He’s Gotta Be Free

The history of talk radio in the Mahoning Valley has been somewhat colorful, and usually somewhat controversial.

Youngstown/Warren’s fixation with local talk radio started with the long-time dominance of Dan Ryan, first on WBBW/1240 and later as a fixture on WKBN/570. Warren talk station WOKG/1570 “Talk 1570” burned to the ground in 1990, in an arson-caused fire with controversy swirling around its politically-charged local talk programming.

And then, there’s Louie Free.

Free made a name for himself going after former Valley congressman Jim Traficant, a move that got you some pretty powerful enemies back in the day. It also got him some big publicity, as even ABC-TV’s “Nightline” came to Youngstown to town to videotape his show, then on WASN/1330.

Free bounced around just about every small Youngstown area AM station that would take his money. He was heard on stations like WKTX/830 Cortland, WWOW/1360 up in Conneaut, and even the aforementioned 1570 AM in Warren – at the time, a religious outlet long removed from its local talk past.

He didn’t last long at most of the stations, as owners shied away from controversy, and in some cases, away from his attacks on Traficant. The occasional forays into Mahoning Valley politics from a small station outside the Valley in Conneaut were particularly odd.

As far as the disposition of the feud, you know the rest of the story, as the saying goes. Traficant was convicted of bribery and racketeering by a federal jury, and was sent away to a Pennsylvania prison. He sits today in a federal medical facility in New York State.

What about Louie Free?

He eventually landed in mornings (8 AM-12 Noon) on WASN, the calls now planted on 1500 AM – the former WGFT calls were swapped to 1330 in Campbell by then-owner Stop 26 Riverbend. He’s the only English-language show on a station that otherwise runs a Spanish-language music format.

And somewhere in the past month or two, he landed a big cross-promotion deal with the website of the area’s largest daily newspaper, the Youngstown Vindicator. Free’s show, in addition to its on-air spot on 1500 AM, is streamed on the Internet from his new Vindicator-hosted site – – which also contains a blog and his guest schedule.

It’s odd that today’s emphasis on new technology has brought the Mahoning Valley’s biggest newspaper, the venerable Vindicator, together with a controversial host like Louie Free…who has generally existed outside the Youngstown market media mainstream.

And the Vindicator gets news material out of the show, as well. When a particularly newsworthy local guest says something on Free’s show, the Vindicator quotes it in news stories.

Only in Youngstown, we guess.

You’ll note that Free plies his trade – presumably as a brokered host – on a station that is a part of the Stop 26 Riverbend bankruptcy proceeding. The station’s being managed by a bankruptcy court receiver on behalf of incoming owner Bernard Radio. There’s no indication if Bernard will change WASN’s programming, or if they’ll keep Free’s show. But he’s certainly used to finding new radio homes…

Speak Your Mind