Barry Farber dies; conservative radio host ran for NYC mayor

FILE - This Nov. 8, 1977 file photo shows Conservative Barry Farber, who was far behind in the New York City Mayoral race, thanks supporters at his headquarters, in New York. Farber died of natural causes Wednesday, May 6, 2020, at home in New York, a day after his 90th birthday, his daughter, Celia Farber, said. (AP Photo/Dan Grossi, File)

GREENSBORO — Barry Farber, a legendary talk radio pioneer who grew up in the city, died Wednesday, a day after his 90th birthday.

Farber died of natural causes at his New York City home, the Associated Press reported.

The conservative talk show host had been off the air only briefly during his nearly 60-year career in radio.

That longevity helped to win Farber his 2014 induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

His major breaks came when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1970 and New York mayor in 1977, the New York Times reported. 

"We have all lost a good friend, and the radio business has lost an absolute giant," said Irwin Smallwood, retired managing editor of the Greensboro Daily News, a forerunner of the News & Record. 

Smallwood spoke with his longtime friend by phone about a month ago.

"He sounded tired," Smallwood said Thursday. "But he still had a sparkle in his voice."

Born in Baltimore, Md., Farber considered Greensboro his hometown.

Farber never ceased to exhibit his love for the city, Smallwood said.

"He was always proud of Greensboro having taken the lead in things like the sit-ins, and being a leader in breaking down the walls of segregation." Smallwood said.

Farber moved here at age 5 when his father’s clothing manufacturing business took the family south.

In a 2014 interview with the News & Record, he remembered watching radio station WBIG broadcast from its former location in the old O. Henry Hotel at North Elm and Bellemeade streets.

“Like printer’s ink gets in your blood, I guess radio waves do, too,” he said.

He graduated from Greensboro Senior High School, now Grimsley, in 1948. He studied journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he was editor of the Daily Tar Heel.

When he moved from Greensboro to New York in 1957, he aimed for a job with a newspaper or magazine.

“I didn’t think that radio or television would be welcoming to a Southern accent,” Farber recalled in the 2014 interview.

As it turned out, his Southern accent and his accompanying gentility didn’t hurt. He found work as a radio producer, then as a talk show host.

Farber inaugurated his first solo radio program in 1960. He went on to interview guests for longer than any other living, continually broadcasting radio host, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, the New York Times reported.

He also was an author and a linguist — he translated Russian for the U.S. Army during the Korean War — who had studied more than 25 languages and wrote the 1991 book, “How to Learn Any Language.” He founded the Language Club in New York City.

In 2008, he began hosting “The Barry Farber Show” on CRN Digital Talk Radio and Talk Radio Network.

Farber last spoke into a live microphone on Tuesday from his home, during an on-air 90th-birthday tribute by his family on his CRN Digital Talk Radio program. It had been broadcasting reruns while he was ailing, the New York Times said.

“I would rather burn out than rust out,” Farber said in the 2014 interview. “I am one of those who will not retire.”

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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