Polka-ing Around: Local DJ Dick Kamont keeping music and Polish roots alive and thriving

2013-11-12T00:00:00Z 2013-11-27T18:26:16Z Polka-ing Around: Local DJ Dick Kamont keeping music and Polish roots alive and thrivingBy Stephen Lesniewski Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
November 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Dick Kamont finds polka music often plays second fiddle to mainstream music like rock, hip hop and pop.

But he also adds few can deny the cheerfulness and upbeat nature of the genre.

"Polka music is happy music," said Kamont, who just celebrated his 80th birthday and is a music mainstay in Northwest Indiana.

"I just want to make people happy."

Kamont, born and raised in Michigan City, is a great supporter of polka and has hosted his "Polka Party" radio show since May 1972.

And during that time, he has rarely missed a beat.

His show, each Sunday at noon, starts like every one before it, with Kamont carrying a shoebox stuffed with CDs, cassette tapes and a small stack of papers.  With a smile on his face, arm-in-arm with wife, ValJean, each week, the couple arrive together at the radio station WEFM,  95.9 FM, the community radio station fixture located at 1903 Springland Ave. in Michigan City, hidden among trees just off one of Michigan City's side streets.

A recent October show started off with Kamont's usual musical opening offering: "Up the Hill Polka."

Up next, a polka wedding anniversary tune requested by his grandchildren for his daughter Jennifer's 15th anniversary.

Such a special polka request and note is not uncommon for Kamont's "Polka Party." Chris Nagel, Kamont's long-time sound engineer, said even he has received his share of special polka messages for past birthdays, emphasizing Kamont always welcomes requests.

In Kamont's home, he has a room dedicated to his music, with hundreds of CDs, cassettes and LPs to choose from, and some, are not even polka related.

"Every week, he goes downstairs and picks out what he wants for the week," ValJean said.

"He spends about a half hour to an hour finding his songs."

Even with the meticulous planning, Kamont constantly tweaks the playlist during the broadcast. While softly singing along with the polka of the playing on the broadcast, he seamlessly swerves from the soundboard to the CD player to the cassette player multiple times during each track, switching songs he plans to play next.

"I try to keep up with the most modern music," Kamont said.

"And then I go back and reminisce quite a bit."

During the broadcast, his wife patiently waits for her husband in the back of the studio room. She said she's been a constant, silent fixture of her husband's "Polka Party" since 2008, when she had surgery for an aortic aneurysm, and Kamont wanted to stay close to her while still broadcasting his show. A favorite song she enjoys singing along with is "Busia's Polish Cooking," and other Polka tunes.

She also chuckles at her husband's toe tapping "to keep with the music" and beams when mentioning Kamont also plays concertina, a type of reed instrument similar to an accordion. He has played the Eastern European typical instrument since 1952.

"I was always interested in concertina music since I was a kid," Kamont said.

"You go to a wedding, all the other kids were running around, jumping around, but I'd be sitting by the band, watching them play."

His love of Polka led to a chance encounter with a classmate and the formation of his first band, the Porky Honyak Band.

The band broke up prematurely when some members were drafted, including Kamont. After Kamont returned from service, most of the group reunited through several incarnations before disbanding. Eventually, Kamont even hung up the concertina and retired.

"It got to the point where it was work, and my family was growing up, so, I just gave it up," Kamont said.

"I still played the concertina, and we started a concertina club in town."

All throughout the time he was in the concertina band, Kamont was broadcasting "Polka Party."

"It's still fun and I still enjoy it, seeing happy people out there," Kamont said. 

"As long as there is interest, and I keep getting requests, I'll keep doing it. I hope to keep polka music alive."

In September, Kamont  was bestowed the Polish Ambassador Award for his 40 plus years of continued support and promotion of polka music, a distinction some contend was overdue.

"To me, Mr. Kamont is a Polish-American version of 'Mr. Rogers' - a warm, gentle host of a lively polka program," said Ann Scamerhorn of Valparaiso.

"Every time we spent Sundays at Granny and Grandpa's, we could count on a chicken dinner while listening to Mr. Kamont's polka program."

Just like the late Fred Rogers, Kamont's neighborly personality connects and resonates with his audience.

"Thank you for coming," Kamont says, his same traditional sign-off for more than 40 years.

"And please come back for next week's 'Polka Party.' "

He flips the switch and goes off the air.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

In This Issue