Vintage polka on vinyl is at the heart of DJ Shotski’s show on WVMO-FM – Isthmus

As the darkest days of the pandemic shifted into a new normal, many people took life by the horns and did the thing they had spent so many months pondering. It could have been a new job, a new house, or a dream vacation.

Stacy Harbaugh’s pandemic pursuit was quintessentially Wisconsin: She dreamed of playing polka records for people. Harbaugh knew that polkas, with their danceable beats and smile-inducing oompah feel, would be the perfect thing to help spread the cheer everyone craved.

“Polka music is there to help people come together,” says Harbaugh. “It’s happy music, so it’s about the community being happy together.”

Harbaugh spreads joy as DJ Shotsky — a nickname inspired by the collective drinking trough of shot glasses on a ski. She plays polka music from her extensive vinyl collection at events, and last month began hosting shows for Monona radio station WVMO-FM. polka time show at 7 p.m. on Sunday. His show replaces that of Rick March Down Home Dairyland, which had been on the station since 2015 (and on WORT-FM and WPR from 1986 to 2000). March, the former state folklorist and co-author of Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest loves the polkamoved out of state.

“I’m a polka enthusiast, not an expert,” says Harbaugh, whose day job is director of communications for the River Alliance of Wisconsin. “I’m not doing this because I know everything, it’s because there are a lot of things that I love and want to share.”

Harbaugh grew up in Indiana and moved to Madison in 2004. As she immersed herself in the state’s culture, she fell in love with its soundtrack.

“It was like the polka was everywhere. Every time I went to an Oktoberfest or a kid’s party, there was polka music,” she says. “And every time I heard the music, I had to drop everything and go see the band.”

She not only enjoyed listening to music, but also watching people dance, moved to tears upon seeing the beauty of the couples who had been dancing the polka together for decades.

“I thought, ‘Is there anything I can do to help keep this music going?’ says Harbaugh.

She began building a collection (she now estimates around 400 albums) of mostly German-style (known as Dutch-style) polka dots by artists from Wisconsin and Minnesota, recorded in the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, the longtime WORT volunteer made a 2020 New Year’s resolution to learn more about radio and how to operate the equipment to host her own music show. She also wanted to learn how to DJ with vinyl, just as a way to share old records. The pandemic interrupted its courses.

“During COVID I had nothing to do but play records and think about the end of it all, what did I want to do?” she says. “And I thought about what I could do that was different, what kind of music I could play that was special and that I never get tired of. I never get tired of polka music.

Harbaugh often spends his weekends at search for polka discs. Some she buys, others are given to her by people who find her and offer them.

“It was a pleasure to meet people from all over the state and hear their stories of how they achieved those polka records,” she says. “Sometimes they are family heirlooms, sometimes they were obtained from friends. It might be a situation where they’re downsizing, but they want those polka discs to go to a good home.

She attended Pulaski Polka Days in July, meeting more people in the Wisconsin polka community. And she contacted other radio polka hosts. Harbaugh found academic research on polka DJs in the United States and learned that 91% were male.

“It’s all the more important to find the other female DJs in the country so that we know they exist,” she says.

Harbaugh will be at the heart of polka music later this month when she plays records in the hospitality tent at Green County Cheese Days in Monroe from September 16-18. Event organizers found an original 45 of “Cheese Festival in Monroe” — the official Cheese Days song.

“Of course, I’m going to play the heck out of this,” she said.

Around Madison, she hopes to do more of the kinds of events she’s already hosted: playing polka records during commercial breaks at a Packers game watch party at Harmony Bar and at an open house for Polka! Press at the Dark Horse ArtBar on National Polka Day (August 9).

“It was a whole new generation exposed to the Wisconsin polka,” Harbaugh says of the polka! Press event. “That made them my ideal audience.”

In addition to learning more about the polka and collecting more records, Harbaugh hopes to hone her DJ and radio skills to do more with her show, including hosting guests and presenting events she records.

“It’s like this resolution I had at the start of 2020,” she says. “It just took a few zigs and zags along the way.”

Jack L. Goldstein