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He’s been called the most listened to man in America. Paul Harvey’s unique delivery, style and story-telling skill set him apart in broadcasting.
After paying his dues and impressing his bosses and audiences in St. Louis and Chicago, Harvey got a crack at a national audience. For more than 50 years, his news and comments broadcasts entertained and informed America.
Still the No. 1 radio personality at age 90, he died last week. While the broadcasts will continue with new voices, including his son and frequent stand-in, many people who listened regularly or occasionally feel as if something has been lost.
More than 15 years ago, Paul Harvey’s radio broadcasts brushed across my path. If Andy Warhol’s famous expression that “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes” then I owe about three of my minutes to Paul Harvey.
Early on a Friday morning, my home phone rang. A co-worker excitedly relayed the news.
“You were just on Paul Harvey!”
Listeners may recall that after providing his unique prospective on the day’s top stories and some obscure headlines, Harvey would recognize milestone anniversaries and close his broadcast with a segment called “The For What It’s Worth Department.”
Four days earlier the Messenger-Inquirer, an Owensboro daily newspaper where I worked, carried a column that I had written about a runaway sparrow that found its way into the newspaper’s office.
The bird swooped from the newsroom to the production area across advertising and back again. It seemed to fly faster and more erratically as the screeches and shouts of startled and frightened employees greeted its various turns and dives.
Into that fray, the chief photographer and I set out to rid the office of this unwelcome guest. While it was quite disruptive to the workflow, the bird itself was just an innocent creature on a confused pursuit for freedom.
Armed with little more than a broom and a trash can, we set out with no real plan, only a goal in mind.
The bird continued its misguided ventures around the building as our growing band of volunteers tried to corral it.
Eventually, the exhausted avian went to the ground behind a couch positioned next to a picture window. The poor bird could see the outside but couldn’t quite grasp why he was unable to escape.
Somehow, I managed to slip the inverted trash can over the bird like a plastic net. Sliding a piece of cardboard under the can, I contained the bird while this group marched outside to set it free.
As the rescue team stood in a semicircle, I lifted the trash can.
Nothing happened for a moment. Our captive seemed a little dazed by the daylight and its newfound audience. Then suddenly it flew about 3 feet straight up and perched on my pants in the general vicinity of my zipper.
Now the bird was free but I had become the captive. Hopping up and down I shouted, “Get off of there! Get off of there!”
Eventually, the bird went on its way. Although startled, I suffered no pain or injury – except perhaps to my pride as the co-workers found it quite funny.
I relayed the story and some of their less-than-polite remarks in the newspaper column.
Somehow in those days before e-mail and Web pages, Paul Harvey got his hands on that article. Someone, I never found out who, had laughed hard enough to consider clipping the story and sending it to Mr. Harvey in Chicago by way of the U.S. Postal Service.
Less than a week after setting the bird free, Paul Harvey made it sound like an eagle had landed on my crotch. His special prolonged pauses built the tension as he told the story to all of America.
I never met Paul Harvey. I never said thank you for my three minutes of fame. Somewhere in one of my moves, I lost the tape that the local radio station made for me.
On that occasion, thanks to Paul Harvey, it was a “Good Day.”
Ben Sheroan is general manager of The LaRue County Herald News.