"The 'Two Barrys' started talk radio in New York when I was a kid!" exclaimed the late Washington Post foreign correspondent Stu Auerbach. "And I just met one of them!"
It was the summer of 1994 and Auerbach was part of a small group asked to dine in Washington, D.C., with radio legend Barry Farber (who died Wednesday at age 90). Farber grinned and, with his long collegiate wrestler's arms, hugged the shorter journalist.
He then turned to Auerbach's wife Lena, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and launched into a lively conversation in her native Mandarin tongue (one of the 25 languages Farber could speak or, as he put it, "had knowledge of" . . . He liked to say of those 25 languages, "I married about half and dated the other half").
The other of the "Two Barrys" was Barry Gray. He came up after World War II on WMCA Radio, interviewed everyone from singer Al Jolson to Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, D-NY, and was a fixture on the airwaves until his death in 1996.
Barry Morton Farber had a far more colorful journey on the airwaves. Like Gray, he interviewed hundreds of guests and soon welcomed callers to give their viewpoint on the discussion. But where Gray was primarily an interviewer and a liberal who moved to the center-right in his twilight years, Farber was provocative pundit who was always pretty much conservative — not to mention an historian, linguist, and candidate for Congress and mayor of New York.
"Barry blazed the trail for all of us today in talk radio," Fox News' Sean Hannity once said. "I'm honored to call him a friend and a great American."
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, the young Farber learned Mandarin as a teenager and mastered Italian, Spanish, French, and Norwegian before entering the University of North Carolina. In college, he learned Russian and Serbo-Croatian, and, following a stint in the U.S. Army, he became a newspaper reporter.
"My job as a young journalist [in October, 1956] was to go to the Austro-Hungarian border and cover the journey of Hungarian refugees from their first moment of freedom to final resettlement in America," he proudly recalled.
Farber then made the leap from print to broadcast journalism by working as a producer for the WNBC (New York) interview program hosted by Tex McCrary and wife Jinx Falkenburg. In 1960, Farber's gift of gab, story-telling acumen, and warm demeanor secured a talk show of his own.
For the next four decades, on various networks and sometimes syndicated nationwide, "Barry Farber's Open Mike" featured programs about anti-Communism, the host's embedding with the Israeli army, the Japanese Emperor's surrender speech after the dropping of the Atomic bomb ("It was as if Jesus Christ came on the air to the Japanese"), and the fledgling New York Conservative Party.
In 1970, Farber carried the ballot lines of the New York Republican and Liberal Parties in the 19th U.S. House District against leftist Democrat Bella Abzug.
As he explained, "The Liberal Party disagreed with me on several issues, notably my support for the U.S. effort in Vietnam. But what they could not stomach was Ms. Abzug's support of a group that stood with Russia after it signed a pact with the late Adolf Hitler."
Abzug won with about 55%, although Farber's showing was impressive in Manhattan's heavily Democratic West Side.
Seven years later, Farber ran for mayor of New York — narrowly losing the Republican primary to liberal State Sen. Roy Goodman, and then carrying the Conservative Party line in the fall race won by Democrat Ed Koch.
"Barry was the most unique candidate I ever worked for and, in fact, one of the most unique individuals I ever met," Mike Long, longtime Conservative Party state chairman and manager of Farber's GOP primary bid, told Newsmax. "[Ex-Lax heir] Goodman had all the money he needed, and we ran out at the end of the primary. But we almost won because Barry spoke wherever we could line him up, campaigned in different languages, and wowed crowds with his humor and historical anecdotes."
Long also noted Farber's campaign energized many young people into political activity, among them present Conservative State Chairman Gerard Kassar and Empire State GOP consultant Rob Ryan.
Having grown up in the South, Farber saw discrimination against black people first hand and was a fervent civil rights advocate. He was also a fervent anti-Communist and a champion of individual freedom. Once a supporter of the "social democracy," he saw in Scandinavia as a young man, he saw the failure of big government programs at the federal and city level and quickly embraced the "less is best" view.
But it is his niche in radio for which Barry Farber will be best remembered. As Rush Limbaugh said of him in 2012, "Barry Farber was a standout when it was difficult to get a talk show – you had to be among the best to be hired to host long-form talk. Barry Farber was . . . the best."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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