20 Years of Polka Rascals

This year marks the 20th anniversary of one of WVKR’s most popular and storied programs, the Polka Rascals Monday night edition. Tom and Cindy Zak, the husband and wife team that hosts this weekly show, kindly answered our questions about their two decades at the station and their personal histories with Polka music. Enjoy!
WVKR: This year marks the 20th anniversary of your show on WVKR.  How has your show changed since its inception?

Tom Zak: Over the years, I’ve tried to keep the format the same focusing on the music not the chatter. The biggest change is having an increased audience which , in turn, creates more incoming phone calls with requests and dedications. We’re now averaging 20 to 30 calls per show. I’m grateful to my wife, Cindy, who now plays an invaluable role in the show by handling all the calls and helps out with live public service announcements on our “Polonia Bulletin Board” 

WVKR: What is the biggest change in WVKR’s operations since you’ve become a DJ?

TZ: There are a few that come to mind. First, the power boost which broadened the geographic area where VKR can be heard on the FM band. Now, of course, there’s the internet with VKR streaming worldwide. We’ve had callers from Arizona and Florida and now have gained some dedicated listeners in other parts of the country.. Another major change is the studio upgrade from the antiquated console to the new equipment.

WVKR: How did you first become interested in polka?

TZ: I guess it can be traced to when I was a kid growing up in a Polish-American family and in a community with a strong Polish-American heritage. My grandparents were active in a local Polish Club in NJ which was across the street from where we lived. It was there that I had  the opportunity to hear some of the most popular polka bands in the industry and became hooked on the music and began buying polka records

WVKR: For those readers who are unfamiliar with the genre, could you characterize polka and tell us briefly what periods or particular styles you play on your show?

TZ: Polka actually emanated from Bohemia and central Europe. Musically it is very up tempo, played in 2/4 time. We play mostly mostly Polish-American “eastern” and “Chicago” or midwest style in addition to “Slovenian style. All of these styles are basically an American art form. People of Polish and European descent have created the sound that we hear in the U.S. As a matter of fact, if one would travel to Europe, you wouldn’t hear the music that we play.

WVKR: When did you first become interested in radio? Have you ever hosted or co-hosted a show on another station?

TZ: I’ve always been interested in radio as a listener. A classmate of mine in high school had a polka show on commercial radio here in Poughkeepsie. I was always in awe of what he did in presenting the music, never thinking that many years later an opportunity would arise here at VKR. I had the chance to sub for John Sagan, the originator of the Saturday morning show here. I later obtained a slot  on Monday evenings as a summer fill in. Fortunately, the listeners liked the way I presented the music and after a few weeks presented a petition to VKR for more polka programming on a regular basis and I guess the rest is history.

WVKR: Among the many shows you’ve done, is there one that stands out in particular?

TZ: Without getting too “mushy”, it was the show immediately after proposing to Cindy (who I met at a polka event) when I played some appropriate tunes and dedicated the set to her. It was a lot of fun.

WVKR: What do you like most about hosting a show on WVKR?

TZ: Having flexibility in programming the show and the ability to present the music to an audience of varied demographics

WVKR: Finally, is there a message you would like to convey to your listeners?

TZ: People should not stereo-type the music. They should keep an open mind. Polka bands have very gifted and talented musicians. If you appreciate musicianship then I’m sure that you’ll enjoy polka. Over the years, the music that we play has come a long way. It has been presented and accepted in places such as Carnegie Hall & Lincoln Center in NYC, The Grand ‘Ole Opry in Nashville and has its own category in the NARAS Grammy Awards. As a matter of fact, local artist, Jimmy Sturr, an 18-time Grammy winner, (who also listens to our show) now has his clarinet on display in the newly opened NARAS Grammy Museum in California.
I would encourage our listeners to support polka events and venues where you’ll have the opportunity to experience some of what, Cindy and I, feel is one of the best genre of music on the planet. Also it is important that listeners continue to support non-commercial WVKR which provides an irreplaceable service to the local community and beyond.

WVKR: On behalf of the entire WVKR staff and community, we thank Tom and Cindy for their continued years of dedication and support. Our station would not sound the same without them.
Polka Rascals with Tom and Cindy Zak can be heard every Monday night from 7-9pm.  Their show is an integral part of WVKR’s Polka programming which also includes the Polish Hour (Saturday mornings 8-9am) and Polka Rascals Saturday morning edition (Saturday mornings 9-11am).

One thought on “20 Years of Polka Rascals”

  1. I greatly enjoy listening to Tom and Cindy Zak’s Polka Rascals over the Internet in Denver, Colorado. Congratulations on 20 years. Sto lat!

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