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
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2200 GMT (0600 HKT)
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1821 GMT (0221 HKT)
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT