SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Hello, Americans! You know what the news is – but now let’s hear … the rest of the story.
It was a gangster era shootout that killed Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer Harry Aurandt at Christmastime, 1921. Four assailants tried to rob him and a Tulsa Police detective, and in the resulting gun battle the detective was wounded, and Harry killed. It was big news in Tulsa, but gun battles and cop deaths were all too common back then, and the news soon faded.
But Harry Aurandt left behind something more than a few headlines – he left behind his three year old son, Paul.
No one could blame little Paul if he grew up embittered by this hard knock. It wasn’t uncommon for the down and out to end up in the criminal biz, themselves. It’s always hard to grow up without a father, but especially back then, during the Great Depression.
But Paul was meant for greater things. As a child, he built radio sets out of cigar boxes, which today could be compared with building a computer from two coconuts and a shoe string – only the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island” could get away with such a thing. Even then, Paul had radio in his blood.
During high school, Paul hung around a local radio station, KVOO, and eventually they put him to work cleaning, then reading announcements. He continued at the station while in college, eventually becoming the program director. Then it was on to other stations, and while working at a Saint Louise station he went out on a date, and a few minutes into it proposed. She said no -- at first -- but he and Lynn were married a year later, in 1940.
His radio career was sidetracked when, while he was returning to the mainland from assignment in Hawaii, the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor. Paul enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served 18 months, before being mustered out under circumstances that his critics deemed suspicious. But the stories varied, and the worst versions always came from his most vocal critics.
It wasn’t until 1951 that his radio broadcasts began airing around the world, but after that he never looked back. With Lynne’s help, the fatherless Tulsa boy became a star of radio and television, wrote books, and became much sought after as a public speaker. He was considered a pioneer of both television news and talk radio. Lynne, who passed away in 2007, was the guiding light who developed and produced many of his shows.
Paul never did consider himself a journalist. He was a commentator, putting a personal spin on the news of the day, and sharing it with the listeners the way you might share a story with your friends, over coffee. He developed a staccato way of speaking, including dramatic pauses and long, drawn out syllables. It was a lazy way of beating the clock, he explained – stretching his sentences out so that his broadcast could mesh with station breaks. It became famous, much imitated and lampooned.
Make fun all you want: Sponsors lined up to use that voice. He was syndicated on more than 1,500 radio stations around the world, reaching more than 22 million listeners daily; thirty million watched him on TV, and his writing appeared in 300 newspapers. He was reprinted in the Congressional Record more than any other commentator.
The little boy who lost his father was himself named Father of the Year – as well as being elected to the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Hall of Fame, receiving 11 Freedom Foundation Awards and the Horatio Alger Award, and being declared, in a Gallup poll, one of America’s most admired men.
A staunch conservative, in his early years Paul spoke against homosexuality, leftist radicals and the loss of morality, but he was also intelligent enough to pay attention. He famously changed his mind on the Vietnam War, advocated the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights, and criticized conservative Christians for trying to impose their views on others. This is the same man who was such a supporter of McCarthyism that he was arrested while breaking into an Atomic Energy Commission facility, to prove it wasn’t secure enough against Communists.
Later in life he explained, “Things get less black and white as we mature. I believe that men and women of honor seeking ultimate truth inevitably gravitate toward middle ground.” I suspect he was horrified, in later life, at how polarized America has once again become.
To his last day Paul was a consummate professional, and a throwback to the old days of radio: He didn’t scream, call people names, or pick fights, he knew the value of grammar, and he never tried to gain ratings with sensationalism. He was a success story, not because of his childhood, but in spite of it. He grew rich in many ways, not through cheating or inheritance, but through hard work, dedication, and education.
Anyone who ever listened to his show already knew who I was talking about, just from that tag line I began with. On February 28th, at 90 years old, Paul Aurandt – you know him by his middle name, Paul Harvey -- was called up to man Heaven’s microphone, most likely every morning at 9 and again at noon … I’m quite certain that every day up there will be a “good day!”
And now you know … the rest of the story.