Two stories about Paul Harvey, the radio giant who died recently. They each say something about his impact. They each underscore the bias that flows through the veins and arteries of major media.
The first story comes from a chat I had years ago with the head of NBC Radio News. Harvey was in his heyday at the competitor, ABC Radio News. By “heyday” I mean he hosted four programs: His early morning news, news and commentary at noon, a Saturday commentary and The Rest of the Story. Hard to believe, but these four programs were the four most popular programs in all of radio.
The NBC guy told me he hated Harvey. Because too many big stations had dropped NBC News for one reason. They had a chance to get Paul Harvey on their airwaves. So they switched to ABC.
I suggested to him that his own network ought to create a program to compete with Harvey’s.
He told me I must be mad. Everybody in NBC News would smother the idea. It would be out of the question.
Why? If Paul Harvey hosts the four most-listened-to programs in all of radio, why not learn something from his success? Why not market a news product that might appeal to the same audience?
He gave me a few reasons. One, Harvey broadcast from Chicago. The heartland. Everybody in the big media news machines knows that real news comes only from New York and Washington. Everywhere else is Podunkville. Even Chicago. “All that stuff Harvey throws in from small towns and little cities around the country? It’s crap. It’s schmaltz. It’s not real news.”
Another reason: Harvey is conservative. “Nobody at NBC would allow the birth of a conservative news program. Everybody here would fight it.”
And so Paul Harvey carried on kicking the butt of NBC Radio News for many more years. While NBC’s news people allowed their biases to deny them a huge market.
On another occasion I had lunch with the guy who had been the head of ABC Radio. Not the news division, but the Radio network itself.
He took credit for keeping Paul Harvey on ABC.
Took credit? Surely ABC loved Harvey. After all, he attracted the largest audiences in radioland.
He told me that when Harvey’s contract came up for renewal the people within ABC News told him they were against it. They wanted to get rid of Harvey.
Why dump their most popular programming?
Because he was provincial, from Chicago, he told me. And because he delivered news from a conservative perspective. They hated him.
I suspect this was the reason Harvey was not on any big New York City station for many years.
The head of ABC Radio told me he had to go to the head of the entire ABC company to plead Harvey’s case.
Fortunately, he told me, the boss asked a simple question. Does he make money for us?
He did. In fact, he probably made more money for ABC Radio than all the other news programming the network ran. That other programming was put together by an army of staffers, news pros, audio wizards. While Harvey banged out his stuff with a few assistants.
He has the biggest audience? He makes money for us? Sign the damned contract today!
That ABC Radio man who stood up for Harvey started a new venture after he retired from ABC. He decided to take a chance syndicating a nobody with the name of Rush Limbaugh. The rest of the story indeed.
From Tom ... as in Morgan.
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