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Super Bowl ad revives iconic American voice

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1954 GMT (0354 HKT)
President George W. Bush presents Paul Harvey, left, with the Medal of Freedom at the White House November 9, 2005.
President George W. Bush presents Paul Harvey, left, with the Medal of Freedom at the White House November 9, 2005.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: Americans of all political stripes listened to Paul Harvey's radio stories
  • Greene: Harvey's 1978 "So God Made a Farmer" speech was used on Dodge truck ad
  • Harvey wrote his stories on old typewriter and treasured writing and radio, Greene says
  • Greene: Even in times of cynicism and upheaval, he spoke from the heart

Editor's note: Bob Greene is CNN contributor and a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"; "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen"; and "When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship and Dreams."

(CNN) -- Mr. Harvey would be so proud today.

His voice -- the magnificent voice that he feared he had lost forever -- is back.

And people all over the United States are once again moved by the sound of it, and by his words.

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

"And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said 'I need a caretaker.' So God made a farmer."

Just as seemingly simple, and devastatingly direct, as that.

"God said 'I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt, and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.' "

You probably saw the commercial during the Super Bowl telecast. It was on behalf of a Dodge truck. The voice was that of Paul Harvey, taken directly from a recording of a speech he made in 1978 to the Future Farmers of America.

Super Bowl ads that scored with viewers
Super Bowl ads surface

Mr. Harvey died four years ago at the age of 90. I knew him for more than 30 years; he always invited me to call him "Paul," and I never quite could. He was Mr. Harvey, and for a very long time, he was as big a name as there was in the world of radio. His commentaries were heard everywhere.

Eatocracy: By the numbers, how has farming changed since 'So God Made a Farmer'?

They were so popular because he was unafraid, even in the most cynical and contentious times, to speak from his heart. Because of that, he had admiring listeners of every political persuasion; his own politics were conservative, but because of the care and craftsmanship with which he wrote, people who didn't agree with him on issues of national policy made a daily habit of tuning in just because they liked the warmth and respect he showed them in his storytelling. They considered his voice to be the voice of a friend.

"God said, 'I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to yean lambs and wean pigs and tend to pink combed pullets; who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadowlark.'"

The writing was what he took such pride in. He would begin well before dawn, in a quiet office above Michigan Avenue in Chicago. He wrote on a favorite old typewriter whose touch he trusted. Within the hour, the words -- punctuated by those wondrous silences between phrases -- would be heard in every corner of the country. They connected, person-to-person, with the intimacy of a whisper in an ear.

Truck ad stirs pride, passion and conversation in agricultural circles

Toward the end, illness ravaged his voice, and he was terrified that it had been irretrievably stolen from him. He was off the air for long spans. When he came back, the voice was still his, but it was weakened. He knew it. The knowledge caused him great despair.

He had two best friends in life. One was his wife, Angel, who died before he did. The other best friend was his voice. The thought of it, too, being taken from him made Mr. Harvey lie awake at night and pray.

There that voice was again, Sunday night. People too young to remember Mr. Harvey's glory days stopped what they were doing and leaned toward the television set, suddenly needing to hear every word. His artistry did that to people.

"Somebody who would bale a family together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing; who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says that he wants to spend his life doing what dad does -- 'so God made a farmer.' "

Mr. Harvey would walk out of the studio after each broadcast, then go back into his office and sit down next to that typewriter.

He knew that soon enough he'd be at it again.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

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