower Wins” column two weeks ahead of the election.

Not that he was always right: He predicted that Elvis Presley wouldn’t last a year.

That was a typical call for Mr. Harvey, who made a career of praising Midwestern virtues at the expense of pop culture and the coasts, particularly New York. Appearing before a congressional subcommittee on offensive radio and TV broadcasts in 1952, Mr. Harvey condemned comedians “steeped in the nightlife of bawdy Manhattan” and claimed that their “girdle gags” had forced him “to turn off the radio to keep from blushing in front of my wife.”

He once described his listeners as a “vast, decent, middle-income, middle-IQ audience,” and Mr. Harvey’s politics reflected the right-wing slant of mainstream America.

When Sen. Joseph McCarthy came to Chicago in 1954, he was a guest at Mr. Harvey’s home.

He was born Paul Harvey Aurandt in Tulsa, Okla., the descendent of five generations of Baptist ministers. He got his first job at age 15 on KVOO in Tulsa.

Mr. Harvey attended Tulsa University while continuing to work at KVOO. After graduating, he moved through a variety of stations, ending up at KXOK in St. Louis, where he met his future wife, Lynne Cooper, in 1939. Mr. Harvey proposed to her the day they met, and they married several months later.

Mr. Harvey went to Hawaii to broadcast for the Navy in 1940. He was on a ship, two days out of Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. Back in the States, Mr. Harvey was named director of news and information for the Office of War Information for Michigan and Indiana.

He enlisted in the Air Force and moved to Chicago after receiving a medical discharge in 1944, joining Chicago’s WENR-ABC newsroom.

After President Franklin Roosevelt died, he delivered a famous obituary beginning, “A great tree has fallen. . . .”

In 1955, Mr. Harvey began a syndicated newspaper column, “Paul Harvey News.” He also wrote three popular books in the 1950s: Remember These Things (1952), Autumn of Liberty (1954) and The Rest of the Story (1956).

While generally the voice of Middle America, something of a Reader’s Digest of the air, Mr. Harvey was not unwaveringly so. He voiced opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War as early as 1966.

During his career, Mr. Harvey withstood pressure to dump radio for TV and move to New York or Washington, D.C., DuMont said.

“He wanted to be in Chicago to maintain his connection to Midwestern values,” DuMont said. “He never did a broadcast without a tie and white shirt.”

“The fact that he remained rooted in the Midwest gave him a unique sensibility. But his appeal crossed lines from rural to urban to suburban,” said former Chicago Sun-Times TV and radio columnist Robert Feder.

“The other thing is, he was personally a man of incredible graciousness who never failed to acknowledge a kind word from peers, young journalists and others.”

And, of course, there was that trademark radio voice.

“You’d better be right,” comedian Danny Thomas once told Mr. Harvey, “because you sound like God.”

BY NEIL STEINBERG Sun-Times Columnist AND CHRIS FUSCO Staff Reporter