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100 New Yorkers of the 1970s By Max Millard Characters: 4858

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

"Dull" is a word that could never be used to describe Barry Farber. He is a totally unique individual with so many far-reaching ideas that his conservative label seems to fit him poorly, even though it was as a conservative that he ran for mayor of New York last year and garnered almost as many votes as his Republican opponent Roy Goodman.

During that campaign, Barry quit the syndicated talk show on WOR Radio that he had hosted for 16 years. In March of this year his mesmerizing Southern drawl took over the 4 to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday time slot on WMCA (570 AM). The ratings have gone up at least 50% since he joined the station.

I meet Barry for an interview one August afternoon at a Chinese restaurant near the studio. To my amazement he orders the meal entirely in Cantonese. Then he withdraws a stack of index cards from his pocket on which are printed vocabulary words in Finnish, Italian, and Mandarin chinese - a few of the 14 languages that he studies during spare moments in his hectic work week.

The lank 48-year-old, neatly garbed in a pin-stripe suit, is surprisingly low-keyed in our hour-long conversation. Yet the verbal gems still trip as neatly off his tongue as they do when he's putting an irate telephone caller in his place, to the delight of radio listeners. Never hesitant to voice his opinion on any topic, Barry pounces on my questions with an eagerness that belies his calm exterior.

New York's reputation outside the city limits, says the widely travelled Farber, has gone way downhill in recent decades. "It used to be, where I grew up, that people would brag about coming to New York four times a year. Today they brag about never coming here. The large companies send their salesmen to Manhattan for a 45-minute conference like an Entebbe raid. … New York needs not a slow, gradual, ho-hum comeback. It needs a dramatic voice who is going to say that the city's priorities for the last 40 years have been wrong. New York is a sexy woman who's been running around in the mud. Turn the hose on her and she's going to regain her allure."

The tax revolt, he believes, "should definitely come to New York. You cannot expect to live as sinfully economically as we've lived, and avoid a rampage. The politicians have brought this upon themselves. And don't let them get away with telling us that they have to cut police, firemen, and sanitation before they cut themselves, because th

ey don't.

"When John Lindsay was mayor, he flung back his head and inhaled the vapors of the 1960s. And it was left, baby, left. He bet his presidential hopes on that. But in the last mayoral election, it was the conservatives who did the best. Koch was the most conservative Democrat running."

His anticommunist sentiments come to the surface when the subject turns to the 1980 Olympics. "I think we should have never allowed it in Moscow on the grounds that we have never had the Olympics in a dictatorship in the modern era. I'd like to see the athletes of the world say, 'We're not going to Moscow to play sportive games by rules when the Russians live in violation of the rules of civilization itself.' Russia is guilty of the world's worst cast of unsportsmanlike conduct. … Yes, we should pull out. But the Olympics is small potatoes. I say, start a new United Nations for the free countries of the world - a UFN, a United Free Nations, which shall be an association of all nations governed by law, of all free democracies that want to remain free. In 1945, we did not seek to build a fraternity of dictatorships where tinhorn tyrants would outvote democracies 10 to one."

Barry has lived on the West Side ever since he came to the city from Greensboro, North Carolina 21 years ago, and now occupies a 17-room penthouse overlooking the Hudson River. "The West Side and the East Side are like East Berlin and West Berlin in terms of the rigidity of lifestyle," he says. "There's a feeling on the West Side that we don't have to impress each other. We know where it's at."

Recently divorced from his Swedish wife, Barry makes frequent overnight trips to Sweden to see his children. He has to be back at the WMCA studio on Sunday at 11 a.m. for his four-hour live show with guests. Two weeks ago, he asked Robert Violante, who was shot and partially blinded by Son of Sam, what it felt like to be shot in the head. Questions like this tend to provoke as many listeners as they fascinate, and that is why Barry prefers not to be too specific about his address.

"I don't do a Merry Mailman kind of show," he says with a half-smile.

"One of my fantasies is to have a hit man from the Communist Party, the

Nazi Party, the PLO, and the Black Panthers approach me from four

different directions and fire all at once - and I duck."



Star of the New York City Ballet

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