Monday, March 23, 2009

Paul Harvey: Air Salesman, Entertainer

Many of the tributes to Paul Harvey have referred to his ability to move products and services with his radio commercials. Advertisers were lined up, ready to pay big bucks to have him do their ads. If the specific term, “air salesman” appeared in any of those tributes, I missed it. When I got into radio in 1950, that was a job classification. It appeared in classified ads in the broadcasting industry trade magazine.
You needed to deliver personal, one-on-one commercials that worked for the advertisers. That was a major difference between radio people and those who worked for a newspaper. I envied newspaper journalists, looking down their noses at us radio hucksters. The newspaper people did their creative thing with no direct
involvement with the advertising sales department. We radio types might have liked to think we were creative performers but we were first of all in the advertising business, whether we liked it or not. Paul Harvey understood that. One of the stations I worked for wanted me to hit the streets after I did my air shift and sell enough advertising to justify my pay. Can you imagine your favorite columnist doing that? The newspaper business is in such dire straits that it might yet come to that. If you want to write a column, go out and find a sponsor to pay for it.. I had no ability or inclination to do that kind of selling, but I did visit the advertisers after a salesman closed the sale. I took notes and adlibbed commercials that were pretty effective. I became a doggone good air salesman. I was no Paul Harvey, who had a million dollar contract at the time of his death. But that experience gave me a professional understanding and appreciation for what a polished performer he was.
Radio has changed again and there is no longer much need for good air salespeople who know how to talk to the listeners rather than shouting at them like a maniacal used car dealer. Paul Harvey was one of the last and greatest air salesmen. But he was more than that. Many years ago, I asked a local journalist what she thought of Paul Harvey. She said, “He’s not a news man, he’s an entertainer.” I could only answer, “And a very good one.” I don’t believe Paul Harvey ever claimed to be a serious journalist. He was openly proud of his ability to sell products and entertain listeners. . Even those who did not agree with some of his conservative commentary were fascinated by his unique style. His voice, his inflections, the way he pronounced words, his pacing, it was different. It was arresting. It was Paul Harvey.
Paul’s attempt at doing TV was not successful. Like me, he looked better on radio. Paul Harvey and radio were made for each other. He had two beautiful, long lasting
marriages. One to his beloved Angel, who preceded him in death, the other with the
radio medium. Paul Harvey was one of the great radio air salesmen and entertainers of the last half of the previous century. It is a tribute to his talent that he lasted well into the first decade of the twenty-first.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Happiness is just a thing called .....

Harry, upon one can always count to answer a question about any pop culture item from the past, says it was Jack Benny's Rochester who started what became one of radio's greatest running gags, delivered as only Mel Blanc could do it.I can feel only sadness at the cultural deprivation of those too young to know about "Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga." That reminds me of a movie I love. Not like, I mean love. Cabin the in the Sky stars Ethel Waters as Petunia, long suffering wife of loveable gambler, Little Joe. Joe is Eddie Anderson, so strongly identified with his "Rochester" role as Benny's valet that the film credits call him Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. When Petunia sings "Happiness is Just a thing Called Joe" to him as he lies mortally wounded, I fall apart. That's one of the greatest torch songs ever written. The title song is a rare gem, too. The opening notes climb upward like the mystical stairway to their cabin in the sky that Petunia and Joe climb in the closing scene. My happiness is a thing called being kissed on the cheek by Ethel Waters. She did that after I interviewed her on radio in the '60s. Precious memories.