Dear Ask Doug,
My grandparents are always gushing about some dude on the radio® named “Paul Harvey,” as if I should know who that is. Well, I don’t, and I never have. And when I tell them so they just make little huffing noises through their noses and turn to stare derisively into the middle-distance®.
They’ve also threatened to write me out of their will because of my so-called historical paucities of the first order® and also for something they refer to as generational insolence of the third order®. I don’t get it. Sometimes I wonder if my family is just weird. Anyway, can you tell me Who was this Paul Harvey?, and what was his enduring contribution to Western Civilization®? Also, do you know if it’s possible to sue your own grandparents, and win, without them ever finding out?
—Accused of Insolence in Ipswich
First, I question whether you fully grasp the purposes of a registered trademark symbol. Just a hunch, but I’d hazard the term “Western Civilization” has been used in print before. Also, as a general note, I no longer offer specific legal advice as relates to family squabbles, revokable trusts (or mistrusts), lines of dynastic succession, perpetual right to live in a parent’s basement, etc., so I’m just going to politely ignore those rather too personal aspects of your communication and turn my attention instead to your primary line of inquiry.
Inheritance and copyright laws notwithstanding, I was delighted to receive your question regarding Paul Harvey, as that’s pretty much the subject I had already decided to devote this column to anyway. Perhaps the following knowledge, once mastered, will allow you to finally impress and patch things over with your grandsire and grandame. Please try to pay attention. This is likely going to require a rather long and elaborate explanation, perhaps even split into two parts, with each being more impressive than the last! Let’s begin.
Who Was This Paul Harvey and Why Should You Care?
Beloved radio personality Paul Harvey was a man gifted with a unique voice that, even according to the begrudging praise of his rivals, could “flow over a hot razor like melted butter.” Love him or hate him, listeners always knew who was talking. It was Paul. Paul Harvey. The man who wouldn’t shut up. And people loved him for that.
For a period of 68 consecutive years, there was never a moment when Paul Harvey’s distinctive croon was not bouncing somewhere round the ionosphere, owing to the proliferation of his many programs aired on more than 60,002 stations1. At the height of his career, Harvey was hosting four-hundred-sixty-four daily, syndicated, radio programs and employing an army of seventeen-thousand-fourteen2 researchers, mic technicians, and tongue-harpies (a kind of physical therapist who specializes in loosening the muscles of the lips, mouth and throat; also known as an “LMT Man3,” a “speed bagger4,” a “tonsil donkey,” or a “palette jockey”). Harvey’s staff actually represented a greater population at the time than that of the mysterious territories that were soon to become Wyoming, if you didn’t count the Native Americans5.
Though all of his radio shows were popular, Paul Harvey’s most successful program was the short, human-interest feature named “The Rest Of The Story” in which the “un-peered potentate of the wireless domain6” would relate some little-known bit of history from a clever angle, giving the story an anecdotal twist at the very end of the telling so that listeners would experience that pleasurable aha! moment of connecting the dots to a larger story: “Ah, so that little orphaned chimney sweep with the oddly prehensile toes rose to become the lion of Britain, Winston Churchill,” or “Oh, so the chemical mixture that frustrated housewife threw together in her kitchen sink became the local anesthetic we now know as lidocaine,” or “Well I’ll be blinkered, Jummy! I never knew that old tom on The Little Rascals was actually a dog in a zippered cat suit!”
Listeners loved the program, even forming “Harvey Parlor Clubs” to enjoy the program in the company of fellow Pauly-Philes®, typically while nibbling a bylaw-mandated spread of mashed brazil nuts, curly creamed pork tails, and Flattened Toledo Tea Cakes7, and consuming gallons of the fermented oatmeal drippings popularly referred to as “Van Winkle’s Delight.” These practices now sound like the quaint effervescence (or radioactive decay?) of a more innocent time, but we shouldn’t forget that a generation raised on the program spent their childhoods acting out Harvey’s colorful anecdotes, and slapping one another in the face before shouting “Now you know the rest of the story, Jack!”
In fact, the generation that came of age between the turbulence of the idealistic but ill-advised, 1952 “Cub Scout Coup8” and the hopeful advent of the two-fisted-sippy-cup9 in 1974 were generally so shaped by the broadcasts they came to be collectively referred to by sociologists as “The Harvey Quints,” though, of course, there were in actuality more than five of them10.
After forty-two years of continuous “The Rest of the Story” broadcasts however, the constant acquisition of new material became an ongoing problem for Harvey’s research team. There simply wasn’t enough history that had happened yet at that time11 to continue to sustain entirely new episodes of the show.
Unbeknownst to Harvey, his staff began at that time to cleverly alloy fictitious elements with stories that were mostly true, finding that this little trick would afford them opportunity to repurpose episodes Harvey (whose memory spanned no more than ten years12) had broadcast decades earlier. The war13 was on at the time, and with so much attention diverted elsewhere, the “unsustainable ruse bound to eventually break the heart of the whole world®” actually succeeded for several “happy, golden, deluded years®.”
And on that relatively pleasant note I feel we should hit pause, affording you a week or two to digest the happier half of this sad recounting, before we don our metaphorical14 mud-boots and wade into the fetid, sloshy murk ever stagnating within the seedy underbelly of broadcast history® to explore the inevitable downfall of that seemingly innocent and gilded age and of her most noble figurehead, Mr. Harvey and of the small, Spanish goat he was never seen without15. It is not a pretty tale, but perhaps it is at least one from which you might glean the fruit of some very heavy-handed moralizing. Honestly, I still can’t believe you’re thinking of suing your own grandparents. I’m trying to tell this story, but almost the whole time, that’s all I’ve been thinking about.
End, Part the First
- The actual number was 60,003.
- The actual number was 17,015. Not sure why I didn’t just write that and skip the footnote.
- This is not a sexist term, as a woman so employed was also called an “LMT Man.”
- A reference to the shape of the uvula hanging in the back of the throat.
- Which almost no-one ever did.
- The term Harvey most often used in conversation with friends when referring to himself in third-person.
- Technically neither a cake nor originating in Toledo, but who cares, right? Those things were delicious!
- Quashed by The Den Mothers in a brutal, six-day purge.
- Hopeful till scientists determined that babies were still going to drop things no matter how many handles they had.
The actual number was something like 39 million. The literal “Harvey Quints,” as everyone knows, were nothing but a disappointment, being “decidedly non-photogenic” even as babies, and “not a one of them ever accomplishing a single notable thing” save the headlines they briefly grabbed for their tabloid-fodder claim that one of them, Warvy the Elder (owing to the confusion engendered by look-alike infants it was at first thought that there were only four of them. Some years later when the children were re-counted and the mistake uncovered, it was simpler to assign one name to two of the quints than to refile the mountains of paperwork required by the Multiple Births Act of 18-Ought-Nine). Where were we..? Here: The remaining siblings insisted that Warvy the Elder had been abducted by aliens while ice fishing in Idaho. At first such seemingly outlandish claims were ridiculed and dismissed. Not until 1981 did evidence emerge supporting their mournful assertions of extraterrestrial involvement, but by then it was too late. The public had long since soured on the Harvey Quints (now buying into the conspiracy theory that there had only been four of them all along, and that it was actually the later count that had been erroneous) and, at any rate, the remaining four had by then also vanished under strange circumstance and with little outcry or news coverage (this, even though it had happened live on national television as they sat behind the podium during Ronald Reagan’s inauguration ceremony!)
And now you know… THE REST OF THE STORY!
- Historians estimate that 95% of humankind’s history has occurred in roughly the last 75 years, beginning more or less with WW2. And in fact, a quick review of programming on The History Channel will indicate that events surrounding WW2 account for at least 79% of our known history, and that of that 79%, roughly 84% of it repeats in some form the simple assertion that Nazis were bad.
- Though he had the uncanny ability to periodically choose which ten years.
- I forget which one.
- Metaphorical in the most literal sense.
Though we may opt to gloss over or simply ignore this part, as Harvey’s “constant goat” is a rumor never proven, and most likely one of the false half-truths his staff were responsible for fostering. It is more likely that at a certain point in his life Harvey had simply seen a goat, probably from a great distance. Still, visitors to Harvey’s old broadcast booth even to this day sometimes report hearing a ghostly bleat that seems to echo, not just around them, but through their very bones! And that bleat, some have said, bears a distinctly Spanish accent!
So now you know…THE REST OF ANOTHER STORY TOO, though this one is most likely false.
Doug participated in the early work of Charlie Peacock’s Art House Foundation, an organization dedicated to a shared exploration of faith and the arts. In the decades since, he has worked as an author, song lyricist, scriptwriter, and video director. He has penned more than 350 lyrics recorded by a variety of artists including Switchfoot, Kenny Rogers, Sanctus Real, and Jason Gray. His newest book is Every Moment Holy (Rabbit Room Press). His other works include The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog (illustrated by Zach Franzen), The Wishes of the Fish King (illustrated by Jamin Still), Subjects with Objects (with Jonathan Richter), and Stories We Shared: A Family Book Journal (with Jamin Still).