For almost 15 years, John Zavadil, or Mister John as he’s known to his listeners, has arrived at radio station KCTI-AM 1450 in Gonzales at 5:30 in the morning Monday through Friday. Although his polka show doesn’t come on until 9 AM, he prepares obits and gets weather information ready to broadcast. He encourages his listeners to send in their requests for his show by 8:30 AM. One recent Friday morning at 6:55, right when he was supposed to call the city’s public works department to get the latest weather report, all the radio station phone lines were blinking with polka requests. “I had to ask one of the other guys to use his cell phone to call about the weather while I took care of the incoming calls,” he says, noting that his listeners love their polka.
KCTI has been on the air since 1947 and polka programming has always been a part of the broadcast lineup. Mister John can remember tuning into KCTI back then as he cleaned out the chicken cages on his family’s farm. In addition to working on the farm, he played football at Texas Lutheran University and earned an education degree. He taught junior high school and coached sports for 30 years in Gonzales County. Mister John also served 10 years in the U.S. Army with the 36th Infantry Division NG, 141st Infantry at Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Polk, Louisiana. He still takes care of the 400-acre farm/ranch south of Gonzales which has been in the family for 100 years.
The station also carried Lee Roy Matocha’s show for 37 years in addition to its own polka shows. Mister John says in the unpredictable world of radio, never knowing if the station will be sold and a new format created, KCTI has remained loyal to its polka listeners.
“We have an excellent fan base because we are right in the middle of the most ethnic part of Texas. The southwest side is Polish, north and northeast is Czech and toward Seguin and New Braunfels, it’s mostly German, plus Hispanic in all the areas,” he says. Plus, in these days of computer technology, polka fans can listen to Mister John’s 1450 Polka Club on the Internet at www.kcti1450.com.
The station has amassed quite a large polka library and Mister John says it’s one of the few stations that still has turn tables. He begins his show with the Shiner Hobo Band’s rendition of “When It’s Polka Time in Texas.” At 10 AM, Jodie Mikula’s “Brothers and Sisters” hits the air waves. Joe Patek’s “Shiner Song” is played at 11 AM and Mister John signs off the show with the Majek’s “Let’s Have a Party.”
He speakers Czech, German and Spanish and likes to give his listeners a daily sprichwort and a přísloví, which are proverbs in German and Czech. It’s a tradition that started when a listener in Hamburg, Germany, began sending sprichworts to him, and still does. Mister John plays about 30 songs during his three-hour program and sometimes the requests outnumber the amount of time he has to play them all.
Most of the requests come in for the old-time bands, such as Joe Patek and Ray Krenek, but Mister John also gets quite a few requests for current bands such as the Red Ravens and the recently retired Vrazels. He’s had the pleasure of interviewing some polka greats who stopped by the studio for a visit, including Krenek, Jimmy Brosch, Chris Rybak, Roy Haag, Gordon Zunker, John Kaderli, Johnny Pfeil, Pearly "Oma" Sowell, Thomas Durnin, Dennis Svatek, Delores Petru Rivera, Rennie Guenther, Bob Blang, Ed Kadlecek, Cary Oswald, Leroy Rybak, John Holub Jr., Rex "Dutch" Schorre, Urban Kneupper, Edward Laitkep, A.J. Drabek and George Koudelka.
Mister John was twice nominated for Polka DJ of the Year by the Texas Polka Association and won the honor in 1996. (TPA, which no longer exists, was started by Julius Tupa.)
This polka DJ doesn’t just enjoy polka from behind a microphone. He and his bride of 13 years (in December), Erlene, frequent the festivals and church picnics.
Of course, one of the Zavadils’ favorites is the Come and Take It 16-block Parade and Festival in Gonzales. The 175th annual fest will be held October 1-3. The Shiner Hobo Band will play from 1 to 5 PM on Sunday. Mister John met Erlene at a dance at the Sealy Knights of Columbus Hall. “When I went to her house, I saw she had one room filled with LPs, cassette tapes and 8-track tapes of polka music. We just fit together like a puzzle,” he recalls.
I enjoyed my visit over the phone with Mister John and look forward to meeting him and Miss Erlene at a dance one day soon. He says he knew my dad. “Bill was a fine person. I always liked his positive attitude,” Mister John said.
I asked Mister John to send me a couple of the proverbs he has shared with his audience. He obliged by sending the following:
Sprichwort: "Hunde, die viel bellen, beissen nicht." The dog that barks a lot does not bite.
Přísloví: "Prázdný sud se nejvice ozyva." An empty barrel sounds the loudest.
My favorite from the ones he mentioned is the familiar Czech proverb,
Without work, there’s no kolache.
So true. No pivo either.