Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Let's Polka: Ah 1, and Ah 2, and Up to 1,000

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Let's Polka: Ah 1, and Ah 2, and Up to 1,000

Article excerpt

Al Dreas was a tough sell.

No thanks, he told WCNT radio over and over again. The small station at Centralia, Ill., had no program that Dreas wanted to sponsor with ads for his appliance sales and repair shop in nearby Nashville.

Then Dreas had an idea - an offerto put his money where his dance feet were. If WCNT were to air a weekly program devoted to polka music, well, the John Dreas and Son Co. - Al is the son - would pay the freight.

The deal struck in 1969 was a small sidestep for oom-pah-pah but a big stride toward local celebrity status for Dreas (pronounced "Dreese"), who was destined to be more than a sponsor.

After a while, somebody at the station asked what he thought of the show.

"I said, `I don't like it,' " Dreas recalled. "I went over there and realized why. They only had 10 or 12 records. I had more records than that at home. They asked if I wanted to do the show myself. I said I would."

And he did.

In fact, he has done exactly 999 weekly shows, most recently on WHCO radio in Sparta, Ill. WHCO eagerly embraced Dreas' "Polka Party" show when WILY, successor to the old WCNT, switched to an all-talk format in 1991.

Now comes show No. 1,000, being broadcast live from a party in Dreas' honor at the Uptown Restaurant in downtown Sparta from 7 to 11 a.m. today.

The celebration transcends the local farmlands, since WHCO's 1,000-watt signal blankets a 125-mile radius with the sounds of Dreas' polka picks at 1230 kilohertz on the AM dial.

Fans from metropolitan St. Louis, 45 miles to the northwest, have provided a lot of the congratulatory mail that arrived this week, said Bob McMillan, a WHCO salesman.

McMillan said he fondly remembered Dreas' easy sense of humor as both were learning to operate the sound equipment in Centralia about the same time. At 19, he was Dreas' first control room engineer.

"Al and Barb are both great people," McMillan said.

Barb is Al's wife, and the marriage remains close after 45 years. …

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