Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
I grew up on Milwaukee’s south side. This young boy was a mixture of Irish, German, and a touch of Polish.
My neighbors and their kids were mostly Polish. All of their last names ended in “ski.” The joke was they couldn’t spell toboggan.
If they weren’t Polish, they were German. There was an occasional Mexican or Puerto Rican. But Poles and Germans ruled.
And we were kids. And we told jokes. And some, many were of the ethnic variety.
Here’s an example.
Three astronauts were having a discussion. The American astronaut bragged that the USA was going to land on the moon.
That’s nothing said the German astronaut. “We’re going to land on Mars.”
The Polish astronaut couldn’t contain his laughter. “We got you all beat. We’re going to land on the Sun.”
The American and German astronauts looked at each other in disbelief.
“Are you crazy?” said the American. “You’ll burn up,” said the German.
“No we won’t,” said the Polish astronaut proudly. “We’ll go at night.”
Political correctness didn’t exist then. Ethnic jokes were exchanged all the time. No group was off limits. No one frowned. No one got upset. No one cried. No one got into a fight. We laughed, and moved on. But it seemed one group was a target more often than any other.
In the early 60’s just before and about the time the Beatle hit, Bobby Vinton was cranking out records. He started out as a bandleader, but when his record company, Epic got tired of his lackluster sales and was prepared to dump him, Vinton reminded the firm that under his contract, he still had two records to release, and this time, he would sing.
That began a string of romantic love songs that made Vinton’s career go crazy.
This would last through the 60’s until Vinton’s career would sputter. This time Epic showed Vinton the gate. The popular romantic Vinton that topped the charts in the 60’s was gone. The early and mid 1970’s left Vinton behind.
Vinton needed a shot in the arm to boost a career that had essentially vanished. He went to one record company. And another. And another. And another. And another. They all told him they weren’t interested.
On all of the failed visits Vinton took with him a song based on his Polish heritage. Finally, ABC Records showed confidence and signed him on.
During the 70’s, the ABC network broadcast a late night Friday night concert program featuring several guests each week called “In Concert.” On January 17, 1975, during a telecast of “In Concert” at the Aquarius Theatre in Los Angeles, Vinton in an interview segment expressed his frustration that when Polish-Americans were asked what their nationality was, they’d respond sheepishly and quietly.
The mission to restore ethnic pride began with a simple song, the one ABC Records didn’t turn down, and boy, did it work. In January of 1975, People Magazine wrote:
“He (Vinton) had never himself hid his origins, always including a polka number in his exuberant stage act. But with folks like his own uncle who would not ‘admit being Polish because it was bad for business,’ Vinton declares his record has been ‘a happening for the Polish people—it has given them a new spirit to fight the negative image’."
Suddenly Vinton was selling out arenas and guesting on shows like “In Concert.” Eventually, he got his own variety TV show.
Once again, life was good for Bobby Vinton.
I believe I’ve written in previous blogs that I used to help my friend Jim Kaluzny spins music at weddings. One wedding we had the pleasure of working at was for one of Jim’s friends. He was Italian and, ths, so were many in the crowd.
So we pulled out this number. The place was up for grabs.
HOLY SMOKE-UH, IT'S TIME FOR A POLKA!