06 March 2011

Last Run of the Polka Party Express - Sadly

Sad news in the polka music on the radio department:

After 25+ years of polka music on the Tampa/St. Petersburg area radio airwaves, the Polka Party Express pulled out of the station for its last run on WMNF 88.5 FM on Sunday, 20 March 2011. Believe me, listening to the last polka program on WMNF was like the day Amtrak pulled out of the St. Petersburg train station on 38 Av N back in 1984.

I have been an avid listener of the Polka Party Express, which as of today used to air on Sundays from 2 to 4 PM on WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa, from the days of the original host, Beachy Bruce. I listened to the polka show since 1984; a year earlier I graduated from high school and I was into the winter session at St. Petersburg College.

I was on a Sunday outing at John's Pass and I was in my car flipping around the FM dial. All of a sudden, I stumbled upon WMNF thinking it was a Mexican nortena music program at first. I kept it on for a few minutes and that's how I found out the show I was listening to was a polka program. The rest is history and I have been listening to the Polka Party Express since.

For the past 27 years, the Polka Party Express on WMNF has been through a few hosts since Beachy Bruce passed away in the 1990’s. The alumni that followed in Beachy’s footsteps include Ed and Adele (I don’t know their last names), Dave Magik, and Wackie Jackie Z (the current host of the show). The Polka Party Express is not just the Tampa Bay area’s only polka show on the air – it is an institution where polkas from all nationalities were played.

In fact, during the Beachy Bruce days (when the show was simply called the Polka Party) I got my exposure to not only polka music that we know here in America, I was also introduced to polka music of other nationalities such as Slovenia (such as the Slavko Avsenik ensemble and Lojze Slak, to name a few) and the Dalmatian Tamburitzan music of Croatia that Beachy used to play all the time. Today the Polka Party Express is a part of my Sunday afternoon routine no matter where I am (in fact, when I was in Los Angeles in 2007 I managed to listen to the Polka Party Express using WMNF’s live Internet stream on my laptop in my hotel room, as the show began at 11 AM Pacific which translates to 2 PM Eastern back home).

Recently I heard very heartbreaking news that Wackie Jackie Z is leaving the show. Even though Wackie Jackie Z is leaving the show and polkas are no more on the radio in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, we remember – in the words of Wackie Jackie Z – keep polkas alive on 88.5!

And one more thing: Even though polkas are gone, WMNF is listener supported community radio. It is the only station of its kind in the Tampa Bay area where the programmers select the music to be played during their shows, not Corporate America dictating what should be played as is the case on the commercial FM band. Sure you can find polka music out there streaming live on an Internet only station, but nothing comes close than listening to your favorite music the moment you turn on your car radio.

Sunday, 20 March 2011 will be remembered by avid fans of the Polka Party Express such as me that the Polka Party Express pulled out of town. Again, to me it felt like the day Amtrak pulled out of St. Petersburg in 1984.

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