Article - #7 By Devon Turchan, The News-Herald (07-2013)
A man whose name is as synonymous with polka as Carniolan kielbasa is with Slovenia
will be inducted into the International Polka Association Hall of Fame on Aug. 3.
Tony Petkovsek is credited with having the longest running daily show on radio in
the world, two hours a day, six days a week for 50 years starting in 1961. He semi-retired
from the show on WELW-AM 1330 in Willoughby at the end of 2011, but can still be
heard on a polka show on Saturdays noon to 3 on the same station.
After a half-century in the business, he's received numerous awards, but this one,
he said, is distinct. "It's quite an honor. This one is very special," he said.
Petkovsek will be among those inducted into the IPA Hall of Fame during a banquet
at the Embassy Suites Cleveland-Rockside in Independence. The IPA is a Chicago-based,
Polish-style polka association but has a close relationship with the "Cleveland style"
polka of which Petkovsek has come to be a leader. "It's a national event, and I go
to this event quite often, and I went to the first one 45 years ago," he said.
He is credited with founding the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame in Euclid
and organizing a renowned Thanksgiving weekend event that WELW General Manager Ray
Somich said began as more than just a reason to polka.
"The very first year was in 1963, right after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated,"
Somich said. "It had been planned but thought of canceling and they decided to do
it because the country needed to smile and laugh and to start healing."
Now he is the subject of thanks from the international community that has been tuning
into his radio show online. To make connections between that international audience,
Petkovsek began organizing and participating in tours to Slovenia. "(Polka is) a
little different in the country of origin, it's more of Alpine style," he said, although
there is an interest on both ends to share and contrast the differences.
Cleveland is home to the largest population of individuals of Slovenian descent outside
of the Baltic republic itself and Petkovsek does what he can to keep that alive through
"He's a popular personality. His music is his life. He has done everything he can
to promote that style of music and help the people that love it and appreciate it,"
Somich said. "It's been my honor to have him as a friend and as someone to learn
from in the radio industry and the music industry," he said.
Somich noted Petkovsek's dedication as an attribute he admires. "He decided that
he was going to do this and serve these people no matter what. He put himself out
there he had to make it work financially and make a living out of it," he said.
At the ready, Petkovsek has a sentence or two for young people who might not realize
the impact the genre had on music history. "You know in the years before rock came
into the picture, polkas were the hits of the day, and that's a fact," he said. "A
couple of the Cleveland-based bands had million sellers. … They were the hits of
the day and the overall music changed but there always was polkas going." They are
kept going because, he said, there are enough traditionalists who want to see it
kept alive. "I think you should take a walk through that hall of fame. It won't take
you too long," he suggested to a certain young journalist wondering how to best introduce
himself to the style. And once the basic history is under one's belt, the only step
left is to experience it in person, Petkovsek said. "It's a happy dance. And you
should really witness either going to Sterle's or the SNPJ farm in Kirtland. You'll
see what I mean."
Sterle's Country House is a Cleveland restaurant specializing in Slovenian and Eastern
European cuisine. SNPJ, meanwhile, is a Slovenian acronym which in English translates
to Slovenian National Benefit Society.