As a kid, my family spent a lot of time in the car. Even though my hometown was on the small side, we drove everywhere: school, church, the mall. We even drove to places that were within walking distance, which drove me crazy. Out at the farm, my grandmother and I walked everywhere: to the general store, to the courthouse, to the post office, to check on the cows in the barn. That was much more my speed.
Anyway. Spending so much time in the car, we listened to a lot of radio, and whether we were on vacation or on a trip to the Piggly Wiggly, we could count on hearing three things: at least one song from Ronnie Milsap, one skit from Jerry Clower, and one plodding “Rest of the Story” segment from Paul Harvey. Just in case we hit a dead patch, my father had all three on eight-track. None of this made me anxious to climb into the passenger’s seat.
The radio landscape has changed a lot since then. Clower fell from favor ages ago (comedy cycles are short), and he died almost ten years back. Milsap has been touring the civic centers and casinos of North America, but I think he’s left the contemporary country scene to devilspawn like Carrie Underwood. Even Paul Harvey slowed down, though he’s been speaking out on occasion–or rather I should say he had been speaking out, because he died yesterday.
Much of America loved Paul Harvey, and to his credit, he knew how to work a radio audience. To me, though…well, his performance always seemed canned and planned. The schtick was far too schticky for my tastes. Listening to him was the audio equivalent of watching a film by M. Night Shamalamawhatever: you know there’s a “big twist” coming up, and you just wish he’d spit it out already. Okay, great, the monster terrifying the village was Santa Claus, and now we know the rest of the story. Can we please hit the McDonald’s drive-through?
Another problem: Paul Harvey was kind of a total asshat. And in a lot of ways, he was a posterboy for the anti-intellectual, anti-inquisitive political “philosophy” that Gingrich, Limbaugh, Bush, et al. have foisted on America for the past 15 years.
Many Americans–including my father–don’t care about all that. In fact for many–including my father–that down-home dumbassery was Paul Harvey’s appeal. In the coming days, those people will wax nostalgic about their youth, and how whenever Harvey was on the radio, they’d pause wherever they were, eagerly anticipating the rest of the story. Me, I was just waiting for it to end.