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
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT