POLKA ON THE SMALL SCREEN

Pub­lic Ac­cess Polka Show Spreads Music For 23 Years

Riverbank News - - NEIGHBORHOOD VALUES - By RICK ARMON

WADSWORTH, Ohio — Each Tues­day morn­ing, Gene Ko­vack walks into the Wadsworth Com­mu­nity Tele­vi­sion of­fice car­ry­ing a well-worn shoe­box filled with 14 video­tapes.

The box has been re­paired so many times with duct tape that it’s nearly un­rec­og­niz­able. The white-haired, 83-year-old Ko­vack can’t even re­call what type of shoes it once held.

He hands the box to di­rec­tor Jo­hanna Per­rino and makes his way into the small tele­vi­sion stu­dio, where he un­packs an ac­cor­dion and meets 93-year-old Joe Gabrosek, who has al­ready placed his ac­cor­dion on a ta­ble.

Neatly dressed in jackets and ties, they sit be­hind the ta­ble, stare into the main cam­era and .

“Wel­come to Polka Time Again from the stu­dios of WCTV in Wadsworth, Ohio, with Gene and Joe,” Kovach says as he in­tro­duces the pro­gram.

For the last 23 years, Ko­vack and Gabrosek, friends since their days danc­ing with their wives in the early 1970s, have been vis­it­ing the stu­dio to share polka videos with an en­thu­si­as­tic, polka-starved au­di­ence.

The se­nior cit­i­zen VJs and polka celebri­ties re­cently recorded their 1,200th pro­gram, and WCTV touts Polka Time Again: Mem­o­ries of a Sun­day Af­ter­noon as the long­est-run­ning pub­lic ac­cess show in the coun­try, per­haps the world.

The one-hour weekly pro­gram is seen in an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion house­holds on pub­lic ac­cess chan­nels in Ohio and North Dakota — not to men­tion their world­wide fan base thanks to the show be­ing avail­able on­line at https://my.viebit.com .

“There are very few polka per­son­al­i­ties . who have been able to main­tain a pres­ence on TV as long as they have,” said Joe Va­len­cic, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Cleve­land-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Mu­seum in Eu­clid. “They are im­por­tant in per­pet­u­at­ing the music and giv­ing it a showcase on tele­vi­sion that few have done.”

One day while Ko­vack was tak­ing ac­cor­dion lessons with men­tor Frank Spetich in the early 1990s, they be­gan talk­ing about the old tele­vi­sion show Polka Va­ri­eties.

They both missed the pro­gram, which show­cased lo­cal and na­tional polka bands per­form­ing in a stu­dio with peo­ple danc­ing.

The show had been broad­cast on WEWS in Cleve­land for decades be­fore go­ing off the air in 1983. Ko­vack de­cided they should re­vive the pro­gram — or at least some­thing sim­i­lar. Wadsworth res­i­dents are per­mit­ted to pro­duce their own tele­vi­sion show for free on the city’s com­mu­nity ac­cess channel. So he and Spetich hosted the first Polka Time Again on April 12, 1994. That ini­tial show was 17 min­utes long and, un- l i ke Polka Va r i - eties, f e atured videos as op­posed to live per­for­mances. On the se­cond episode, Gabrosek, who also stud­ied the ac­cor­dion with Spetich, took over as Ko­vack’s co-host. They host the show for free. Ko­vack and Gabrosek, who both live in Wadsworth, grew up with the sounds of polka in their eth­nic fam­i­lies. Ko­vack is half Slove­nian and half Slo­vak. Gabrosek is Slove­nian. “The melodies. The songs,” Gabrosek, who still plays the ac­cor­dion three times a week, said about why he loves the music. “When I was real young my folks would take us to the Slovene Cen­ter (in Bar­ber­ton). The music I grew up with is polka music. It’s in me to like the sound of the nice fast polka and the waltzes.” The pas­sion is ev­i­dent dur­ing the show. While the videos play, they chit chat with each other but their eyes are fixed on the mon­i­tor in the stu­dio as they watch the bands per­form and cou­ples twirl around on the dance floor. When they rec­og­nize some­one danc­ing, they share mem­o­ries.

Even though Ko­vack and Gabrosek lug their 23-pound in­stru­ments into the stu­dio each week, they never play on the show. The ac­cor­dions are just props.

Why? Well, they can’t come up with a de­fin­i­tive an­swer. They just haven’t, in­stead opt­ing to fo­cus on videos.

Ko­vack, who’s mar­ried to Dar­lene Ko­vack and retired from run­ning the ship­ping de­part­ment at a lo­cal Bab­cock & Wil­cox fa­cil­ity, is the jokester.

“If you want to get my good side, I’ll turn around,” he tells a Bea­con Jour­nal pho­tog­ra­pher who came to the stu­dio to take pho­tos.

Dur­ing the show, he of­ten tells hu­mor­ous, em­bel­lished sto­ries of grow­ing up in the Ma­hon­ing Val­ley. There’s the one about the fish­ing buddy who put worms in his mouth to keep them warm. (That’s a joke.) He also states that he ex­er­cises re­li­giously — at Easter and Christ­mas.

Gabrosek, who’s mar­ried to Ann Gabrosek and retired from Pack­ag­ing Corp. of Amer­ica, plays more of the straight man, shar­ing re­ports on lo­cal polka hap­pen­ings. On a re­cent episode, he talked about a trip

to the Slove­nian Sausage Festival in Cleve­land.

“They crack them­selves up,” said Per­rino, who started at WCTV in 1992 and has di­rected the show from the be­gin­ning.

As for the videos, Polka Time Again isn’t broad­cast in 4K. Or even hi-def. Many videos are dated and fea­ture muted col­ors recorded on long-ago VCRs. Some show ob­vi­ous video­tape wear and tear — like their au­di­ence.

Ko­vack and Gabrosek lament that polka hasn’t caught on with younger gen­er­a­tions. That’s why they slip in the oc­ca­sional video from Slove­nia fea­tur­ing young, pretty women.

Ko­vack es­ti­mates that he has about 2,000 hours of music. His col­lec­tion of video­tapes is so vast that Polka Time Again rarely shows the same video twice.

De­vout fans from as far away as Canada and the Nether­lands mail in videos, and polka bands from around the world send in DVDs for the show.

Ko­vack isn’t up to speed with the new technology and Per­rino will copy the DVDs onto video­tapes for him.

Be­fore each show, he watches the video­tapes at home, cue­ing each one to the pre­cise se­cond and writ­ing down a song list for Per­rino.

The hosts don’t have a fa­vorite video or per­former.

“They’re all good,” Ko­vack said.

The show hasn’t changed much from its early days.

Each pro­gram be­gins with the song Polka Time Again by the Frank Stanger Polka Band.

Ko­vack and Gabrosek sit in the stu­dio — other than the rare oc­ca­sion when they broad­cast from lo­ca­tion. Per­rino sits in the con­trol room.

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