I am the Polka King: KCHK AM New Prague, MN 1984, 86, 88

April 9, 2020

When I left KNAB, I thought getting another radio job would be easy. I’d just move back to Minnesota, snap my fingers, make a few calls, and presto: I’d be working at one of the big Twin Cities stations. After all, I now had “experience”, right? Wrong. It was at this time that I learned a cardinal rule of radio: “It is MUCH easier to get a job if you already HAVE a job! Never quit your job until you have already secured a new job!” Because of this mistake, I spent the summer of 1984 working at Kmart. As in the same Kmart where I worked during high school a few years earlier. You do what you have to do for beer and gas money.

In August, my luck changed. I received a call from Rick Hennen. Rick was the Program Director of KCHK, a small AM daytime station in southern Minnesota. He had heard my tape and was interested. When I asked Rick about KCHK’s format, his response was “milk house radio.” Basically, KCHK was a mix of local news, sports, farm market reports, plus country and Old Time music. Old Time meaning polkas and waltzes. As it’s name suggests, the majority of New Prague’s residents were of Czech heritage. They loved the music of the “old country” and KCHK played it. A lot of it. Old Time music aired Monday-Saturday from 6-9AM and Noon-1PM. Sundays were 100% polka and waltz tunes from sunrise to sunset.

Being all of 20 years old, I thought this format was a complete joke. But I needed a job! My wallet spoke louder than my ego. So, I drove down to interview. Rick offered me the job. I started a few days later. I was now the Polka King of Southern Minnesota, pumping out a whopping 500 directional watts of the Czech Lites, the Ben Barta Band, Ernie Coopman & the Stagemen, Al Grebnick and the Boys, Marv Nissel, Wally Pikal, and of course “The Great One” Whoopie John Wilfahrt. I actually had a good time at KCHK. Apparently, both Rick Hennen and General Manager Jack Ludescher liked me because after I left, they invited me back 2 more times. The station was only 26 miles from my parents’ house, so it was a great place to fill in when I was “in between jobs.” This is a common occurrence in radio. I had three separate tours of duty at KCHK: 1984, 1986, and 1988.

One day during my first tenure of employment, I noticed an unfamiliar newspaper-type publication on Rick’s desk. I would soon discover the magic of Radio & Records. Specifically, the job listings. I had only been at KCHK for a few months and had no intention of leaving. But just for fun, I decided to make a new audition tape, update my resume, and apply for a few jobs. I sent out about 10 packages and received no fewer than 3 offers! (See earlier lesson learned re: easier to get a job when you’re working.) Texas, Wisconsin, and Kansas all wanted me. In Garden City, Kansas, they were looking for someone to “have fun on the radio at night” with their new Top 40 FM station. When the Program Director offered me $1,000 per month, I couldn’t believe my ears! Considering I was only making $750 at KCHK, this was HUGE money. They also offered full medical insurance and profit sharing: benefits that were unheard of in small market radio back in those days. Most of all, this was a chance to put away the polka records and be a ROCK JOCK! A chance to be the hot-rockin’ nighttime DJ that got all the girls on the request lines!

I hated to leave KCHK after being there less than 90 days. I was afraid Mr. Ludescher would come unglued when I gave him my notice. Instead, he got right to the point: “How much are they paying you?” When I told him, he said “A THOUSAND dollars per month? That’s great! You’d be stupid to pass that up. Take it! Get outta here! Get down there before they change their mind!” And so it was. For the second time in 15 months, I said goodbye to my family and headed out west. I would soon become “The Minnesota Maniac” on Western Kansas Rocks, 99-point-9, KWKR.