Scene is proud to partner in sharing a new podcast from Marc Smerling, the Emmy Award winner behind the "Crimetown" podcast and the HBO documentary series "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst."
"Crooked City: Youngstown, OH," a new weekly podcast series from truth.media and Sony that debuted this week, explores how the mob came to control Youngstown from the bottom to the top and violence so impacted life in the city that it earned the moniker "Crimetown, U.S.A."
Smerling first intended Youngstown to be the setting for the third season of "Crimetown" — he'd Googled the name of the show and discovered David Grann's fabulous 2000 New Republic piece titled, "Crimetown USA."
But the program's association with Gimlet Media ended with the acquisition by Spotify before season three could get underway and Smerling detoured into TV work.
But with a recent new deal at Sony Music, Smerling was eager to revisit the idea and kickstarted research before the pandemic began. And Smerling and his team, after devouring newspaper archives and records from the local historical society, found a city very much interested in telling its story, warts and all (more warts).
"I get people who say why would you want to dig it up, it's old news, we're better now," Smerling told Scene. "But it's our shared history, not just as a city, but as a country. Not to share it would be to rewrite it. It's more personal for each of the people we talked to — it's their history. It's not just Youngstown's."
The era of mob rule, crime, violence and political corruption led Youngstown down a dire path that it's still struggling to recover from. The podcast delves deep into the key characters of that history and documents what vast corruption and negligence wrought on the city.
"It's institutionalized corruption to the point where it becomes normalized, and when it becomes normalized it becomes hard for people outside the city to invest in the city," he said. "All those mob hits and no-show jobs and bribes undermine the city, it's like a cancer that eats it away."
While Providence and Detroit, the settings of the first two seasons of Crimetown, have enjoyed renaissances, Youngstown is a bit further behind the recovery curve. But Smerling found a city poised, at least psychologically, to follow their paths.
"You see these people running around the Youngstown State University campus, and there's this old mob bar where there's a picture of Jim Traficant with a halo above his head, and no one notices. They're just talking about their futures."
Subscribe to "Crooked City: Youngstown, OH" on Apple
, wherever you find your podcasts, or stream episodes 1 and 2 below. New episodes of the 15-part series will be released every week.