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Polka on the Decline in America's Small Towns
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Polka on the Decline in America's Small Towns

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Polka on the Decline in America's Small Towns

Polka on the Decline in America's Small Towns
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A recent polka jam in Winton, Minn., offered free tickets to people under 40; not a single person took up the offer. Mike Jankovec, who runs polka jams and polka programming on a community TV station in Ely, Minn., talks to NPR's Scott Simon about reviving the polka scene in the upper Midwest.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

And people in Cleveland and Chicago may be joining their grandparents to polka on the dance floor, but so far that hasn't happened in northern Minnesota. A recent polka jam in Winton offered free tickets to people under 40, and not a single person took up the offer. Mike Jankovec of the Ely community public access TV station runs polka jams in the boundary waters area. Mr. Jankovec, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. MICHAEL JANKOVEC (Community Public Access Television Station, Ely, Minnesota): Thank you, Scott. Great to talk with you.

SIMON: Give us some idea how big polka is in the boundary waters area.

Mr. JANKOVEC: You know, when I moved here, they told me this is a polka crowd. We do an Internet radio station here, as well. I played some polka on there, and it took off. They love it on the television station, and mostly with the older folks, though.

SIMON: When you talk about appealing to a younger audience, though, I mean, you can't do anything much more appealing than giving away free tickets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JANKOVEC: Maybe we need to reach out a little more to the younger audience and get it out there so they know what they're missing. I don't know if we could do that via the television. That's what we're trying to do, you know, run these shows. We're televising them and hoping somebody will see it and say hey, this is fun stuff. I mean, those people are dancing.

SIMON: Now, I've been told that you've got a church there in northern Minnesota that used to have a polka mass.

Mr. JANKOVEC: With this television station, we haven't been running it very long. We just took it over, and we started playing old resort videos and things from the heyday of this area, including the polka stuff, and we started getting videos and films out of the wood - you know, people were coming out of the woodwork with these things, and one of them was an old copy, on a VHS tape, of this polka mass, which we transferred over to digital, and we started airing it, and the phone calls that we got when we started playing it, it's unbelievable.

If we don't play enough polka and things of that nature on the station, the phone will ring all night here.

SIMON: But how concerned are you that polka, at least in the boundary waters area, isn't getting a young audience? I mean, do you think it's the kind of thing that they'll grow into?

Mr. JANKOVEC: Well you know, people say it's the dying audience because people brought this music over with them, you know, from Europe when they came to work at the mines, and their kids wanted nothing to do with the music in many cases.

It was a little disheartening to not see the young people out there, but I'm hoping that as time goes on, maybe word will spread, and maybe we'll try a couple different venues where some younger people are, and maybe it'll take. I don't know. Stranger things have happened.

SIMON: Well Mr. Jankovec, thank you so much.

Mr. JANKOVEC: Thank you so much, and keep on polkaing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JANKOVEC: Get on up here and dance with us.

SIMON: Mike Jankovec is executive producer of Ely community access cable TV in the boundary waters area of northern Minnesota.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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