The Paul Harvey-Programming Hole Problem

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Among many other issues the company that makes up my day job has, one very sudden but not exactly unexpected problem has arisen that sums up one of the biggest issues or broadcast industry is dealing with.

Citadel Broadcasting, ABC Radio Networks, and one of my Citadel-Little Rock Stations, KARN Newsradio, has a Paul Harvey problem.

Paul Harvey died last weekend at either 90 or 91 years old, based on whatever website you happened to get your story confirmation. Left now is a radio legacy that all of us in the business owe a great deal of gratitude for, and an immediate programming hole for millions of listeners.

But the Paul Harvey-programming hole problem is not what broadcaster will now fill his shoes. Veteran broadcasters and constant fill-ins Gil Gross and Doug Limerick will split the duty, and in an industry where movement is key for development, possibly allow just enough space to shuffle up more talent that has be waiting in the wings (a similar effect happened when David Gregory was announced as the permanent replacement for Tim Russert as host of NBC’s Meet The Press).

And the Paul Harvey-programming hole problem on the local level isn’t the loss of a familiar audio time hack, because other than the voice changes and possible title changes, you’re still going to get ‘News & Notes’ and ‘The Rest Of The Story’ at the same times on my station KARN Newsradio.

The Paul Harvey-programming hole problem that has to be dealt with is the knowledge that we may never have another personality created in Harvey’s likeness again.

Our key weapon in traditional over-the-air radio against the advancing forces of the paid satellite model or the sometimes paid-sometimes free streaming internet model or the 99-cents-a-song iTunes model was simple: you get the music/news/sports/entertainment free, and we’ll throw in great personalities, and local ones if want them. Since you could always just buy the music or buy the newspaper, the value added was received from hearing the voice of someone who is just like you: a neighbor with kids in the school system who you might have even had a class or two with in middle school. And while we have added to our arsenal of more podcasting/on-demand options in the face of an every growing time shifted world, its still a level playing field between choosing to download ‘the random nationwide syndicated guy’ and ‘your local guy and gal that wake you up every morning.’

The Paul Harvey-programming hole is special, since Paul Harvey obviously isn’t really sitting in a radio booth in your hometown, and all of his news can be accessed on the internet with little effort. But when Harvey started his shtick double my lifetime ago, you really couldn’t get all the information and stories in the way he did, and have the bonus of having it sound like your goofy brother-in-law or favorite great-uncle was telling it to you directly.

We have plenty of faux news programs now. On television, radio, and all over the internet. Some are produced as pure satire with their sole intention to mock and make fun of the actual news of the day. Some are pure comedy. Some do their best to spread news to people who wouldn’t get it otherwise. I even created one, called “8 Things To Talk About,” and tried to have an Arkansas-focused and a national-focused early morning audio new cast you could take along with you. But with a flood of options, you can only hope for a small piece of the total attention span pie.

Paul Harvey had a disproportionally enormous chunk of that pie for being a 90-year-old reader of goofy news stories trying to sell Bose Wave Radios. But you could easily take his script and style and find just about any descent broadcaster to can deliver it. They just wouldn’t be able to pull it off with the voice, the tone, the pitch, and the sometimes annoying artificial pauses and stutters like Paul Harvey did.

For me, losing radio legend Paul Harvey is personally comparable to when my younger sister died about 5 years back. Surrogate people magically appeared to fill the roles she played in my live, but none of them could fill them all perfectly, and none of them would ever BE my sister in the way she was both the most loving and painfully annoying person that she was. Paul Harvey isn’t just a familiar voice on the radio. He’s family. And sure, plenty of people with various amount of talent can replace him in many of his roles, but not the way he did it.

He was a man that kept a near obsolete programming model fresh and viable. He was inspiring to many, annoying to some, but admired by most who knew him, even if he was only known as the voice on the radio you heard that reminded you how late you were for work. He was a member of my radio family for the past 7 years and a personal friend who talked to me every day on the radio since I was 7.

The Paul Harvey-programming hole is a problem with no real solution. I’m sure Harvey himself would want us to get over it, and get ready for the next big thing.


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