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Paul Heil & Family Visit ABC's Paul Harvey

Andrew Heil, Paul Heil, Paul Harvey (with script in hand), Shelia Heil and Jason Heil visit in Mr. Harvey's Chicago offices. 

A few years ago, Diane Bell, vice president of the Landmark Group (a major music distributor), told me when she listens to the way I provide information on The Gospel Greats program it reminds her of Paul Harvey, the very popular ABC Radio commentator whose morning, noontime and "Rest Of The Story" broadcasts are consistently the most popular network radio broadcasts in America. (His broadcasts, on more than 2,000 radio stations, reach more than 19 million people weekly.)

Diane had no idea how grand a compliment that was!  I've been listening to Paul Harvey News since at least the 1960s when I smuggled a little transistor radio into school to listen to his noontime broadcast during lunch. When I was in college, we added his broadcast to our college radio station's programming. And, I would hope, some of his trademark style of telling stories clearly has rubbed off on this fledgling reporter.

So it was the thrill of a lifetime on June 6th, 2000, when my family and I, vacationing in Chicago, not only got to meet Paul Harvey but got to sit with him in his 16th floor Chicago studio as he did his noon broadcast that day!  (This was a special honor because such "studio audiences" for his broadcasts are very rare and, of course, we were the only visitors there.)

What an kind and gracious gentleman he is. About 20 minutes before his live noontime broadcast (which goes out on the network at 10:36 a.m. Chicago time) he walked into the conference room where we were waiting and greeted us with his trademark, "Hello Americans!" (He left off what normally comes next--his name, but there was no doubt this was Paul Harvey!) Then he greeted each of us personally by name Shelia, myself, and our sons, Jason and Andrew.

When Mr. Harvey shook my hand, he greeted me as "Pastor Paul." When I protested that although my dad's a pastor, I'm not, he said, "Oh yes you are! And you have quite a large flock!" Wow. It was as if he had been reading my e-mails from folks who are constantly telling me how much of a blessing and encouragement our program is to them each week. And his remarks were surely an encouragement to me!

As our sons, Jason and Andrew, visited with the studio engineer in the control room (seen at left), Shelia and I got to sit in the studio with Mr. Harvey as he prepared to do his broadcast.

The first thing I noticed was that he uses the same type of microphones I do. And we noticed in the studio a large coffee table-sized cabinet that is full of "keys to the city" Paul Harvey had been presented over the years from most major American cities he had visited for speaking engagements.

Even before going on the air live before the largest radio audience of any radio program in America he was most willing to chat about anything and everything...

Shelia asked if he gets nervous before doing a broadcast. "Not really," he said, "although, of course, there's an awareness of the significance of what's being done." (He's been on ABC for more than 50 years!) "Besides," he said, "that's why you're here, to take my mind off of it."

Mr. Harvey even recalled a visit to Lancaster County, Pa., and knew all about Abe's Buggy Rides, a local Amish Country tourist attraction in our home area. (He knew more about it than we did!)

He recalled recently hearing George Beverly Shea sing, and marveled at how someone at his age could still sing so well. (Actually, at 81, Paul Harvey is doing quite well himself and the network wants him to sign another 10-year contract!)

Suddenly, as we chatted, the familiar strains of the William Tell Overture came across the studio speakers. This was the engineer's not-so-subtle way of alerting us that the live broadcast was about to begin. As the seconds clicked down, Paul Harvey cleared his throat and did a few vocal exercises.  Then the technician on the other side of the glass raised his hand and....then....pointed!   And the broadcast began. "Hello Americans, this is Paul Harvey. Stand by for NEWS!"  What a thrill it was to be hearing with my own ears—no electronics involved—this voice that I'd been hearing on the radio for decades!

After the broadcast, although he had to rush off to another engagement, Mr. Harvey was gracious in greeting us again, thanking us for visiting with him, and even went out of his way to go into the control room to say "good bye" to our sons, hoping they'd enjoyed the experience (which they did).

Then Ms. Westgard, Mr. Harvey's long-time secretary, kindly offered to show us around. The hallways in their office suite are lined with just about every award that's ever been bestowed in broadcasting. She showed us where Paul Harvey's wife, "Angel," works (she serves, more or less, as their business manager), Mr. Harvey's office (where he writes all of his own copy, by the way, on an old IBM Selectric typewriter for which they have trouble getting parts), the newsroom where their wire copy comes in on a bank of printers (Mr. Harvey "clears" the wires himself about 4 a.m. everyday), and we got to meet one of their two research assistants (who researches and verifies items used on the air). Ms. Westgard, although she surely had plenty of other things to do, seemed in no hurry to rush us off and kindly answered every question we could think to ask.

Before our visit ended, I gave Mr. Harvey a copy of a recent "The Gospel Greats" broadcast. This morning, as I write this, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a personal letter from Mr. Harvey: "Angel and I have truly enjoyed the recording. In my youth I traveled with the Norse Gospel Trio in Kansas. In St. Louis where I directed news and special events for KXOK, I visited black churches with the Friendly Brothers Four. Until your recording, I hadn't realized that good and energizing Southern Gospel music is still with us. And, apparently, in acceptance!" That particular program happened to include a news story on the Update interviewing a Wal-Mart vice president who noted that Southern Gospel music sales at his stores are up sharply. This caught Mr. Harvey's ear, since Wal-Mart is a long-time Paul Harvey sponsor. "I am also glad to see that Wal-Mart has been cooperative."

If you're a Paul Harvey listener, you know his perspective is based on traditional Christian and family values. Just as God placed Joseph before Pharaoh for His own purposes, I believe God places chosen individuals in positions of secular influence even today. I believe Paul Harvey is such a person. His daily broadcasts reach America's largest radio audience—believers and non-believers alike. His perspective on the news is so refreshing in this day when most news reporting we hear clearly has no Christian perspective whatsoever.

This was a visit I'll recall fondly for the rest of my life.

Paul Heil

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