Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

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.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

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

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT