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Barnes began his career in radio, as an announcer and occasional scriptwriter in Ohio in the 1930s before moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At Philadelphia NBC station WCAU, he was The Funny Money Man (1942), hosting a comedic giveaway show. During this period, he began writing plays. Barnes subsequently became a sales manager for the NBC Thesaurus record label and for radio syndication and continued in that line for television.
Barnes went on to New York City and entered songwriting (usually teamed with Ralph Blane) and composed the music for the children's TV play "Quillow and the Giant", performed over the BBC in 1961 and on NBC Children's Theatre in 1963. He appeared in small roles in several films shot in New York, often in group scenes, including Easy Money (a boardroom lawyer) and Purple Rose of Cairo (diner patron). Continuing in the field of show business sales and publicity, he founded Barnes Associates Inc. and was chairman until his death.