LAFAYETTE — A giant and a legend of the Acadiana broadcasting community has died.
Mike Barras passed away Thursday. He was 80.
Barras, a graduate of what was then the University of Southwestern Louisiana, started his broadcast career as a student at radio station KRVS. In 1961, shortly after graduating from USL, Barras made the jump to television, joining the staff of KLFY-TV. For the next 52 years, Barras worked in virtually every position at the station. He started as a floor cameraman, working his way up to becoming an on-air host and sales staffer. He was later named the station's general sales manager and, in 2001, station president and general manager.
Barras was a hands-on boss. He routinely arrived at work at 5 a.m. to read the newspaper and get a jump on the day's business. He regularly visited the studio and production booth to greet the morning staff. On occasion, he would return to his roots and work a floor camera if he caught the urge. Despite his early start, he often was among the last to leave the building, working 12 or more hours in a day.
"Channel 10 was sort of his life," said Maria Placer, former vice president of news at KLFY, who worked with Barras for 43 years. "He was always thinking about Channel 10. It was always on his mind. He wanted to make sure everything there was straight. I don't know if he knew how to relax."
"No one that I ever knew in the TV business was going to outwork Mike Barras," said Dee Stanley, former KLFY news director and Lafayette Consolidated Government chief administrative officer. "His passion and work ethic were unlike anything I've ever seen. He was there before daylight and didn't leave until after the 6:00 news. Mike did that job for more than a half-century, and he treated every day and every project as if it was his first day on the job. We should all enjoy doing our job as much as Mike enjoyed doing his."
Barras's love for and commitment to the broadcast industry was recognized by his contemporaries. The Louisiana Association of Broadcasters twice named Barras its Broadcaster of the Year. Barras served as president of that same organization and was a member of its board.
"He was 'Mr. Television,'" Stanley said. "Fifty-plus years is two careers, and he did that in the same place. He saw all the changes in broadcasting. He saw the introduction of cable. He was there for film, the advent of videotape, and the advent of digital. He was around for multi-generational changes, and that's why I call him 'Mr. Television.'"
Placer said Barras was a salesman at heart, which led to some conflict between them.
"If there was a really good story with one of our clients, I would do it," Placer said. "Mike would want to throw it away. He was very attuned to the clients and the advertisers. That was his job. I was hard-headed, and we butted heads. He came from the commercial side, and I was on the news side. I was in his office quite a lot."
With a chuckle, Placer continued, "We were friends. We fought constantly about the value of a program or news content, but I usually got my way."
Stanley said Barras as a manager was "tough and all business."
"He ruled with a hammer--not a velvet hammer, but a hammer," Stanley said. "He wanted things like he wanted it, and I mean that in a good way. He knew what needed to be done, and he demanded from his employees what he would do himself. He was a tough but passionate--and compassionate--manager."
In addition to his broadcasting duties, Barras was heavily involved in civic and community service. For more than 40 years, Barras hosted the local broadcast of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon. Barras later served as one of MDA's national vice presidents and assisted with other fundraising efforts for the organization in Acadiana.
"I don't know how anyone can think of the telethon and not think of Mike, who hosted every minute of every show for four decades," Stanley said. "That's an 18-hour-plus project--24 hours when you consider what time he got there. My first experience in live TV was under his leadership (working the telethon). Anyone who watched the telethon or donated over those four decades knows what the telethon and the fight against muscular dystrophy meant to him, and those involved were family to him. It showed in what he did on air year after year."
"He was very attuned to the community," Placer said. "He did what he could to make the community prosper. I never had to get into a fight with him when I wanted to launch a community project, whether it was Food for Families or Wednesday's Child. He was committed to it. In fact, he helped with them, especially Food for Families. He was there at 5:00 in the morning--not to be on air and get the glory, but to lift boxes, put out chairs, and do other work. He got done a lot of things that needed to be done for the good of the community."
That work included making his community safer. Barras spent 19 years on the board of Lafayette Crime Stoppers and later spearheaded the creation of Iberia Parish Crime Stoppers.
"He started Iberia Crime Stoppers," said Wendell Raborn, a retired captain with the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office. "We started Crime Stoppers in 2017, and Mike Barras started rolling the ball. He saw the need for it in New Iberia because of the continuous violent crime. He approached Sheriff (Louis) Ackal to see if he would want to get on board and provide the office space, and the sheriff did. Mike went out and got all the advertisers and raised the initial funding. He got the free advertising. He got the logo designed. Everything that happened was because of him. He started it. That was his baby."
Outside of his professional life and community service efforts, Barras was a kind, caring person whose life revolved around his wife and his son.
"That boy was everything to him," Placer said. "When his son would come into the station, you could tell he was the apple of Mike's eye. His wife was always there with him. I remember that it was a given during the (MDA) telethon that she would be there intermittently, and she'd be there at the end. They would invite people up to their hotel room after, and they'd toast the telethon. Even then, she always took care of him. They were close."
That caring attitude extended to those outside of Barras's family.
"He had a lot of real southern charm about him," Placer added. "He was very gracious around women. He would open doors, hold chairs, and everything else a gentleman is supposed to do. He was always generous and cordial. He thought it was very important to be a southern gentleman. He was a caring person in that he remembered the things like people's birthdays and work anniversaries. After the station got sold again and the new owners cut staff, he held a lunch at the station as a tribute to us and made a presentation to us. He was gracious like that."
"That was the great thing about Mike: You always got consistency," Stanley said. "When he thought we (at LCG) got things right, we heard from him. When he thought we weren't doing things quite right, you heard from him. We would message back-and-forth on Facebook as recently as a few weeks ago. He never forgot a birthday. I'm reading a text from him right now from 5:35 a.m. on my 60th birthday. He was the first one to wish me a happy birthday.
"Louisiana broadcasting lost not only a legend, but an icon," Stanley concluded. "Mike was respected statewide, and the news of his passing will be difficult for many. Mike was in well regard."
Barras is survived by his wife Laurence, his son Michael, and a host of other relatives. Funeral services will take place Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Pellerin Funeral Home in New Iberia, with visitation taking place from 10 a.m. until the time of service. Pellerin Funeral Home of New Iberia is in charge of the arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Barras's name to Iberia Crime Stoppers.
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