The 100th birthday of a radio legend

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Kent Covington pays tribute to a radio pioneer. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

KENT COVINGTON, REPORTER: The name I’m about to speak may not mean much to you at first, but you probably would recognize his voice if you heard it. 

In 2005 P.H. Aurandt flashed a wide smile at a cluster of TV cameras at the White House as President George W. Bush fastened the Presidential Medal of Freedom around his neck. It was a remarkable honor for one of the most influential men in the history of broadcasting.

But that story began 73 years earlier, when a 14-year-old P.H. Aurandt landed his very first job in radio. He got his foot in the door when a high school teacher, impressed with his voice, marched him down to a local radio station and proclaimed to the manager “this boy should be on the radio!” It wasn’t quite that easy. The manager handed him a broom, and for many months, he swept floors, emptied trash cans, and did whatever else was asked of him. But eventually he got his shot behind the microphone, reading advertisements and news copy.

As a younger child, he’d dreamed of that moment. He once built a receiver out of a cigar box and imagined the sound of his own voice pouring out. His love for radio helped keep him focused and away from mischief that might have otherwise ensnared a fatherless teenage boy.

His father, Harrison Aurandt, a police officer, died in a gun battle with robbers years earlier. Young P.H. Aurandt was just three years old when his mother had to sit him down and explain that his father would not be coming home.  

He would later say he was thankful that God led him down the career path at such a young age. He often joked that he fell in love with words and ran away from home to join the radio.

The career he loved would eventually lead him to a radio station in St. Louis, Missouri where he met the other love of his life, a beautiful young woman named Lynne Cooper.

Young Mr. Aurandt was so certain she was the one that he proposed on their very first date. She said yes.

While others knew her as Lynne, he called her “Angel.” They were married in 1940 and they remained married until her death in 2008. He would join her in their eternal home just 9 months later.

P.H. Aurandt’s national news and commentary program hit the airwaves in 1951. And for more than half a century, tens of millions of Americans turned up their radios at the sound of his voice. And there was no mistaking it for another. It was one of a kind. His delivery was precise but warm.

Even in silence his voice was gripping. No one wielded the power of a carefully placed dramatic pause quite like him.

Most of the words he spoke into the microphone he crafted himself, hammered out on his typewriter on large yellow sheets of paper—easy to read on the radio.

He called radio the ultimate visual medium, and that’s the way he wrote—as though every word were an object you could see in front of you or even hold in the palm of your hand.

He was a painter. His words the brushes, the minds of his listeners the canvas. And his portraits still hang in the memories of millions.

While never obscuring the truth, Mr. Aurandt had a way of imagining black and white facts in vivid colors. When FDR died 1945, most journalists commented on the nation’s 32nd president from the usual perspective of a Washington pundit.

Mr. Aurandt, in contrast, penned a reflection titled “A Great Tree has Fallen and Left an Empty Place Against the Sky.” It was told from the point of view of FDR’s dog, a little Scotty named Fala.

Mr. Aurandt was a pro’s pro. Though listeners could not see him, he always dressed as though they could. If you heard his voice, he was sitting up straight behind the microphone, in a collared shirt and a tie. Usually a jacket.

At the height of his Radio Hall of Fame career, reporting for ABC Radio, he spoke to some 24 million listeners on 1,600 radio stations and he became one of the most influential voices in American journalism.

We remember him today because Mr. Aurandt, Mr. Paul Harvey Aurandt, would have turned 100 years old just a few days from now. You know his name and his voice‚ and now you know the rest of the story.

Kent Covington. Good day!

EICHER: OK, good stuff. My mom and dad gave me a “Rest of the Story” book when I was 8 or 9 years old. I loved Paul Harvey and I read the book over and over.

We talk about the difference between writing for the eye and writing for the ear. And Paul Harvey could do both.

When I read that book, I’ll tell you, I could imagine the Paul Harvey voice as I read. He died 10 years ago, and the sound of that voice is burned into my memory.

REICHARD: His voice is so comforting, like hot chocolate on a cold day.  I’ll tell you my favorite Paul Harvey memory. So many times I’d be sitting in the back of my grandpa’s Buick while he listened til the very end of the broadcast. And this line stuck in my mind all these years:  “In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.” Puts things in perspective for me.

EICHER: And Mary, as Kent said, Paul Harvey’s programs helped to shape radio news programming in many ways and was, at least in one respect, influential in what we do here.

REICHARD: Yeah, that’s right. The concept of “the rest of the story” helps us write the kickers, just as an example. Those little vignettes in the middle of the program, where the punchline oftentimes comes at the very end.

EICHER: Right. And we thought you’d enjoy hearing some of Paul Harvey’s work. I think nearly everyone at least old enough to rent a car will remember the iconic lead-in to his newcasts.

HARVEY: Hello, Americans, this is Paul Harvey. Stand by for news.

EICHER: And when you think about a career that lasted more than 70 years, you can just imagine all of the world-changing events he reported and commented on. Here is an excerpt of an ABC Radio broadcast, shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

ANNOUNCER: We take you now to Chicago and Paul Harvey.

HARVEY: Good evening, Americans. We are just never ready for this kind of thing in this country. We deplore the hotheads elsewhere in the world who change governments with guns, but we try to ignore the fact that now four of our own presidents have been cut down by assassins.

It has been such a tremendous welcome at the Dallas airport and all along the parade route that Mrs. Kennedy, who had become perhaps his greatest political asset, turned to her husband and said you can’t say Dallas wasn’t friendly to you.

Moments later in the backseat of that open car, she cradled her husband’s bleeding head in her arms saying “oh no”…

REICHARD: He really understood storytelling, like nobody else. Kent touched on that counterintuitive concept of radio as a visual medium. I want to play this beautiful soundbite of Paul Harvey from a TV profile of him. He said he’d never, ever seen a picture, on television or anywhere else that compares to the pictures the mind can paint.

HARVEY: I think radio is the ultimate visual medium. There is nothing anybody can do on that flat, two-dimension screen, nothing that compares to the phenomenal pictures that are painted by your mind’s eye, stimulated by our beautiful language.

REICHARD: Mind’s eye, beautiful language. Happy birthday, Paul Harvey, and good day.

HARVEY: Paul Harvey. Good day!

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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