Beginning Jan. 6, KBEC AM 1390 will usher in a new tradition as it launches the KBEC Polka Party hosted by Ennis polka icon Danny Zapletal.

The show will air from 9-11 a.m. Sundays and feature a variety of polka music.

“Ellis County, especially Ennis, has a rich polka heritage,” explained KBEC owner Jim Phillips. “As our listeners know, KBEC’s connection to that heritage goes back nearly a half century with our Sunday Morning Polka Show that has been hosted by Johnnie Krajca for the past 48 years.”

Phillips said logistics, as well as the station’s need to expand its audience, were the driving force behind the new show.

“Johnnie has done a wonderful job hosting the Sunday Morning Polka Show, which was recorded live in the KBEC studio on Sunday mornings,” Phillips said, adding that during the past few years, the station has invested in new technology that has enabled the station to automate late night and weekend programming.

“In short, all of our other Sunday morning programs were being pre-recorded earlier in the week and programmed into the Sunday playlist on the system. The Sunday Morning Polka Show, because it aired live, required a staff member to come into the station for two hours on Sunday morning to oversee the show.

“It wasn’t a matter of money,” Phillips stressed. “It was a matter of allowing our staff to have a full day off from work instead of having to work seven days a week. That was the real driving force behind the decision to change the show.”

Once the decision was made to move to a pre-recorded format, Phillips and KBEC General Manager and Vice President Ken Roberts sat down and began brainstorming for ideas on how to expand the show’s appeal and broaden the audience.

“There are so many different types of polka music,” Roberts said. “When you think of Ennis, you automatically think of Czech polka music. But as we discovered during our many years of broadcasting the National Polka Festival in Ennis, there are so many other types of polka music — German polka, Minnesota polka, and the list goes on — and they are all being played and enjoyed right here in Ellis County.

“What we wanted to do is diversify the show by creating a format that will highlight a lot more artists and in the process, expand the audience,” he said.

Phillips added that via the Internet, KBEC has listeners all around the world, and that too is a key component to expanding the show’s base.

Together, Phillips and Roberts reached out to Ennis resident and polka icon Danny Zapletal.

“I’ve known Danny for a long, long time,” Roberts said. “When it comes to polka, he is deeply connected with polka artists — both locally and throughout the industry. He seemed like the obvious choice to host the show.”

Zapletal agreed to host the show, but insisted that Johnnie Krajca be asked to join him as co-host.

“We were in total agreement with that request and we would absolutely love for Johnnie to continue to be part of the show,” Phillips said, adding that Krajca has been offered the position of co-host and at this time is taking the offer under consideration.

The KBEC Polka Party Show will be recorded on Thursday at Zapletal’s studio in Ennis and uploaded into KBEC’s programming computer for broadcast on Sunday morning.

Phillips said one of the major concerns expressed by KBEC’s listeners has been the ability to request songs, which has been a staple of the Sunday Morning Polka Show.

“For the past 48 years, listeners would call the station on Sunday morning and ask Johnnie to play a request during the show. Obviously, with the show going to a pre-recorded format, you are not going to be able to call in on Sunday morning,” Phillips said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t be taking requests for songs and dedications during the show. As technology changes, we’re using that technology to do things in a different way.”

Zapletal said he plans on continuing the tradition that Krajca began 48 years ago and encourages listeners to send in their requests and dedications.

Instead of calling in during the show, requests can be emailed throughout the week prior to the Thursday recording.

“Folks can even call me,” Zapletal said. “Any requests or dedications received prior to the show’s recording will be read during the show.”

Zapletal said email requests may be sent to dannyzpolkashow@yahoo.com or listeners may call him at 972-875-2036 and leave messages for requests and dedications.

In addition to creating additional exposure for more polka artists, Zapletal said his goal is to build and expand on what Krajca created.

“Johnnie is a legend in polka,” Zapletal said. “He is the Polka King of Ellis County and I would absolutely love it if he decides to join me as co-host of the KBEC Polka Party. My goal, much like Johnnie’s goal when he started the show 48 years ago, is to promote polka music and the rich heritage of polka music in Ellis County. We’re going to have a lot of fun. We’re going to play a lot of music. From time to time we’ll have a few special guests stop by for a visit and we’re still going to play requests and dedications and we want everyone to tune in and be part of the experience.”

The KBEC Polka Party Show will debut at 9 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 6.

Contact Neal at neal.white@waxahachietx.com or 469-517-1457. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.