Barry Farber, the Godfather of Modern Talk Radio
Barry Farber is a legendary and influential figure in the history of modern American media. He is best known for being a pioneering host of intelligent talk radio, on the air almost continuously since 1960 right up to the present time. These days, at age 87, he is still going strong, hosting a nightly live hour-long talk radio program, The Barry Farber Show.
It was back in mid-20th-century America – the height of the post-World War II "American Century" – that Farber and a small group of colleagues experimented with and quickly established the enduring popularity of the innovative talk radio format on the highest rated stations in New York City, America's #1 media market. Other pioneers of radio were working the same magic in other American cities, big and small. In the first three decades of radio, programming had centered on music, live and recorded; comedies, dramas, and sitcoms; and frothy variety shows. Political and current events talk programming including interaction on the air with radio listeners was almost totally unknown. That all began to change after World War II.
Farber was well prepared and well positioned for his decades-long career as a "talker." Early on, he displayed a unique and astounding facility for linguistics. He eventually became fluent in at least 25 foreign languages. His expertise with languages was tapped by the U.S. government, including during the Korean War. In 1957, shortly after Farber moved to New York, William Safire – who went on to have a long and distinguished career in media, politics, and journalism – hired Farber as a producer of the seminal Tex and Jinx talk show on New York City's flagship NBC-owned radio station, WNBC. In 1960, at the age of 30, Farber got the chance to host his own talk program on WINS, another top station in New York.
Barry Farber on the air in the 1980s.
The rest, as they say, is history. Farber's mellifluous voice, with a touch of an appealing Southern drawl (he grew up in North Carolina), complemented his natural graciousness. His obvious intelligence and familiarity with a wide range of issues including history, philosophy, and the news of the day added to his appeal and quickly endeared him to large mainstream audiences ranging from working stiffs to Upper-East-Side sophisticates in the Big Apple and beyond. Thanks to Farber's broadcasting for years on 50,000-watt clear channel stations that could be heard at great distances at night, when Farber did his shows, he developed a following in many states east of the Mississippi River. Unlike some other more acerbic and confrontational talk hosts who enjoyed ratings success in the 1960s – Joe Pyne, for example – Farber never insulted any of his guests or talked down to his callers. When he was on, he was always a gentleman.
In the 1980s, Farber gained an even larger audience when his eponymous program found a home on major national radio networks of the day, including ABC Talk Radio. In 2002, Talkers Magazine, the leading professional journal in the field, included Farber on the top ten of its list of the 25 Greatest Radio Talk Show Hosts of All Time.
As a 2006 bio of him at Talk Radio Network put it:
As smooth and civilized as Jack Daniels whiskey, and with just as much kick, Barry Farber is one of America's legendary talk show hosts.
As a high school student in a NYC suburb one night in 1965, I discovered the Barry Farber Show on WOR AM 710 in New York, the clear channel super-station where Farber spent 15 years on the air. I was immediately hooked – on both Farber and talk radio. I still have old reel-to-reel tapes that I recorded of some of his programs from the 1960s, exploring leading-edge political, social, and cultural issues of the day, including the first credible challenges by critics like attorney Mark Lane to the party line accounts of the JFK assassination. Eventually, I worked in talk radio myself, in college and later as an occasional host and a frequent guest. That experience made me realize that successes like Farber's in the radio business are not as easy to achieve as one might think.
Barry Farber, candidate for NYC mayor, speaks to his supporters on Election Day, Nov. 8, 1977.
Farber's only break from a lifetime of continuous broadcasting came in 1977, when he declared his candidacy for mayor of NYC and took some time off from radio. A conservative, he ran initially as a Republican and came in a strong second in his party's primary. In the general election that November, he led the small Conservative Party's ticket. Also competing that year, and ultimately dominating the general election campaign, were future New York governor Mario Cuomo, a Democrat who ran for mayor on the Liberal Party ticket, and Ed Koch, another registered Democrat, who won the election. Together, Koch and Cuomo captured 92% of the vote in that mostly liberal city. One wonders how the future of New York and American history itself might have been different had Barry Farber won the race.
Back to the present: For the past decade, Barry Farber has been broadcasting his show weeknights between 8 and 9 P.M. E.T. on the CRN Digital Talk Radio HD channel, which is streamed on the internet and carried on a number of cable TV providers around the country, with free podcasts available at CRN, iTunes, and many other platforms. The Barry Farber Show is a wonderful opportunity, which has been compared to enjoying a glass of fine wine, to hear someone who was there close to the beginning of talk radio and who has never lost his touch to inform and entertain an audience.
Listening to Barry Farber is like opening the door to a vibrant and living history of America from the middle of the 20th century onward. At this point, I can't think of anyone who would have more to offer us as we try to understand the history of our times and – just maybe – come together as a people to make America great again.
Two of Barry Farber's bestselling books.
Not surprisingly, considering his facility with language, Barry Farber is also a widely published writer. In addition to contributing articles to leading newspapers including the New York Times, he is the author of several books, including How to Learn Any Language and Making People Talk: You Can Turn Every Conversation into a Magic Moment. Amazon currently has two used hardcover copies of the latter book, published in 1987, for sale at $6,890.10 and $9,029.00, not including shipping. Since 2009, Farber has contributed an article per week at World Net Daily. His archive there numbers over 440 articles, published like clockwork every seven days. This is a man with a strong, disciplined work ethic. Like his nightly radio broadcast, his articles are well worth our attention.
Barry Farber today.
In November 2014, Farber's original hometown newspaper, the Greensboro, North Carolina News & Record, published a feature article titled "Farber's road to Radio Hall of Fame started here." The piece is rich with biographical detail. It also includes a telling quote by Farber at the end, elicited from him when he was interviewed by his daughters, Celia Farber and Bibi Farber, women of significant accomplishments in their own right, who joined their father on his own radio program on November 7, 2014:
I would rather burn out than rust out. I am one of those who will not retire.
It is a great gift to all of us that Barry Farber continues to feel that way.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture. He is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. In addition to his writing, Peter has appeared as a guest commentator on NBC; PBS; the CBC in Canada; and, on January 4, 2018, the BBC in London. For announcements and links to a wide selection of Peter's published and broadcast work, follow him on Twitter at @pchowka.