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Paul Harvey: In Memoriam

March 6, 2009

Last Saturday, February 28th, legendary radio host Paul Harvey passed away here in Phoenix, where he spent a few months each winter. I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Harvey, and a nicer, kinder, more elegant gentleman I have yet to meet in my life. While unusual for this column, on the occasion of his passing I am going to vary from the usual format this week in order to share some personal reminiscences of my relationship with Mr. Harvey.

I was first introduced to Mr. Harvey in name only, a number of years ago, by a mutual friend. Subsequent to our introduction, Mr. Harvey would periodically mention "Mr. Modem" during his radio broadcasts, particularly in conjunction with several books I had out around that time. Each time Mr. Harvey mentioned my books, I would immediately begin receiving email from listeners worldwide who heard it, and book sales would spike. And for one brief period of time -- okay, one VERY brief period of time -- I had the number one book on, thanks to Mr. Harvey.

Iíll always be grateful for his generous comments and support. He didn't have to say anything about me or my books, of course. His radio sponsors paid enormous sums of money for his folksy, conversational style of product promotion -- something I could never have afforded -- yet he and his wife, Angel, read my books and weekly newsletter, enjoyed them, and without any fanfare, nor any advanced notice, he would occasionally wax expansive about "Mr. Modem" to his listeners in his unique style of personal endorsement. It was Mr. Harvey who first described me on the air as "taking the gobbledygook out of computers," then graciously gave me his permission to use that quote and audio clip from his broadcast. It was a tremendous gift to me and it opened a lot of doors and created many opportunities.

Several years ago, knowing that I was going to be in Chicago as part of a promotional book tour, Mr. Harvey invited me to his office and broadcast studio at 333 N. Michigan Avenue.

Upon arrival, I was taken to the appropriate floor where I met his executive assistant of many years, June Westgaard. After chatting for a few minutes with June, I was escorted into the inner sanctum. From behind a large, mahogany desk, with a panoramic view of the city of Chicago behind him, was The Man. The Voice. The impeccably attired, Mr. Harvey.

I had never met him in person prior to that occasion, but his warmth and sincerity made me feel like I had known him for years.

We spent some time talking, during which he showed me around his magnificent offices. Paul Harvey News occupied the entire floor of a very large office building. It was furnished beautifully, not unlike the concierge floor of a five-star hotel, and the space was reflective of his demeanor: Quiet, dignified, a welcome refuge from the noise of the city and the teeming humanity below. As I recall, there were only four or five people on the entire floor, all of whom had worked for Mr. Harvey for many years.

On the walls throughout the office were framed, autographed pictures of Mr. Harvey with celebrities, world leaders, politicians and U.S. presidents from Eisenhower through the then-current President Bush. Several display cases contained a portion of the many awards and honors he received throughout his career, including his four Marconi Awards, and his Presidential Medal of Freedom.

After approximately 30 minutes, he said it was time to go into the studio to do one of his several live daily broadcasts, so I walked with him to his private broadcast studio on the floor. No other shows originated from that studio. It was built for and used exclusively by Mr. Harvey.

I've been in many radio studios through the years and itís been my observation that the typical studio is a window-less, sensory-deprivation-like vault, insulated from extraneous sound, so it has an isolated, lifeless feeling. Mr. Harvey's studio was light, airy and had a huge window overlooking the city, while at the same time remaining soundproof. It was very impressive.

As he entered his studio, I assumed I would remain outside, in the engineer's booth to observe the broadcast. Instead, Mr. Harvey invited me into the booth with him. I sat across the table, he being behind the microphone. Knowing that his broadcast would be heard on more than 1200 radio stations and 400 Armed Forces networks, I kept thinking to myself, "Whatever you do, don't sneeze or cough in the middle of his broadcast!" Fortunately, I did not.

With a well-rehearsed cue from his engineer, The Voice emerged, "This is Paul Harvey. Stand by for news." It was a voice I had heard for many years, from many parts of the country, at varying times in my life, and I couldn't help but think back to times I listened to Paul Harvey with my parents as a child, as an adolescent, or throughout my adult life. Paul Harvey was always there, his distinctive voice a calming, reassuring presence no matter what other events might have been transpiring. And suddenly here I was, sitting across a table from the iconic Paul Harvey, knowing at that precise moment millions of people were listening. The word "awesome" is grossly overused these days, but I can truly say that I was awe-struck sitting there...listening...observing the master at work.

During the broadcast, Mr. Harvey announced to his worldwide listening audience that he was pleased to have "Mr. Modem" with him in the studio, and he went on to say some very nice things about my books and newsletter and encouraged his listeners to subscribe. How can one ever adequately thank someone for an endorsement like that?

At one point he looked at me during the broadcast and asked what sounded like a rhetorical question -- but I wasn't sure. Terror-struck, it flashed through my mind, having listened to his broadcasts for many years, that there was never another voice on the air with him. It was always Paul Harvey's voice alone. So in classic "deer-in-the-headlights" fashion, I didn't know whether to speak or simply sit there like a muted lump. In that split second, I decided to say nothing and selected the muted-lump option. I was later told by his engineer that I made the right decision. Whew.

After the broadcast, he invited me to join him for lunch at a private club at the top the building, also overlooking the city. We had a terrific conversation, just the two of us, about life, the world situation, politics, religion, and technology. He was quite inquisitive and asked a number of questions about my life and work, and in turn, I asked him a lot of questions about his life and career. He was amazingly candid and open.

He shared some fascinating stories about his life, how he joined ABC Radio in 1951 and was on the air ever since, how he got his start thanks to Joseph Kennedy, as well as other stories about politicians and celebrities he has known through the years. After lunch, we returned to his office. He had a meeting to attend, so he introduced me to his wife, Angel, whose office was located next to his, and we spent the next 30 minutes talking. Her real name was Lynne, but Mr. Harvey always referred to her as his "Angel," and that's how everyone knew her. Angel, an equally elegant, charming, brilliant woman -- and as Mr. Harvey readily acknowledged, the guiding force behind his career -- passed away on May 3, 2008. They were happily married for 68 years.

In the months after our visit in Chicago, Mr. Harvey would periodically call me to ask a question about the Internet, or verify something technological he was planning to talk about on his show. When prospective computer-related sponsors wanted to advertise on his show, he would ask me to evaluate the product or service and share my opinions with him. If a given product was not up to par, or if it failed to perform as represented, he would not accept it as a sponsor at any price. Integrity of that caliber is in woefully short short supply these days.

It was during that period that I discovered that the domain name was owned by a third party who was probably planning to hold it hostage and sell it to Mr. Harvey at an exorbitant price. That was a popular thing to do at the time. Through a fluke of fate, one day I checked and discovered that the owner had failed to renew the registration, so I immediately registered it, then gave it to Mr. Harvey. ABC Radio wanted to construct a Web site around that time, so Mr. Harvey and his wife asked me to advise them about the pros, cons, and related issues of having a site.

In 2000, his contract with ABC Radio was coming up for renewal, so he asked me to accompany him to a negotiation session attended by his wife, his attorneys, the president of ABC Radio and several other individuals, to offer my input and advice regarding ABC's plans for The result of that negotiation was a 10-year, $100 million contract for Mr. Harvey that I like to think I played some small part in helping bring to fruition. Of course, that would be delusional because I had absolutely nothing to do with it, but it was truly an honor to be a trusted consultant and confidante to him and his wife. ABC did, thereafter, construct where you can go and read more about this remarkable man and legendary broadcaster.

We stayed in touch periodically through the years, had dinner a couple of times, and at one point, Mr. and Mrs. Harvey invited Mrs. Modem and me to a dinner party at his winter estate in the exclusive Biltmore section of Phoenix. It was a formal affair, complete with white-gloved servers and a stringed quartet, reflective of the grandeur of an earlier era that could have been plucked from the pages of "The Great Gatsby." It was a magical evening we will always remember.

Paul Harvey, a true radio legend -- my friend and mentor -- will be dearly missed.

And that, my friends, is the rest of the story.

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