Pioneer Valley Soundscapes

The Pioneer Valley Polka: Polka Radio on WMUA-Amherst

It has been argued that polka, as a musical genre, is an American creation. Traditional Polish and European dances just “were;” that is to say they were known as regionally different dances and musical styles with no specific name. In fact, the first documented case/use of the word “polka” was in the United States in 1825. Regional styles within the United States have emerged (from the Chicago style to the Southwestern style) and polka was enjoyed as a popular musical style for a great part of the early twentieth century. With the introduction of the radio (and later the television) to the American household, regional polka music and songs were exposed to a larger national audience, polka radio shows and television shows were created, and soon these shows were playing across the nation from San Diego, California all the way to the Bronx in New York.

Polka was seen (and to some, still seen as) an older generational style of music. In the 1950s, country music took over the airwaves, followed by rockabilly to rock and roll to funk to electronic music, etc. Many radio stations were silenced by the newer and more popular styles of music, including many polka radio stations. Jazz, R&B, rock and roll, and “golden oldies” stations seemed to have stayed for the most part in demand with new radio programming, but polka was pushed to the side.

In 1979, Mr. Billy Belina joined the WMUA Radio Station in Amherst, MA as a DJ who chose to play polka music. The polka influence remained strong within the Pioneer Valley mostly due to the large central European population (Polish, Czech, Russian, etc.). However, the DJs at WMUA point out that polka is not just a Polish phenomena; it is, to paraphrase them, everyone’s music. Polka music has a snappy enough beat that everyone can tap their feet and just enjoy the sounds. The station was later joined by Mr. Mitch Moskal, Mrs. Helen Szubzda-Curtin, and Mr. Todd Zaganiacz, who all contribute their time to continue to keep polka music on the air. Together, these DJs provide 13 hours of polka music to their listeners every weekend, from 5:30 AM to 12:30 PM on Saturdays and from 6:00 AM to 12:00 PM on Sundays.

Polka music is a resilient music: and continues to be played both by bands and on the radio. It is now streamed online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Websites such as 247polkaheaven.com and polkajammernetwork.org broadcast polka radio stations not just across the nation, but around the world. Polka music will always be around, though we may not always know it. To quote Mr. Mitch Moskal, “Polka music is not dying, it’s just in the background.”

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