Radio talk show legend Barry Farber, who died Wednesday at age 90, is being remembered by his friends and colleagues as a brilliant and beloved talent – a man who, first and foremost, saw himself as a freedom fighter.
In interviews with Newsmax, friends recalled the radio hall of famer as someone who was one of the originators of conservative talk radio, and paved the way for later broadcasters like Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh.
Farber hailed from a Jewish family in Greensboro, North Carolina, and famously spoke with a southern drawl, became an articulate spokesman for the conservatives ideas promulgated by the likes of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley Jr.
In the 1970s, Farber became a critic of Soviet expansionism, along with Détente critics like New York writer Lev Navrozov.
He told his radio audiences his fear of communism was rooted in his military service during the Korea War and later as a journalist. In 1956, while serving a correspondent in Europe, he covered the Hungarian revolt against Soviet occupation.
In 2017, Farber was honored by the Hungarian government for his efforts to help freedom fighters and refugees during the uprising.
"Farber was a man of so many unique and exemplary qualities it would be difficult to catalogue them here," Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax, said.
Ruddy said he has been friends of the radio giant for almost 40 years.
"I can't think of anyone who shaped my world view more than Barry Farber," Ruddy said, noting Farber's shows on WMCA, WOR, and WABC were constantly on in his mother's kitchen.
Friends says Farber's intellectual capacity was remarkable and infectious.
"Barry was just a rare person, an extraordinary, one of a kind person," radio host Ray Bertolino said. "I have met a lot of smart people, but Barry Farber was probably the most brilliant person I have ever known."
Bertolino worked for Farber in the early 1980s on his syndicated TV show "Farber." The show, which aired for one year, took controversial topics and debated both sides.
"Barry was always three moves ahead of you in chess," Bertolino said. "Very smart and very quick."
He remembers Farber walking around his upper West Side apartment at The Apthorp with a hand-held recorder speaking in several languages.
But Farber did not speak only two or three languages: His friends estimate he knew as many as 20. Some say it was 25 or more. Farber attended monthly lunch club meetings with the "Language Club" where people would get together at different Manhattan restaurants to practice their language skills.
"It wouldn't just be Mandarin, it would be three different dialects," Bertolino said.
It is that fascination for language that former congressman John LeBoutillier recalls from his first interview with Farber.
LeBoutillier was in Farber's radio studio 40 years ago to talk about a book he co-authored called "Primary." He was 26 and had never met Farber.
During the interview, he said Farber was jotting down notes on a little pad of paper. He did not look up much at LeBoutillier as he asked him questions. During the commercial break, LeBoutillier said he asked him what he was writing.
Farber responded, "I am taking notes of our interview in Sanskrit."
"He was a mind like I have never known," LeBoutillier told Newsmax.
LeBoutillier made regular appearances on Farber's show (he appeared just last week on Farber's CRN radio show) and they became close friends.
LeBoutillier lauded him for spending a lifetime fighting for traditional, conservative principals. The two even competed against each other for a spot on CNN's "Crossfire" in the 1980s after Pat Buchanan left the show to work for President Ronald Reagan.
"Neither of us got it," he said. "We laughed about it for 35 years."
Farber's career spanned over 60 years and his conservative views reached millions of listeners.
"He was one of the founding fathers of talk radio whose influential career spanned both the modern and pre-modern eras of the format," Talkers magazine publisher Michael Harrison said.
"He described his longevity in the business as 'being big in the old days and old in the big days.' He was among the finest public speakers of his time and a true wordsmith who served as an inspiration for generations of broadcasters who strived to be artists as well as communicators."
Mike Thompson, who worked with Farber at WNCA radio in the early 1980s, told Newsmax he was a master storyteller.
"He was a ring-wing Jew from Greensboro, North Carolina, in New York City," he said. "He captivated any audience. He was a classic storyteller."
Thompson said he will never forget a day when Farber was late getting to his show on "Afternoon Drive." The team was busy filling the show with news and commercials waiting for Farber to show up.
"He came in late, all disheveled, sweating, completely unfocused," Thompson said. "And then he does five minutes of the best monologue I ever heard of why he was late. It was magical."
Farber's first job in radio was working as a producer for the "Tex and Jinx" interview show in the 1950s.
He began hosting his own radio talk show in 1960 on WINS 1010 in NYC. The "Barry Farber's WINS Open Mike" show, was the only talk show on a rock 'n' roll station, according to Talkers Magazine. He left in 1962 for WOR, New York to do the evening show, where he ultimately became the all-night host in 1967.
His only break from radio came when he took his views to the New York residents themselves. In 1970, he ran as the Republican-Liberal candidate for Congress in Manhattan's 19th District against Bella Abzug.
But he became a New York icon after running for New York City mayor in 1977, a particularly zany political year that saw Congressman Edward Koch defeat a rising Queens Democrat, Mario Cuomo.
Journalist John Fund told Newsmax that Farber's 1970 race against Abzug was memorable. She was a brash, rude, and bold New Yorker who was very left wing.
She refused to debate Farber, so he would approach her on the street while she was campaigning.
“He would confront her on street corners and try to have a debate with her,” Fund said.
A New York Times article from Oct. 30, 1970 described one of those encounters when Farber spotted his opponent campaigning on the corner of 72nd Street and Broadway.
“Holy mackerel, let's go get her,” Farber said, as he jumped out of his car. The newspaper reports he “whipped out a pocket tape recorder, held it up to Mrs. Abzug's face and demanded: ‘Would you like to repeat your charge that I'm a red‐baiter in front of all these people?’”
And even though he lost, Fund said, he held Abzug to 52% of the votes, which signaled a change was headed to the liberally ruled state.
Fund said Farber's 1970 race was an early indicator New Yorkers were not as liberal as people believed and he paved the way for future leaders like Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, politicians who had different leadership styles and ideas then typical liberals.
"He actually took his ideas into the street and tried to get people to vote for them," Fund said.
After losing to Azbug, Farber, of course, returned to radio.
He joined WMCA in New York and did "Afternoon Drive" for a decade. He was part of the lineup of ABC Radio Network's "Talknet" in the 1990s. When that effort was abandoned, he was a part of an independent network called Daynet, a forerunner of today's independent talk syndication scene. At Daynet he co-hosted a show with Alan Colmes, who later became a Fox News star.
Since 2009, Farber hosted a nightly talk show on CRN Digital Talk. He broadcasted his last live program "The Barry Farber Show" last week.
He was honored with the "Lifetime Achievement Award" from Talkers magazine in 2012 and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2014.
Barry Farber is survived by his wife Sara and his daughters Celia and Bibi.
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