Sunday, March 1, 2009

This has been a test

For a period in the mid-90s, my principal means of transportation was a 1977 Chevy Nova that had previously belonged to my late grandmother. I called it the car that escaped probate. It was silver baked to the color of primer, with a maroon vinyl interior and a cardboard sleeve over the passenger-side sun visor featuring a drawing of a dude in a leisure suit demonstrating how to properly use the innovative shoulder restraint. With addition of a Bukowski bumper sticker, it was a perfect ride.

For in-flight entertainment, it had the basic Delco AM/FM radio, with the mondo tuner knobs and the mechanical preset buttons. And for some reason, it could only tune in three categories of transmissions: Zeppelin, Muzak, and Paul Harvey.

I have loved Paul Harvey ever since. Because I never kept much of a routine, I never managed to figure out exactly when or on what frequency he could be found. Rather, he would randomly insert himself into the ethereal fabric of my day, usually while I was out trolling the sludgy streets of a Midwestern suburb looking for a lunch counter that would serve a pretty good grilled cheese sandwich.

Paul Harvey evoked an unexpected weird sense of wonder in the most mundane everyday. He came from a slightly mutated variation on Middle America, his fifteen-minute daily broadcasts like David Lynch channeling Reader's Digest. Aqua Velva accidental performance art that elicited sense memories of forgotten great uncles with double-knit Navy suits and big-fisted magic tricks, with weird dissonant inflections and syntactical rhythms that held your attention like some bop variation on a Presbyterian minister.

I will heretically suggest that he also had a subtly science fictional sensibility, stringing together the headlines of the day in a formula that piled up little nuggets of wonder until the penultimate few seconds, when he would drop a Ray Bradbury-style surprise ending designed to turn your perception of the world upside down. Plus, his very existence, broadcasting daily news commentary well into the twenty-first century in the style of the 1940s was a daily dose of time travel and alternate history and slightly mutated perceptions.

So now it feels like radio has finally really died, gone the way of locally produced television shows and test patterns and thoughts for the day and the comics page of the local newspaper (DailyInk and notwithstanding). Nostalgia is for chumps, but I will miss listening to Paul Harvey, who could kick the ass of Anderson Cooper and Matt Lauer and Wolf Blitzer all at the same time.

NYT: "Paul Harvey, Talk-radio Pioneer, is Dead at 90."

NYT (1988): "Paul Harvey's Sopabox of the Air."

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