When legendary film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock opened his door to meet the man who would one day be known as the dean of American talk radio, he probably never expected his guest to fly sprawling, spread-eagle-style, toward the floor.
“En route, I smacked a table in his living room, knocking it over and launching a long, narrow glass vase like a torpedo across the room, scattering flowers and water generously along the way,” recalled Barry Farber in his new book, “Cocktails with Molotov: An Odyssey of Unlikely Detours.”
Farber, a charming gentleman of 82 years, has led a life brimming with adventure, even rubbing elbows with comedian Bob Hope, the king of Albania and Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
After more than 55 years of blazing trails in talk radio, Talkers Magazine is honoring Farber with its Lifetime Achievement Award June 7 in New York City. The longtime talk host has been named by the magazine as one of the most important hosts of all time.
After reading “Cocktails with Molotov,” you’ll wonder if there’s anything Barry Farber hasn’t done, if there’s anywhere he hasn’t been. Farber’s collection of fascinating real life short stories is now available at the WND Superstore!
From the ‘ghetto of broadcasting’ …
Farber – a journalist, WND columnist, world traveler, nationally syndicated talk show host, advocate for Jewish charities and Army veteran who has studied 26 languages – joined the Norwegian Merchant Marine, represented America at international conferences in Yugoslavia and Brazil and was an interpreter for units of the Chinese Nationalist Navy and the editor of a daily newspaper — all before graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1952.
Farber became producer of the “Tex and Jinx” show in 1957. In 1960, he hosted his own program, “Barry Farber’s WINS Open Mike” show, on WINS.
He was later hired by New York City’s WOR in 1962 and became the all-night host in 1967. Farber’s program accounted for nearly 28 percent of the station’s schedule at the time.
“There were no talk stations,” he told WND. “There were music stations, and a few of the braver ones tentatively put a little talk on after 10:30 at night – and that was early. Our show was on at 10:30 at night, and that made us feel pretty good because Barry Gray, our archrival, was not allowed on until after midnight.”
At the time, stations would rather air music than talk shows. Back then, Farber said talk-radio shows were “in the ghetto of broadcasting” because “all radio did was congratulate. The toughest question you ever heard was asking some movie star, ‘Tell me about your next movie, Baby.’ That was about as tough as radio got. And the reward was that we got shoved to the back of the broadcasting bus.”
He explained that there was no such thing as a Rush Limbaugh leaning into a microphone and giving his true opinion of the president’s policies, actions and statements.
“We had none of that whatsoever,” he said. “Was it cowardice? No. We just weren’t habituated to it. Part of it was respect, and part of it was that it wasn’t what we did.”
But that was just the beginning. The fawning interviews with show-business personalities would soon give way to more substantial interviews with authors, experts and politicians.
“We did branch out, but nowhere near to where Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are today,” Farber said. “That is new, and that is healthy. Given the total tanking of the mainstream media, it’s necessary.”
Talk radio versus mainstream media
Listeners sometimes argue that talk radio is a respite from the mainstream-media news pabulum and offers civics lessons replete with history, politics and other important topics of the day.
Farber said the medium often brings more depth and factual information to listeners.
“We do it because we provide what [the mainstream media] are trying to conceal,” he explained, “so we have the advantage right now of appearing to give civics lessons: Namely, we explain that this is what the Constitution provides. This is what the Constitution says.”
Farber noted, “The other side is telling you what the Constitution would have said if they had written it.”
Meanwhile, he added, the public often looks to talk-radio hosts for common perspective.
“We appear to be the teachers because the part that they are leaving out is the part that serves what we believe is the American agenda, and we’re not going to let them leave it out.”
Deterioration of American journalism
In the half century Farber has been observing media trends, he said he has noticed a profound change in the way news is reported as “journalism has just deteriorated before our very eyes.”
“It sounds corny and naive, but we were trained to keep opinions out of our news coverage,” he explained. “Opinions were confined to the editorial page, and everything else was more or less subjective. Today, the mask is off.”
In 1950, Farber went overseas for the first time in his life – to Norway, a democracy.
“It seemed odd because every political party had its own daily newspaper,” he recalled. “So, in a way, you could compensate for the bias. At the end of the day, if you read enough papers, you could get the whole story. I still thought that was vastly inferior to what we had. We had great newspapers telling the truth, we thought.”
But today, Farber is seeing an astonishingly different trend.
He pointed to the recent news in which 43 Catholic institutions announced they were suing the Obama administration over the Obamacare contraception mandate. The major media networks spiked the news or only provided seconds of coverage on the topic during the first week.
“Once I’ve told you that, I’ve told you everything,” he said. “It’s wall to wall. They are for Barack Obama. That story can be very harmful to Barack Obama, so they don’t tell that story. That’s the disaster of today.”
Why leftists can’t master talk radio
Asked why conservative broadcasters are so much more successful than their leftist counterparts, Farber declared:
“The liberal impression is that television is normal, meaning liberal. Newspapers are normal. Magazines – Time and Newsweek – are normal, meaning liberal. But talk radio, all by itself, is this bad boy on the right.”
He then posed the question: Where does the public enter into media outlets, including television, magazines, newspapers and the like?
“’60 Minutes’ used to have three or four letters from viewers,” he said. “They dropped that. They didn’t have it for the first 20 years. They had it for a year or two and then they dropped it. So let’s put a zero around shows like ’60 Minutes.’ The public isn’t in there at all. The public has no raccoon in that dumpster. They’re not allowed.”
As for magazines and newspapers, Farber acknowledged that they often run about eight to 10 letters to the editor – but they are frequently selected and edited by the editor.
“So the public footprint there is slight,” he said, adding, “Broadway plays are all left wing. Do they have letters to the director? Do they have a panel after the play arguing with the political points made during the play? Of course not! There’s zero public participation.
“How about books? At the end of the book, do they have rebuttals to the book, letters to the author? Of course not!
“My point is: Where there is broad public participation, the product will be conservative. Now Rush might not take that many calls, but he does take calls. Some talk hosts do nothing but take calls. So the public has its largest footprint where? Talk radio.”
The future of talk radio: ‘It’s going to get better’
Asked what he sees as the future of talk radio, Farber assured WND, “Oh, it’s going to get better and better and better.”
He noted that people who don’t even have access to radio stations these days can host talk shows on the Internet.
“They don’t get paid, but they figure if they’re consistently good, day after day, they are going to get paid,” he explained.
However, Farber expects talk shows will become very predictable.
“You could never tell what side of an issue we would pop up on, and that was wonderful,” he said. “You know what you’re going to get from Bill O’Reilly. You know what you’re going to get from Sean Hannity. You know what you’re going to get from WBAI, the New York Pacifica station. If it were any more left, it would belong in a zoo.”
In one aspect, Farber craves the old days of talk when hosts didn’t strictly pander to listener viewpoints.
“I think it’s lamentable in a way, but we can’t recapture that any more than we can recapture our youth,” he said. “I just wish it were the same where people would think things over and not feel they have to please their right-wing base or left-wing base. I wish they would just think hard and use their conscience and their knowledge and come down on the side that they believe has merit.”
But if that ideal scenario can no longer exist, Farber said he is encouraged when all opinions have an outlet.
“WND is a major factor in helping us break out of that,” he said. “This is a blessing. We are no longer helpless. We’re no longer at the mercy of the left wing.”
He admits the left has the advantage, with its three major networks – ABC, NBC and CBS – and newspapers such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.
“But our venues are getting stronger, and their venues are getting weaker,” he noted. “Something good is going on! They’re unbeaten, they’re untied, but they’re no longer unscored on. We’re scoring more and more every day.”
Limbaugh: ‘He’s always been in rarified air’
During his adventurous career, Farber helped Hungarians across the border after their Freedom Fight and sped to Cuba after the fall of Batista, beating Fidel Castro to Havana by five days. He reported on the repression of Soviet Jews from the Moscow synagogue and covered the Liberty City, Fla., race riots from an all-black bar. Farber was also the first freelance journalist to enter the Soviet Union after Stalin, where he actually had cocktails with Molotov himself.
During the Korean War, Farber served in the Army as a Russian translator for American military intelligence.
Back in the states and after years at WOR, Farber would go on to host shows on a variety of stations such as WMCA-AM in New York and many others before joining the ABC Radio Network and Talk Radio Network.
After more than five decades, he is still on the air. “The Barry Farber Show” airs Saturdays live from 1 to 2 p.m. PST and 4 to 5 p.m. EST.
A legend in the talk-radio industry, Farber blazed a trail for conservative radio talk-show hosts that has earned him accolades from the biggest names today.
Sean Hannity once remarked, “Every time I’m a jerk on the air it’s because of me. Every time I’m a gentleman, it’s because of Barry Farber.”
Likewise, Rush Limbaugh declared, “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. He was defining. He’s always been in rarified air.”
Talkers Magazine ranked Farber as one of the greatest radio talk-show hosts of all time, saying, “[H]e’s certainly one of the New Yorkers who played an instrumental role in the process of taking AM music radio into talk and setting its tone and style.”
Now Farber is recipient of the prestigious Talkers Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award. Asked what the honor means to him, he replied:
I’ll tell you what I’d like for it to mean. I was big dog in the meat house for a long time. I dominated New York radio. Now there’s talk coming out of everywhere. I’d like to think that somebody was listening and realized that I had a few attributes: 1) I wasn’t nasty just to build an audience, and 2) I always found a gentlemanly way to protest.
What it means is here’s a guy, at his age, who’s still in it. And, by golly, we’ve got to give hope – not just to the younger generation, but give hope to the older generation. What it means to me is, it’s certainly not a fountain of youth, but it is an unending fountain of sweetness.
(Editor’s note: The following is an exclusive radio interview with Barry Farber conducted by WND’s Greg Corombos. Farber shares life adventures and discusses exciting tidbits from his latest book, “Cocktails with Molotov: An Odyssey of Unlikely Detours.”)
After reading "Cocktails with Molotov," you'll wonder if there's anything Barry Farber hasn't done, if there's anywhere he hasn't been. Farber's collection of fascinating real life short stories is now available at the WND Superstore!