The rest of the story
In memory of Tulsa's national radio icon Paul Harvey, TulsaPeople remembers his exclusive interview with us from March 1994.
Isabelle Ronan is not a famous person, but she made a giant contribution to broadcasting one day back in 1934.
It was on that opportune day that the noted Tulsa Central High School speech teacher took a 14-year-old student to the Philtower studios of KVOO Radio in Tulsa. She told the station’s news director “this young man should be on the radio.”
The career of Paul Harvey Aurandt was born that day, and, as he might say, the “rest of the story” is broadcasting history.
Today, Tulsa born and reared Paul Harvey stands tall at the pinnacle of radio news as the most listened-to radio personality in the United States. The number one rated broadcaster in network radio, his daily programs- “Paul Harvey News & Comment” and “The Rest Of The Story” are heard by an audience of 24 million listeners each week. His broadcast fame also triggered a syndicated newspaper column which is carried weekly in over 300 U.S. papers.
Harvey will return to his hometown on March 15th to keynote the Salvation Army Annual Dinner at the Adam’s Mark Hotel.
It is a trip he is eagerly awaiting.
“I’m looking forward to exploring the ‘new’ Tulsa,” he said from his Chicago office. “I will come to Tulsa with a perspective that goes all the way back to the trolley days. I remember when the tallest building in town was the Philtower and no one thought there would ever be one taller.”
Paul Harvey Aurandt remembers his early years in Tulsa with mixed emotions. His father, Harry, was a “dirt street lawman” who was killed in the line of duty when his son was three years old. Paul and his older sister, Frances, were raised by a loving, strong-willed mother.
“We were poor, but I never really felt poor,” he recalls. “I know we were like most families in the 1930s. My formative years were tremendously affected by the Depression; like others, I was strongly motivated by self-improvement.”
Harvey remembers always being in love with radio.
“Radio then is what television is today. I remember making crystal set radios in cigar boxes, and selling them to my friends. Then in high school, my dear speech teacher Isabelle Ronan took me to KVOO. I’ve been in broadcasting since- never had an honest job.”
Harvey was one of 1,188 graduates in the Class of 1936 at Tulsa Central, then the city’s only high school. As one would guess, he made his mark in speech classes taught by the inspiring Ronan, who a few years later mentored another famous Central grad, the actor Tony Randall.
“I remember Paul in our speech classes,” says Donald Church, a boyhood friend and now a retired Tulsa attorney. “He was well liked, a pleasant guy, and a fine upright person.
“I most remember he had a very distinctive and dramatic speaking style even then. He had a unique variance in his voice pitch and timing, and he was able to use dramatic pauses. He also used gestures and would move around on the stage, unlike most of us who stood in one place. Paul wasn’t afraid to engage in a different style. And he seemed very focused and serious about his speech work.”
Church said Harvey was like many Central students during the early 1930s. “Most of us had to work and attend school. We didn’t have the time or the money to do much socializing. I remember Paul as very industrious.”
The Tulsan says he has not crossed paths with his famous classmate since leaving Central, but has enjoyed following Harvey’s successful career.
“I’ve always thought well of Paul, and enjoyed hearing and reading about his accolades. He has achieved the most recognition of anyone in our class, and I think he’s done it with talent, hard work and focus.”
Ed Neibling, another friend and classmate of Harvey’s at Central, remembers the last time the broadcaster came to Tulsa for a Tulsa Boys Home benefit.
“I admired the way he treated his former teacher Isabelle Ronan. He arranged for her to sit on the front row, and he spoke highly of her, giving her much credit for his early speech training.”
Neibling, who worked for KTUL radio and later TV for 42 years before retiring, said Harvey achieved success because “he a great reporter and has a magnificent voice. I’m proud of him.”
A career that began at KVOO later took the Tulsan to KXOX in St. Louis and ultimately Chicago in the early 1950s.
The highlight of his St. Louis years was meeting and marrying Lynne, his wife of 53 years whom he affectionately refers to as “Angel.”
Paul Harvey’s broadcasting work is a family business. Angel is the general manager, while son, Paul, Jr., writes “The Rest Of The Story” segments. Mother and son have also assisted the radio newsman in compiling four books.
Today, Paul Harvey’s five-minute morning and 15 minute midday “News & Comment” programs are aired weekdays and Saturday over the ABC Radio Network. The five-minute “The Rest Of The Story program is broadcast weekday afternoons and Saturday.
It all makes for a very busy, fulfilling life for the radio legend.
“I grew up in radio and still get up every morning with enthusiasm,” he says in his signature voice.
Harvey leaves his suburban River Forest home and arrives at his ABC office in downtown Chicago each morning at 3 a.m.
“I immediately start sorting telegrams, faces and wire service reports. I’m like a prospector looking for gold dust, finding a nugget every now and then.”
Those “nuggets” of news are the Paul Harvey trademark. As is his ability to “paint pictures with words” for his millions of faithful listeners.
He remains modest about his success.
“Radio is the only thing I can do. I certainly don’t want to play golf, knowing the way I play. I’m a word merchant who tries to explain the news to people. That’s all.”
When not working, Harvey does enjoy playing golf, usually with his son, occasionally with friends, including the Rev. Billy Graham, a longtime favorite.
The family also enjoys spending time together at two getaway retreats- a Mississippi River farm near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a new home built on the Biltmore Country Club in Phoenix.
Hobbies include flying- he’s a single and multi-engine rated pilot. “I recently received an award from the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I would love to go there and fly an open-air plane or one of the old war birds.”
He is also a recent student of skydiving with three jumps under his belt. “If you live long enough you learn youth is more fun the second time around.”
He scoffs at the thought of retirement.
“Retire? I believe when the car’s running you just keep going. I’ll retire when I find anything that’s more fun than what I’m doing.”
June Westgaard, his secretary for 25 years, likes her boss’s optimism, sincerity, and the fact he is a true gentleman.
“Paul Harvey’s attitude is always that tomorrow will be better than yesterday,” she says. “And he’s very humble. I know he has the greatest respect for his mother who raised him and his sister in a very difficult time. He admired her and was very good to her.”
Westgaard says the newsman prides himself in being able to condense the news into “shirtsleeve English” for his listeners. “He likes to say he ‘shucks it down to the cob’ for them.”
Harvey is pleased to be coming home to Tulsa to help the Salvation Army.
“As a product of the Depression, I grew up with a tremendous amount of admiration for the Salvation Army- so many people depended on them. I truly admire the selfless service of Salvation Army staff and volunteers. Angel is on the board of the Salvation Army in Chicago- her favorite of all charitable organizations- and we frequently worship at the Salvation Army Citadel in Norridge when we are at our home base in Chicago.
“I’m anxious to get back to Tulsa for a visit. Tulsa’s been a good springboard for a lot of wonderful folk- many who have accomplished a great deal.”
None, arguably, more than a member of the Tulsa Central Class of 1936 who could easily write a “Rest Of The Story” piece on himself.
His name is Paul Harvey.