Saturday, May 27, 2006

Important to remember: most people are still un-hip.

After Paul Harvey, What?

Alan Farnham
750 words
5 June 2006
Volume 177 Issue 12
(c) 2006 Forbes Inc.

As much as Howard Stern's departure hurt CBS, ABC stands to suffer more when it loses its 87-year-old master pitchman.

Paul Harvey hip? Of course not. The blog crowd wouldn't pay him any heed. Yet his daily programs (News & Comment and The Rest of the Story) haul in 15 million listeners on 1,100 stations. In the course of 55 years with the ABC Radio Networks Harvey has probably brought it close to $1 billion in revenue. So strong is the bond of trust that he has built with listeners that when Paul says, "Buy," they do--everything from Buicks to Bose Wave radios to steel buildings. He may be the greatest salesman in the history of the medium.

So even the merest whiff of Harvey preparing to issue his final "Good day!" would be earth-shattering to ABC, not to mention listeners. Rumors have started. ABC broadcast personality Curtis Sliwa says staffers have been told internally that actor and former Senator Fred Thompson already is being groomed as Harvey's permanent replacement. Thompson fills in for Harvey occasionally, as he did for the first time last month.

Not true, says John McConnell, head of programming; neither Thompson nor anybody else is being groomed as Paul's successor. As for the living legend, he looked hale and jaunty in a robin's-egg-blue suit when he appeared at a luncheon recently to celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of his shows. Dismissing the very notion of retirement, he quips, "I'd retire, only I have never found anything else that I would rather do."

Harvey, 87, has been on the air since 1933. He has delivered more pregnant pauses than a rhetorical obstetrician. He's fit. He's sharp. He's still only five years into his latest ten-year contract. But the schedule he maintains is punishing: He's at the studio, without fail, by 4:00 a.m. How long can this go on?

His departure, whenever it comes, will pose a bigger challenge for ABC than Howard Stern's departure did for CBS-owned Infinity Broadcasting. Stern, too, is a puissant pitchman. He all but built the Snapple brand. After he decamped in late 2005 to Sirius Satellite Radio, CBS sales fell 6%. His former flagship station in New York dropped from number one in morning drive-time radio to number 22.

Harvey brings in more than 10% of the network's $300 million in billings, says Michael Connolly, ABC's director of sales. Sliwa says ABC's loss of Harvey "would be like Krakatoa, East of Java" compared with the "tremor" felt by CBS from its loss of Stern. As for Thompson as replacement: "They could bring Jimmy Stewart back to life, and you still couldn't replace Paul."

When advertisers sign with Harvey, they tend to stick: Bankers Life & Casualty for 40 years and Neutrogena for 20, reportedly. On some ABC radio stations Harvey's midday broadcast helps funnel listeners to the Rush Limbaugh program following.

Biggest Talkers in Radio
(Weekly listeners in millions as of fall 2005)
1. Paul Harvey (15)
2. Rush Limbaugh (13.75)
3. Sean Hannity (12.50)
4. Michael Savage (8)
5. Dr. Laura Schlessinger (7.75)
5. Howard Stern (7.75)
6. Laura Ingraham (5)

Sources: ABC Radio Networks (for Harvey figure); Talkers Magazine (others). For methodology see .

Advertiser Neill Walsdorf Jr., 46, president of Mission Pharmacal, remembers the thrill he felt ten years ago when Harvey first advertised Pharmacal's dietary calcium supplement, Citracal. It was Harvey himself who came up with the catchy slogan for the product, as he does for many of his advertisers' wares: "'Cit,' as in 'citrus.' 'Cal,' as in 'calcium.' CIT-ra-cal." Orders hit "like a tsunami," says Walsdorf, "and we never looked back. He has a way of taking the essence of any product and putting it across in a conversational manner that rings true with consumers."

If he had to, would Walsdorf advertise with Howard Stern? No. "It's not that Howard doesn't deliver a great message. He can be cutting and hilarious." Then, after a suggestive, Harvey-like pause, Walsdorf says: "There're all sorts of things he could say, I'm sure, about the importance of strong bones."


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