A newsmaker you should know: Longtime polka radio host still keeps parties hopping

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It was his Polish last name that started Frank Powaski's long career as a host of a polka show, but it was his military service that started his radio career.

Mr. Powaski of Irwin was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 and deployed to Germany to serve in the signal corps.

"I had only six months to go when they asked me if I wanted to go on the radio," he recalled. "I thought it was a trick to get me to sign up for another tour of duty."

Despite the fact he only had a few months left to serve, he began working as a DJ on the Armed Forces Radio Network.

"I played middle of the road music and talked about community events," he said.

The experience would come in handy a few years later. In 1968, back at home and working at Westinghouse, Mr. Powaski was listening to a local radio show and asked a friend where the station was located. When he found out it was in nearby Monroeville, he went and applied for a part-time job.

He was hired, and the station manager posed a question: " 'With a last name like Powaski, how about hosting a polka show?' "

"I thought, 'For my own show, I can learn to like polkas,' " Mr. Powaski said.

Mr. Powaski said he loved oldies music, but his parents would frequently listen to polka music. That night, he borrowed his parents' polka albums.

"I said to my dad, 'I hate to do this, but [I'm] taking your records.' My dad couldn't believe it when I told him I had my own show," he said.

He returned the records after he accumulated his own collection.

Some 45 years later, Mr. Powaski's two polka shows are still going strong. He hosts "Frank Powaski's Polkas" on Sunday afternoons from noon to 3 p.m. on WKHB and "Frank Powaski's Friday Night Polkas" on Friday evenings from 5 p.m. to station sign-off (one hour after sundown) during summer months on station WKFB.

Mr. Powaski retired at the age of 53 from Westinghouse and has been able to devote more time to polka, including organizing monthly polka dances at the Roosevelt Community Center in Norvelt.

"I wanted to meet my listeners, so I started hosting these dances. I book both local polka bands and bands from out of the state," he said.

Arranging the dances is something he loves.

"I love meeting the different people and seeing how happy people are at the dances," he said.

Mr. Powaski also hosts a polka marathon every year.

"One Sunday, I was putting on the song, 'If I had a wish,' and I said if I had a wish, I would want to host a six-hour marathon," he said.

As it turned out, the owner of the station, Bob Stevens, was at the station when Mr. Powaski went public with his wish.

Mr. Stevens stepped up to the guest microphone and signaled for Mr. Powaski to turn it on.

"I thought he was going to fire me on the air," Mr. Powaski said.

"Instead, he said, 'How about a 12-hour marathon?' I was speechless," Mr. Powaski recalled.

When he found his voice, he agreed and a year later, Mr. Powaski hosted his first polka marathon. This past April, the marathon was extended to 14 hours.

"It is great. People come to the station and bring food. We have a real party," he said.

With his motto, "Put that hop in your step," Mr. Powaski also attends many local festivals and events. On Aug. 2, he will host the annual "Polka on the Porch" at Bardine's Country Smokehouse in Crabtree.

"Carol Shaw, the mother of the owner Gary Bardine, is a big polka fan and she asked me if I would want to host a show on the long porch on the front of the store. I thought it would be great," he said.

Mr. Powaski said the Bardines prepare smoked pork, ribs and other food and guest bring their own chairs and blankets for the evening of entertainment. The event is free and guests may purchase food from the smokehouse. More than 200 are expected for this year's event.

"We have a real following," he said.

Now a polka lover, Mr. Powaski said he hopes to visit Poland in the near future.

"People keep telling me I need to go there and hear the polka bands, so I've started planning the trip," he said.

neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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