Saturday, March 22, 2003
Guests say Ryan was a tough questioner but a gentleman.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Local talk radio listeners will remember Dan Ryan for putting many a politician on the hot seat, but some of those same officeholders say he earned their respect as a fair-minded, kind-hearted man.
Ryan, 74, who died Friday at home after a long illness, was one of the Mahoning Valley's most tenured broadcasters. For most of his 50-plus-year career, he shared his microphone with numerous elected officials and political candidates who knew what influence he had with the citizenry.
State Sen. Hagan
"I always said if he mentioned your name on his show in a positive light, it was worth at least 10,000 votes," said state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, who had known Ryan for about 30 years. "He was always a man of integrity. Maybe he wore it on his sleeve."
"Dan was a fair voice in the realm of talk radio. When people in radio liked to spew the acid, he spewed more kindness. ... He was even kinder in person."
Youngstown Mayor George McKelvey was a monthly guest on Ryan's show. Their discussions were "sometimes a little fiery and entertaining," McKelvey said, but he shared Ryan's enthusiasm for keeping the public informed and holding politicians accountable for their actions.
"I was struck by his kindness," McKelvey said. In the rough and tumble world of politics, "Dan still had the ability to be a kind and a gentle person every time I encountered him. Those are rare qualities in somebody that has to deal with very controversial subjects at times and maybe some very unpleasant issues that guests may not want to deal with. At the end of the show, he would always have a warm smile and a firm handshake and tell you he was looking very much forward to the next visit. That says a lot about the character of a man."
"I found him to be a very informed interviewer and someone who always treated me fairly," said U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican and regular guest on Ryan's show. DeWine admired Ryan for his ability to "frame a question the way an average person would ask [it]" and "cut through all the rhetoric."
Ron Verb, a colleague
Ron Verb of WKBN's "Ron and Casey" talk show had worked with Ryan for more than 18 years.
"It was an honor to work with him. He was in broadcasting for 50 years, and in this competitive, cut-throat business, he was No. 1 for his entire career. That's really rare."
Verb said Ryan was successful because he did his homework on issues and had a lot of contacts in the political field.
"Politicians knew they had to answer to him. He did a great public service."
Verb and Ryan often sparred politically over the airwaves and in the Clear Channel office, where their desks were next to each other.
"Dan and I didn't always agree politically on issues. But I respected his opinions, and I believe he respected mine. We kidded each other. We were more than colleagues. We were friends as well."
Verb said he looked up to Ryan as an experienced broadcaster with whom he could discuss work-related issues.
"I have a lot of respect for the man. He gave us a standard to go by, a very high standard. He had a great relationship with so many listeners over the years."
A loyal listener
Listeners also held Ryan in esteem. "He had the gift," said Herman Adams of Youngstown, who tuned in and called Ryan's show ever since he was on WBBW. "He was always polite with his guests. He never cut one off, whether he agreed or disagreed."
"My experience with quite a few talk show hosts now, the younger ones, they're in a hurry. They don't give the callers time to express themselves."
Ironically, Ryan had been discouraged from launching the talk show that made him a local icon.
"When I first talked about doing a talk show in this market, I was given the impression that people in this market weren't cosmopolitan enough, sophisticated enough, intelligent enough, that I wouldn't survive with a talk show. Well, that's hogwash," Ryan once told a Vindicator writer.
Ryan was raised in Cleveland. His introduction to radio came in a production course that he took at West High School. "It came down to that radio class or the glee club, and I couldn't sing. So I took radio production and loved it," Ryan said in a 1990 interview.
Cleveland radio stations wouldn't hire people who lacked experience, so Ryan's job search took him to the Deep South, then to Youngstown. He was hired as an announcer in 1949 at WBBW-AM, which had been on the air for only a short time.
Youngstown was a stopping point for many musical stars of that era. Ryan recalled meeting singer Tony Bennett in 1952, who told him about the record hops, or dances, that a young man named Dick Clark had begun in Philadelphia. Ryan did his homework and started his own version of record hops at Idora Park Ballroom. Ryan's events became the ballroom's biggest draw.
Ryan made the switch from disc jockey and reporter to talk show host in April 1965 because he "was looking for a niche other than news," he recalled. He believed a talk show would help his station's sagging ratings. His instincts were correct. With Ryan in place, WBBW became and remained the Valley's top-rated station.
Ruled the empire
Ryan joined WKBN-AM in 1984. Two years later, WKBN management dropped most of its music programming to make room for more talk shows, which were better suited to AM radio. WKBN became the local talk radio empire, and Ryan was its ruler.
Ryan was hospitalized in 1993 after becoming ill during a show and had undergone angioplasty in 2001. Illness had kept him off the airwaves since last fall, according to WKBN.
XCONTRIBUTORS/Debora Shaulis, entertainment editor, and David Skolnick, politics writer.