The cheery strains of polka music rising from his parents' downstairs bar used to keep Tony Petkovsek up way past his bedtime as a kid. Maybe that's why the Cleveland native went on to host the world's longest-running polka radio show on WELW 1330-AM (weekdays 2-4 p.m.) To coincide with the show's 50th anniversary, the Federation of Slovenian National Homes has organized a yearlong Slovenian Polka Tour of Greater Cleveland. We recently talked to Petkovsek and federation president Edward Gabrosek about the 10-performance concert series and the city's long-standing ties to polka music.
The reason for the Slovenian Polka Tour of Greater Cleveland: "[It's] a way of reconnecting with the people who moved out of the Cleveland area to the suburbs and bringing them back to the [Slovenian National Homes], to which their parents belonged," Gabrosek explains. "It gives them a touch of their heritage again."
What makes Cleveland-style polka different: "The saxophone — it gives it a big-band flavor or flair, versus Polish, which has trumpets," Petkovsek says. "And [it has] the banjo, another all-American instrument."
Why polka music survives today: "In the '40s, the hit music of the time, before rock 'n' roll, was polka music," Petkovsek says. "It's a great form of socialization, and it makes people happy. There's nothing like making people happy. And for a lot of older folks like us, it's hard to relate to some of the music today, like rap. How do you identify with that? Although it's probably great for the younger people."