Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Super Bowl ad revives iconic American voice

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
updated 2:54 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
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
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT