CLEVELAND - “From America’s Polka Capital, Cleveland, Ohio,” is how a fixture on WEWS, Polka Varieties, began its broadcast.
‘Polka,’ as we called it, aired on Sundays following The Gene Carroll Show and was a place where host Paul Wilcox and crew highlighted local and national polka bands from 1956 to 1983.
The studio was transformed into part-bandstand, part-dance floor, with bleachers for an audience. The tables and chairs seen in the studio look suspiciously like the tables and chairs in our lunch room of 1981.
Videographer Bob Seeley worked many of those polka productions and recalled the show was originally called "The Frankie Yankovic Show" before becoming Polka Varieties with Paul Wilcox.
“When he (Wilcox) took over that show, I remember him saying he didn’t know anything about polkas in the ethnic community, and then he grew with that,” recalled Seeley.
Wilcox was a sportscaster on the newscasts here at WEWS before taking on the ‘Polka’ role.
Said Seeley, “Back in the early days you didn’t do ‘a thing,’ people did multiple things. They took advantage of people’s skills because most of the shows were local, many of them were live, you would be wearing a lot of hats during the day.”
Much like the crew and talent on The Gene Carroll Show, Polka Varieties was like a family. The show was very popular among viewers and with the in-studio audience as well.
“The same people would come down here every Wednesday when we taped the show for years,” said Seeley. “They knew each other and if one of them didn’t show up, the producers or somebody from here at the station would try to call then and say ‘Are they sick? What’s the matter? Is something wrong?’”
Polka music even turned into the Wedding March for one couple who met in the audience and after many shows together as audience members were married.
The show in our video player is cut into a few segments. It was taped on April 29, 1981 and aired November 15, 1981, and I left the countdown on the beginning of the tape to show that. The ‘B.W.” on the director line is Bill 'Dad' Wiedenmann, a great man who worked here at WEWS 52 years, most of that time as a director.
The tape I pulled this Polka Varieties from was only 30 minutes long and I have no idea what happened to the second 30 minutes.
We open the show with Ed and Gilda Cifani with two numbers and then a local commercial spot for Volume 2 of The Polka Varieties Ethnic Cookbook, but wait there’s more! It’s a record offer! Polka Varieties Greatest Hits Volume 1 with some great names and great music from the polka world.
Next up is the Brian Papesh Orchestra, complete with their phone number on their bandstand podium. Wilcox told us their musical selection was called the Hambone Habit Polka. Ed and Gilda rejoin the show. Ed Cifani shows off his talents playing the accordion.
The third segment begins with Wilcox introducing us to audience members who came to the studio by bus from Lorain County.
After meeting the audience, the Zagreb Junior Tamburitzans (my apology if I’ve misspelled that) play.
Long Way from Home is played in The Brian Papesh Orchestra’s next number and that ends the tape.
Paul Wilcox passed away last June. You may click on the link to see his newsnet5.com obituary: http://5.wews.com/SJB