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Barry Mayo Reframed: From Radio Mogul to Photographer and Award Winning Filmmaker Chasing Light

Christine Passarella By

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Soon after our meeting on the train, I discovered that Barry Mayo had made a decision to leave his distinguished career in radio to pursue his other passions. I pondered what kind of man would achieve such heights so young, and let it go to follow another passion reframing his life. I discovered he is an extraordinary man, a seeker and chaser of light who also sees the influence of shadows.

Childhood Impact

Barry Mayo grew up in the South Bronx during the 1960s and in the third grade was the first African American student to integrate his elementary school. The year was 1960 and busing had started, the world was changing. It was during this experience that Barry learned how negative words from a teacher could impact the mind forever. His white teacher reprimanded him because he touched the tape on the student art that was hanging on the wall. "Remember Barry, you are only a visitor here." Harsh and ignorant racist words from a school teacher taught him a lesson that no child should ever have to learn. "I can't remember the name of any other teacher in that school, but I remember her name. She was essentially saying to me you are not part of us," he told me.

Battling racism would be part of his life story and he does it with knowledge, clarity, and determination from his confident core beliefs. Barry states that race is the single biggest issue in this country now. Living in the South Bronx and later in Harlem, for the most part, he commuted to white schools. Mayo had one foot in both worlds and wrestled with his own identity. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School in which he excelled as a top student commuting from his home in Harlem. Through these experiences, he developed great friendships with people from different races, but never really felt comfortable in his own skin until he was in his 40's. These feelings would be the genesis of his interest in race and specifically in how people who were mixed-race identified. Although he is African American, he related to trying to navigate both the black and white worlds.

College and Career Path

Before entering college, Barry Mayo learned some important business skills working for Holiday Magic Cosmetics in sales. He was motivated and worked very hard. Selling the cosmetics brought him to Chicago, a city he has come to deeply love. During this time, he got turned onto the work of Napoleon Hill author of Think and Grow Rich who wrote, "Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve." The selling gig dissipated, but the lessons which he learned at that time stayed with him.

Barry left for Washington DC where he attended Howard University. His radio career would ignite as a student. Barry's journey in radio is legendary. He became Program Director of Howard University's college station. He was an integral part of creating and building the station which was broadcast in the residence halls. Barry took this role very seriously along with his full schedule of classes while working the night shift at Union Train Station as a train car cleaner to pay for his education. While still in his junior year, he was offered a position in middle-level management at a radio station in Little Rock, Arkansas. Barry would make a decision that year to leave school and dive deeper into the world of radio. With only 20 credits left to receive his degree, it was an emotional decision, as it is not in his nature to leave things undone. Years later, he would finish that degree and officially graduate from Howard University. A feeling that still makes him well up in tears as it would serve as an example to his children. Barry came to understand he primarily had to graduate for himself and his parents.

Another fateful opportunity came to him while finishing up his degree requirements which he was able to do in Chicago at Columbia College. Having risen in the radio industry and now working in his adopted beloved Chicago running a radio station, he also took the opportunity to teach a course in which the college gave him credit along with taking five more classes to finish his degree. One of the classes he took brought him deep into a love for photography which would be a window into his future. Barry Mayo's radio career spanned thirty-five years and it included being President of Radio One, President of Broadcasting Partners Incorporated from 1988 through 2015, overseeing nine radio properties, being Program Director for major stations throughout America, and General Manager of Kiss FM, and VP/Market Manager of Emmis NY at Emmis Communication. When first at Kiss and a Program Director, Barry would make radio history when he included Hip hop in the lineup and also transformed the station to a Black Top 40 station. Hip hop was still underground at that time, but through airing the music its commercial value would soon shine brightly.

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