Letter from the Editor

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Good day.

In the end, the voices of our youth count for something.

There is a certain sense of mortality in the passing of the voices you grew up with. You know - the voices you would know anywhere, instantly, for as long as you live. Voices nearly as familiar as a member of your family. What was that voice for you?

For me, it seems like they were silenced at an alarming rate; a reality of time and fate, I suppose. There will be no more of Mr. Rogers' soothing words from the Neighborhood, Johnny Carson's sprightly midwest twang, trustworthy tomes of Walter Cronkite, acidic Howard Cosell insults on Monday Night Football, Jim Hensen's gentle voicing of Kermit the Frog, or even Curt Colbain's more recent grungy depression chic howling, or the excited "crikey!" of the Crocodile Hunter.

Paul Harvey was one of those voices you'd know anywhere, and I was genuinely sad when I heard that he had passed away, at the age of 90 - sadder than I would have expected to be.

Unlike many of the tributes that are undoubtedly being written or recorded, I don't have any touching irony to bring to the moment. I never met the man, I generally jab the button and skip over radio talk, and unlike many, I can't recall any particular homey story of his or quaint turn of a phrase that changed my life or my way of thinking.

Instead, I remember the voice. I guess I grew up with it. He was just always there - I clearly recall my grandparents listening to Paul Harvey when I was small. Me, I could never guess who the "Rest of the Story" stories were about - I didn't have enough history to go on yet, so I always had to sit through that interminable commercial to get the revolation; who an ill-fated kid had somehow grown up to be, only to find out I didn't know who the heck he was talking about anyway. "And now, the best-selling mystery writer who tried to get away.... with... mur... der!"

On the drives back and forth to college, he would be there on the radio in passing, a familiar hum helping me to keep my tired eyes pried open for a few more miles, with some ridiculous and utterly unlikely twisted little story of the variety you would never ever hear if not for him.

I can't count the number of times that I've made a call at work and found his voice on the other end while waiting on "hold." Just always there. Of late, I kind of associate him with scratchy little pieces of hair on my neck and the smell of perm solution - since my wonderful and long-suffering haircutter Nancy and I have standing noon hour appointment every three weeks stretching back about 10 years. We usually find something to laugh about as the radio perched above her barber chair bleats out Mr. Harvey.

I can't say I agree with some of his politics - but then again if you need FM radio to formulate your beliefs, you are probably in serious trouble to begin with. I know he has been a warhawk, and at times some have felt his statements to be racially devisive. The way he shamelessly peddled sponsor products as part of the "news" isn't exactly considered journalistic integrity.

Still, I was stunned by the depth of the discontent expressed following his death. I looked at one popular blogsite with scores of people leaving obituary comments. A few spoke of his pioneering stature in talk media and enduring appeal, but a whole lot said things like, "should have been put out to pasture decades ago," "King of the Rubes," "RIP roach-powder pimp," "nutjob," "wacko", "evil," "right-wing stooge," "an ally of power and a shallow moralizer," "a leech... slimy... with no integrity," "hypocrite pig," "Limbaugh Lite," "compulsive liar," lots of things I can't and won't repeat here, and even a couple of "hope you burn in hells."

That seems pretty disrespectful, no matter how you felt about a man's politics. When did we get that rude that we can't muster a kind comment on someone's passing?

Perhaps Paul Harvey wasn't a media sophisticate, and he never even pretended to be objective. He certainly wasn't liberal, often unrealistically optimistic. But that's why radios come with knobs - if you don't like it, turn it off.

When I've done a career for what - 60-some years? - and put my thoughts out there to be critiqued by anyone and everyone tirelessly every day of the year, then maybe I'll have the right to presume to pass judgement on those who came into journalism before me.

In the meantime, I'll recall that you don't last 60 years in competitive media and get offered a 10-year contract in your 80s without striking some chord. There must be something in Tru-Valu Hardware and old-fashioned morality and offbeat little stories that appeals to America.

I find it hard to grasp the reality of never hearing that voice again. And it won't be the politics of it that I remember, but the stage presence...

The drawing out of the words like a painter might smear a dab of cyan to stretch all the way across a canvas sky. The long... iconic... pauses... that would put Captain Kirk to shame. The man could insert a tear into his voice, or a shard of shame for some disapproved act being reported, but his very best was that upclimbing chuckle he could put into his voice. I don't know that I've heard anyone else do that.

You could try to hate the man, as some kind of outdated Norman Rockwellesque bumpkin or radical right mouthpiece, if you want. You could try to hate him for his opinions, but that voice just won't let you do it.

For me, many times, it took me back to a childhood kitchen table with my grandparents, long gone. So thanks for those memories, Paul, and good day to you, too.