Drescher: Barry Farber still on the air at 82

Barry Farber
Barry Farber

Barry Farber grew up in Greensboro and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1952. After serving in the U.S. Army and traveling, Farber was looking for work in New York City.

Farber, who’d been editor of The Daily Tar Heel, preferred newspapers. “I figured a southern accent would disqualify me from radio work,” he told me recently. “I was wrong. They liked it.”

At first Farber worked away from the microphone. In 1960, he started on the air with WINS in New York and has been on the air ever since, with two short breaks to run (unsuccessfully) for political office.

In the industry, Farber, 82 years old, is known as the dean of American talk radio. He’s on the air weeknights with CRN Digital Talk Radio from 8 to 9 Eastern time at crntalk.com.

“It’s fun at this age to be working,” he said in his still-smooth voice. “I’d rather burn out than rust out.”

Farber is a political conservative who once lost a mayor’s race to Ed Koch. Some of today’s top conservative talk-show hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, consider him a pioneer.

Strong anti-communist

Farber covered the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and also visited the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in that era. His travels reinforced a fierce anti-communism.

“Any right-winger who says Obama is a communist – that’s an insult to my intelligence,” Farber said. “The worst of Obama has not yet approached the best of the communism I covered.”

Still, Farber believes the United States is drifting leftward. “Rugged individualism, lift yourself up by the bootstraps – that Horatio Alger spirit is gone,” he said. “It’s nothing sinister. Compassion for the less fortunate is a very good thing. But it also contains the seeds of a nation fading into mediocrity. Not like Stalin. But like the democratic states of Western Europe. Lackluster.”

Talk radio has been dominated by conservatives for years. Farber expects that to change. He predicts fewer talk shows but more liberal hosts. “That,” he said, “invigorates me to get up in the morning and fight that.”

Farber didn’t invent talk radio, although he often gets asked if he did. He credits his early bosses – Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburg – with creating the modern talk-radio show. “Before them, there was talk radio,” he said. “But radio didn’t investigate, radio didn’t interrogate. All radio did was congratulate.”

Farber has a million stories. He decided to write them down. Last year, WND Books published Farber’s “Cocktails with Molotov: An Odyssey of Unlikely Detours.” The breezy book contains 82 quick stories, most of them two to three pages.

82 first chapters

He really did have cocktails with Stalin protégé Vyacheslav Molotov in Moscow in 1956. (Molotov cocktails, the improvised explosives in glass bottles, were created in Finland and named after Molotov to mock him.) “I had a lot of stories that would be first chapters of books,” Farber said. So he decided to write a book with 82 first chapters.

There was the time his freshman year when UNC beat Texas in football. He thought: “We beat Germany. We beat Japan. And we beat Texas!”

There was the time as a young radio producer in New York that he made Bob Hope laugh and lured him on to the Tex and Jinx show.

There was the time he sped to Cuba after the fall of Batista, and he and McCrary, his boss, had a midnight meeting with Castro’s cabinet.

Farber’s book tells many warm stories about North Carolina, but he hasn’t been back in years. “It doesn’t mean I don’t love it. It just means I don’t get around much any more,” he said. “I’m not over the hill. But I’ve got a good view of the valley.”