In a very short time Crime Beat Radio has become a huge hit on the world wide web. Run by Ron Chepesiuk and William Hryb the show covers the shady world of crime. Its topics range from the Italian Mafia to mob wives to serial killers to crimes committed by states and governments and Chepesiuk and Hryb invite the best and most knowledgeable guests to shine their light on these subjects.
Ron Chepesiuk is no stranger to the criminal world. Having written twenty-five books, most dealing with organized crime, and having served as a consultant to the History Channel´s ¨Gangland¨ series and having been interviewed by NBC´s Dateline, the Biography Channel’s “Mobsters”, The Discovery Channel’s “Undercover” and Black Entertainment Television´s ¨American Gangster¨.
William Hryb has studied Communication Arts, majoring in broadcast journalism, and has interviewed a wide range of political and business leaders in his career, including 'The Right Honourable' John Diefenbaker, the 13th prime minister of Canada. He has two books coming out soon. One, as a co-author describing the famous ship wreck 'Gunilda' that sank in Lake Superior 100 years ago and an anthology of influential people that lived in the Thunder Bay region during the last century.
Together they form a dynamic duo that produces the great radio show Crime Beat, gluing 100,000s of listeners to their seats. For this interview there is no audio, unfortunately, but we do have a very insightful text in which both men discuss Henry Hill, their youth, their favorite guests, undercover agents, and, of course, their show Crime Beat. Sit back and enjoy!
Ron and Will, first, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
Q: You guys grew up together is that correct?
Ron Chepesiuk/RC: Yes, we are boyhood friends who go back more years than we want to remember (laughs). We grew up in the working class hood called the East End in the Canadian city of Thunder Bay. Despite being poor we had a great childhood and refer to our background frequently on our show. Willie will deny it but I use to whip his butt frequently at table tennis when we were growing up. (Laughs)
William Hryb/WH (photo right): We lived in the East End where there was every imaginable nationality - Ukrainians , Italians, Slovaks, Poles, Finns, Japanese, and few who claimed they were from "Mars" 'a melting pot'. We were poor and outrageously competitive. My buddies and I admired guys who excelled at sports and Ronny was one of those people.
I remember our ping pong rivalry a little differently (laughs). I revelled in challenging and beating him in ping-pong, by the way. He doesn't take defeat easily, I must admit. Ronny probably could have made it in the NBA if he was taller and of African-American descent... 'too bad Ronny'!
Q: Could you tell our readers about your friendship?
RC: Well, like a lot of friendships, as we got older, we started to go our separate ways in life. I left Thunder Bay at age 20 to go to college in the U.S. and we lost a few decades because I never really came back to the city to live. But in the early 2000s I started to go back to Thunder Bay for visits and we rekindled our friendship. I hold dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship and I would not mind living in Thunder Bay part of the year, although I would have to again get used to wearing three pair of socks once again, given it’s one of the coldest places in Canada. (Laughs)
WH: Ron knew I had a Broadcasting background. I studied Broadcast Journalism and Theatre Arts from 1968-71 but never really got into the "biz" - after missing a my first 'gig' as a sports announcer in the wild interior of British Columbia in 1971 (got caught up in the Hippie culture of Vancouver - 'Gastown' in Vancouver was the equivalent to 'Height Ashberry in San Francisco.
Drove from Canada to Mexico with some buddies in early 1972 in the dead of winter and spent almost five months 'beach hopping'. Took off to New York City the fall of 1973 after "Playboy' magazine sent me some advice' on how to get into the acting game. I had met this real gorgeous rich French chick named in Mexico who now was living in New York. Went to a couple of actors workshops but regrettably ran out of money and 'high tailed' it back to Thunder Bay to make some money and prepare for a yearlong trip to South America with girlfriend. Travelled throughout South America for nine months as a freelance Journalist and returned to Canada where I took a position with an international shipping company in 1975 where I stayed for 34 years. I met Ronny again about six years ago at a book signing and seminar he was giving in Thunder Bay and he convinced me to take a Journalism course he was giving online at the University of California. Soon after, I began my writing career. I've been fortunate to have been published in numerous publications, thanks to Ronny, who is somewhat of my mentor. We stayed in touch regularly and in 2010 Ron asked me if I wanted to join him in broadcasting an internet radio show on the ArtistFirst World Radio Network. We broadcast our first show in January of 2011, and the rest is history.
Q: When did the idea to have your own radio program start?
RC: I (photo right) had always wanted to do a radio show. In the course of my writing career I’ve done over 16,000 interviews and love talking to interesting people. Tony Kay, President of Artist First, interviewed me for his show about books. I was impressed with Tony and his station and thought I found a venue for my dream. I knew Willie had studied radio and broadcast arts in college, but had pursued a successful career in shipping. He always wanted to get a foot in radio. So we talked and Crime Beat was born on January 28, 2011.
Q: Most of us think of a radio program being run from a studio. But you guys actually aren’t even in the same room. Explain to us how you guys run the show.
WH: Our show is produced in our home studios, mine in Thunder Bay Canada and Ron's in Rock Hill South Carolina (the studio is basically our phone line). Our production people are located in Ohio who hook us up with our guests just before 8 p.m. EST every Thursday. Our shows are live so, we are flying by the 'seat of our pants' most times but the secret is that we are very well organized with a proven format, so it works pretty good. My job is to introduce the show, introduce Ron, give a brief outline of the guest and then get into our Rap Sheet feature which is usually two news items from the world of crime. After this segment, I introduce Ron and the guest and Ronny then takes it from there. I usually will throw in three questions that are extemporaneous - I don't review them with Ronny and that seems to keep the show spontaneous and entertaining.
RC: The Artist First studio (www.artistfirst.com) , which carried our show, has its studio in Alliance, Ohio. Willie is in Thunder Bay and I’m in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Corey King, our engineer calls me and I call Willie for a three way conversation. Corey calls the guest to put them on the line. When we have more than one guest we will use a conference line. It’s quite amazing. Our shows (www.artistfirst,.com/crimebeat.htm) end up being listened to in more than 120 countries. Of course, all our shows are archived for 24-7 listening. Tony Kay and his staff at Artist First do a great job.
Q: You cover a variety of topics dealing not just with organized crime but “regular” crime such as serial killers, rape in the U.S. military, and the Amanda Knox case as well. I also noticed you guys dealing with topics such as politics (you’ve had Noam Chomsky come on the program) and the military (with elite Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle). An extremely varied group of people and stories, and not all of those fall under the header “crime”. I was trying to think of a reason why these guests appeared on a crime show when I figured it out by listening: 1. It’s your show, and 2. They are interesting! So my question is: How much fun are you guys having with this show interviewing all these interesting people?
RC: First, all of interviews relate to crime and that includes the one with Noam Chomsky (listen here). Isn’t the violation of human rights a crime? Aren’t torture and genocide crimes? Can’t states commit crime? Hitler’s regime has been described as a gangster regime, organized crime as its most sophisticated. In fact, we plan to have a future show on the Hitler regime. Saddam Hussein operated like a godfather. State crime is legitimate field of study. Aren’t terrorists criminals? Having said that, yes, we are having a lot of fun. I am Gemini with catholic interests. I think it would be boring to just focusing on organized crime.
WH: We have had an abundant number of fascinating guests, from social activists like Noam Chomsky to self-admitted murderers, turned police informant like Frank Cullotta (interview here). It's a real thrill to actually speak to these people and get the 'goods' right from the 'horse's mouth'.
Q: Of course, Crime Beat still focuses heavily on organized crime and arguably your most famous guest in that respect was Henry Hill (interview here). Hill passed away a short while ago. What was it like talking to him?
WH: Talking to Henry Hill (right) was like being in the movie 'Goodfellas'. The movie is one of my all-time favorites so it was particularly rewarding. He was rough around the edges but was sincere in his description of his life in crime. I never know he was working with young kids in California trying to put them on the right track. Henry Hill was the real deal, unfortunately he died a few months after the initial broadcast. we were planning to have him back on the show.
RC: Well, the interview almost never came off. Hill had agreed to do it, then you wrote something on Gangster Inc. about the upcoming show and he took offense. He angrily said he wouldn’t do the show. But after several e-mails and a phone call he came on board. The show turned out to be one of our best. He was articulate and funny and actually charming at times. Check it out at www.artistfirst.com/crimebeat.htm. Henry was supposed to come out with a book on the Lufthansa heist. We were going to get him back on the show when it came out, but he died before we could do that.
Q: Hill has been living out in the open for years now. Appearing on Howard Stern and television, doing public book signings. Recently you had Chicago mobster Frank Calabrese Jr. as a guest (listen to the interview here). Calabrese became a government witness against his own father and the Chicago crime family just a few years earlier. What was it like picking the brain of a mob guy who until recently was part of one of the most secretive and successful crime families of the US?
RC: It was an amazing interview. I could not imagine having a gangster father like Frank did and going through what he did. Imagine not only informing on your father but challenging a powerful crime organization like The Outfit. But somehow Frank seemed to survive his past and is actually moving ahead with his life in a positive direction. He was honest in answers and I think coming on a show like ours and talking about the trauma of his life was actually cathartic for him.
Q: Do you think it’s a sign of the decline of the mob that Calabrese is out in the open so soon after becoming a witness? Obviously he phoned in, but not too long ago authorities prohibited such contact for fear that the mob would find out the location of the turncoat and murder him.
WH: It's always amazing to talk to a an ex mobster like Calabrese. I first thought it was rather careless of him talking to us on radio when there was still people in the mob who wanted to 'do him in'. Just goes to show you that these guys have 'big egos' no matter how dangerous it is talking in the open like he did.
RC: Willie’s right: It is quite amazing, isn’t it? We actually called him. Frank has given interviews and it is very easy to find where he lives if one wants to do him harm. Frank said it didn’t matter if he hid out and kept a low profile. The mafia could hit him if they want. I think Frank is being kind to his former associates. We have other guests from the Mob world that should be in hiding but aren’t. Then there is Henry Hill. He died in his sleep. Saying that the Mob is in decline is as true as saying the sun will rise tomorrow morning.
Q: Two other interesting guests were Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco and Jack Garcia who both worked as FBI agents who infiltrated the mafia. How did you get them on the show?
WH: Joe Pistone aka Donny Brasco (interview here) and Jack Garcia were outstanding guys to talk too. I'd include Lou Diaz in this trio. Lou was one of my favorite guests and really set the tone for Crime Beat. Loved his Brooklyn accent and he enjoyed my accent from the East End of Thunder Bay, which is almost the same. Lou impressed me as compassionate and a 'tough as nails' undercover agent. Jack Garcia was our first inaugural guest, so he will always be very special. Joe Pistone was extraordinary and forthcoming, a wonderful interview.
RC: We asked. It sounds like a smart alec answer, but if you don’t ask, you will never know if a guest will come on. All they can say is “no.” It’s not like the show will stop if we ask prominent guest to be on the show and they refuse. Given the scope of our show, we have more potential guests than we have openings. But both Joe and Jack Garcia were great guests and popular with our audience, judging by our show’s stats. We will have them back on again at some point.
Q: What kind of impression did both men make? I ask because unlike Calabrese and Hill these were genuine good guys who sacrificed a lot to get criminals off the street. Educated guys as well. Still, both men managed to act as if they were street guys and were accepted into mafia circles. Did you understand how these guys were able to accomplish that during the short time you talked to them before and during the interview.
RC: Yes I’m quite amazed and in awe somewhat at the work of undercover agents like Jack, Joe and Louie Diaz. The balls they have in risking their lives and the sacrifices they make. Joe Pistone spent more than six years undercover and it affected his home life, but somehow he and his family survived it. The others had problems too. So they pay a personal price for what they do. As we know, gangsters are not dumb, so to fool them quite completely as those three undercover agents did boggles the mind.
Q: Which guest was your favorite and why?
WH: It's difficult to say who my favorite guest was... they all were quite outstanding. However, I must admit the appearance of Dr. Noam Chomsky was special as I was responsible for getting him on our program after discussing the possibility with Ron. Because of Dr. Chomsky's status as one of the most recognized people and social activist's in the world, it was a thrill to speak to him on the show. I was also very surprised to reach him personally on the telephone the morning of the broadcast when I tested the telephone number his secretary gave us. I was amazed when he answered the phone, thinking it would be an assistant at MIT. In any event we had a lengthy chat, discussing our respective places we lived.... 'that was a thrill' ..
I also enjoyed the appearance of Dr. Michael Stone (interview here), who wrote the seminal book on psychiatry call 'The Anatomy of Evil'. It was fascinating to have him describe the many serial killers he has studied. Dr. Stone was very personable and delighted us in his humor which was unarming. We delighted to have this world famous forensic psychiatrists to be a regular on our show. We are developing a feature on the show where we will discuss a serial killer in depth.
Being of Ukrainian heritage Ron and I were honored to host award winning documentary film maker Yurij Luhovy director of the award winning documentary titled 'GENOCIDE REVEALED' which investigates Joseph Stalin's killing of nearly 10 million Ukrainians by starvation from 1932 to 1933. On the same program we had Professor Roman Serbyn, one of the leading experts on the 'HOLODOMOR' (death by starvation in the Ukrainian language).
Q: And which guest was your favorite Ron?
RC: That’s hard to say for me because after 90 shows we really don’t believe we’ve had a dud guest. But names come to mind for me. FBI agent Jack Garcia because he was our first guest. Retired undercover agent Louie Diaz (interview here) because he’s a friend of mine and quite entertaining. World renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone is a regular and he’s always enlightening. We’ve been quite lucky in our selection of guests.
Q: Did anyone ever refuse to come on the show? If so, can you tell us who and/or for what reason he/she declined?
RC: We have had a couple of guests who couldn’t make our show because of scheduling conflicts. About the only one to do that was Rielle Hunter, the mistress of former U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards who came out with a tell all book. But that’s no issue because we have so many good guests we would like on the show. Also, they are finding us now and that is putting us in the good position and having to turn down guests.
WH: The John Demjaniuk trial in Germany was a fascinating subject to discuss for a show but his American lawyer Michael Tigar backed out for legal reasons after initially agreeing to an appearance. We were going to have Demjanuik's son John Jr. to talk about his father and the relentless pursuit by American authorities.
Q: Which guest for whatever reason has not yet appeared on your show that you would love to have on?
WH: Would like to get historian Deborah Lipstadt on our show to discuss her book titled 'The Eichmann Trial'. I think it would be fascinating subject to discuss. Would like to get Joe Pesci on the show to talk about the movie crime genre and of course get him to talk about his appearance in the new 'Jimmy Hoffa' movie starring John Travolta.
RC: There are several who come to mind for me. Salmun Rushdie just came out with a book about his years on the run. We will try to get him. Ice T or 50 Cent from hip hop. Like Willie, I would love to get actor Joe Pesci who is supposed to be in an upcoming John Gotti movie. Frank Serpico if we can ever find him (laughs). Wouldn’t it be great to have Julian Assange on the show complaining about having to being holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy? Also, of course, any mafia godfather who wants to talk. We will make him a deal he can’t refuse (laughs).
Q: Crime Beat has an audience of 100.000s of listeners right now and you’ve had many famous guests on the show. What would like to do in the future? Switch the internet for a real studio where you reach people the old fashioned way maybe? Or become the biggest radio show on the web?
WH: Although the Artist First World Radio has been a great forum to 'hue' our skills as broadcasters (we are grateful for all their support). I believe it's time we trained our sites on the next level, like 'Sirius RADIO' or some F.M. stations in North America that is willing to putting us on the air. After all, we have a great product: 'the sky's the limit'!
RC: The show is still growing. We are still learning. The show hasn’t realized its potential yet. Let’s do that first before expanding our horizons. We’ve had people talk to us about doing that and we are exploring the options.
Q: Last question: What was your most memorable moment (interview, blooper, whatever) during all of your past shows?
WH: The blooper that comes to mind is the one when I introduced a guest and had her last name wrong... I had given the name of the guest from the previous week's show - we quickly re-cooped though as Ron came through with the timely correction. A quick apology and it was on with the show.
RC: We actually had to cancel a show. It was going to focus on the threat of domestic terrorism. The guest’s secretary sent us the number. It was one digit off. Come show time we called and called. Finally through frantic e-mail with the guest we learned we had the wrong number. We were past the beginning time, so decided to run a repeat. After that show, I always call the number given the day of the show to be sure it’s accurate. Live and learn. We won’t cancel another show. Willie and I will do a comedy routine, if necessary (laughs).
Gentlemen, thank you very much for his interview.
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