Keith Stras & Polkas go hand in hand.. Keith Stras has worked in every aspect of Polka Music. In 2016 he’s celebrating a 40 year career in the genre. Elected to the Polka Music hall of Fame in 1999, he’s been heard each week on the air in Chicagoland over WPNA 1490 AM, Nationwide on Sirius XM Satellite and The Polka Jammer Network. He’s a member of the prestigious Broadcasters Hall of Fame. In addition, you can see Keith on the nationally televised Jimmy Sturr Show where he serves as the programs emcee each week on RFD-TV. While the President of the International Polka Association based in Chicago, he grew the membership rolls to over 1,000, to date a distinction that no other officer has matched, while on television he creatively mixed polka music with comedy, local celebrities and game show stunts earning him televisions prestigious Emmy Award. In 2002 he walked the red carpet in Los Angeles to pick up A Grammy Award for the Best Polka Recording. In 1994 he opened K & C Entertainment in Chicago and brought the biggest polka entertainers to Chicago and brought busloads of people to venues around the country to participate in polka events. In 2009 he ventured into the polkas in a new way, by forming Polka Confetti, building on his knowledge of the music, he sought out the finest musicians in the industry to form the group. They have appeared across the country, recorded both a DVD and CD and their appearances on televisions Mollie B Polka Party has played to rave reviews. Stras has been one of the most influential people in polka music for the last four decades.
Chicago Sun Times - Keith Stras the WPNA-AM (1490) polka host, emcees the polka portion of Sunday's 20th Anniversary Farm Aid concert at the Tweeter Center in south suburban Tinley Park.
Chicago Sun Times - Keith Stras, Chicago's polka radio king, will celebrate his 26th year on the air with more than 1,000 fans by broadcasting from "Polkapalooza" at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas.
Chicago Sun Times - Keith Stras, whose "Great Escape Polka Network" blankets radio and the internet, has added a new show, "Polka Sessions" at 10:30am Sundays at WPNA-AM (1490).
As the principal host on the Schaumburg High School radio station, is when Stras began spinning polkas. Imagine if you can, walking down the hallways of suburban school to the music of Eddie Blazonczyk, Stas Golonka, and Li'l Richard. Stras claims, "I took a lot of heat from the student body" "Hey is that guy crazy, we want to hear Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith, not some music my grandparents listen to."
It was in his freshman year at age 15 when he was approached by Richard Towalski (Li'l Richard) to co-host a Sunday morning polka program over radio WONX 1590 AM, the show lasted 26 weeks. During that time he was referred to as "Chicago's Youngest Polka Disc Jockey."
After leaving WONX, he went on his own and purchased a half hour program on WOPA which was aired on Sunday afternoons. During this time, he also formed the SPA (Schaumburg Polka Association), a group of about twenty of his high school friends that frequented local polka events. After graduation in 1979, Stras teamed up with high school pal Jeff Chester and purchased radio time on WTAQ during it's Saturday Polka Block. "The Polka Review Show" aired for over two years. In addition, Stras was also featured during this time on the IPA radio show with Leon Kozicki and Jerry Drust, which was also heard on WTAQ.
In 1982, Lenny Gomulka approached him and asked to join him on radio. The program's name was changed to the "Chicago Push Show" and Stras co-hosted with Gomulka for over two years. It was also during this period that Stras' "Polka Review Productions" was responsible for providing Chicago polka fans with over 3 1/2 hours of polka programming each week on WTAQ. Stras and Danny Mateja (Downtown Sound) hosted countless Tuesday evening remotes from the Lone Tree Inn in Niles, IL. It was also in 1982 when Stras presented the "Labor Day Polka Jamboree" at the Sheraton O'Hare Hotel in Chicago which featured 11 polka bands from across the country. The event left Stras financially embarrassed, and it looked as if he would bow out of the polka industry. In 1983, while attending DePaul University, he again re-entered the polka music industry and teamed up with Rick Rzeszutko (Music Co.) and they started to produce the extremely popular "Polka Get Together Show", which lasted for 5 years on WEAW, WVVX-FM, WPNA and WCEV. Stras and Rzeszutko were often referred to as "Chicago's Polka shock jocks," known for their wild and crazy humor and unique style of polka broadcasting.
Keith has an uncanny knack for bringing polka music to new heights, he has developed a unique working relationship with many in the Chicago major market media. In 1985, with the success of the Chicago Bears. Eddie Blazonczyk recorded a polka version of their fight song and an original Bears tune. Stras orchestrated a media blitz which won Blazonczyk a local feature on every major network television and radio station in town as well as several in New Orleans the site of that year's Super Bowl.
After appearing on a live "New Year's Eve" Chicago television special, Stras was approached by then President and owner of ETC T. Ron Jasinski-Herbert, and was hired as Executive Producer and Host of "Polka Video's" (a weekly variety, interview program that featured polka music.) It wasn't too long after this that Stras was in the company of Harry Caray, Walter Payton, Gene Siskel, Frankie Avalon, and Geraldo Rivera to name a few introducing them to the Chicagoland polka market. He also produced the nation's only polka game shows, "Polka Combat," "Polka Feuds" and "Name That Polka," which featured numerous polka band members, DJ's and polka organization members who would vie for the title of "Polka Television Champs" each year. These shows became an instant success not only in Chicago, but on many cable outlets in Cleveland, Ohio, and also Pennsylvania public television. During its 7-year run from 1986-1993, the program was nominated five times for Chicago television's prestigious Emmy Award.
Stras has staged countless polka affairs and tours and has been honored to serve as Master of Ceremonies for numerous events. Using polka music as his back drop Stras has single-handedly raised over $25,000 for many of Chicago's Children's Charities.
Stras' involvement in the Chicago polka industry is legendary. Since 1979 he has been an active member of the International Polka Association. Serving in various capacities from Queen Contest Chairman to Director to First Vice President and ultimately, he served as IPA President for two consecutive terms from 1993-1995.
During his tenure as IPA President, Stras was the First President in IPA History to have over 1,000 active members in the organization. He computerized the IPA bringing it up to speed with the rest of the world. His marketing techniques, including 1-800-TO-POLKA attracted increased interest in the meetings and events. It was under his direction that the IPA produced a second major festival. The first ever "Slovenian Polka Fest" was held in St. Louis and the following year in Milwaukee. Stras also kept the IPA in the forefront by reuniting with Leon Kozicki and producing the IPA radio program, first on WCEV and then on WPNA from 1991-1996.
Known for singing with various bands, many in the polka industry joke about Stras only knowing one song, The "Red Shoes" polka, a favorite of Stras', was recorded by and with Casey Homel's Band in 1994, and much to the surprise of many, three other songs sung by Stras were also featured. Again in 1997 Stras was a featured vocalist on Homel's last recording. Surprisingly, Stras doesn't speak or understand the Polish language.
In 1995 Stras and wife Camille started K&C Tours, a polka orientated travel and event business. The last four years, K&C Tours have brought the best in our business to Chicagoland to perform: Jimmy Sturr, Eddie Blazonczyk, Del Sinchak, Toledo Polkamotion, The Brass Connection, The Polka Family, Mike Ryba, Pan Franek & Zosia, Scrubby & The Dynatones, Ania Piwowarczyk, "America's Polka Sweetheart" Stephanie, and several others... In addition, to that impressive list, Chicagoland's polka groups are always featured as well.
Stras' K&C Tours to date has contributed more than $2,200 to various polka causes to help perpetuate the polka, including the IPA Polka Music Hall of Fame, The Freddy K Jr. Scholarship fund, The Chicago Versatones Fan Club, The Cleveland Style Polka Music Hall of Fame and the USPA confirming his commitment to our industry.
In September of 1996, after a two month hiatus, Stras & Kozicki returned to WPNA, in November of 1996, only to find out that they were even more popular than before. "The No Name Polka Show" has become "The most talked about program on radio". Their unique brand of humor and broadcasting has earned them high acclaim throughout the polka world.
In 1998, Stras once again lent a helping hand to the IPA in producing a day bus trip to Polish Fest in Milwaukee, WI. All the net proceeds were turned over to the IPA, which realized a profit of close to $1,000. In November, he served as Master of Ceremonies for the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the IPA in Chicago. His speech featured a riveting synopsis on the future of polka music in the next century.
In the fall of 1999, Keith and Camille Stras had begun to lay the ground work for a new venture with a Chicago landmark. Keith and Camille Stras collaborated together with Marge Machay and family, the owners and operators of the famous Polonia Banquet's in Chicago, K&C Tours became Great Escapes Tours and Travel, with an office inside of Polonia Banquets on Archer Avenue in Chicago. In January of 2000 the Grand Opening was held with more than 400 people in attendance to congratulate Keith, Camille, Marge and family on this new venture. In February of 2001 the opened a second office on Chicago's Northwest side on North Milwaukee Ave. In 2002, Machay & family left the travel business..and Keith & Camille re-opened K & C Entertainment Since then more than 16,000 people have been on board for a K & C Tour and thousands have enjoyed polka themed events around Chicagoland. "His knowledge is legendary" " He knows travel-he knows polkas-he knows radio & television-he's a promotional genius, sometimes it's scares me". claimed Machay back in 2000.
In his 36 year polka broadcasting career, Stras has staged countless polka affairs and tours and has been honored to serve as Master of Ceremonies for numerous events. Using polka music as his back drop, Stras has single-handedly raised over $35,000 for many of Chicago's Children's Charities. In October of 2011 was instrumental in raising $14,500 for the Tribune Disaster Fund, which aided the people who were affected by the September 11th tragedy. Stras' involvement in the Chicago polka industry is legendary. Since 1979, he has been an active member of the International Polka Association. Serving in various capacities from Queen Contest Chairman to Director to First Vice President and ultimately, he served as IPA President for two consecutive terms from 1993-1996. During his tenure as IPA President, Stras was the first and ONLY president in the forty five year history of the IPA to have over 1,000 active members in the organization. He computerized the IPA, bringing it up to speed with the rest of the world. His marketing techniques, including 1-800-TO-POLKA attracted increased interest in the meetings and events. It was under his direction that the IPA produced a second major festival. The first ever "Slovenian Polka Fest" was held in St. Louis and the following year in Milwaukee. Stras also kept the IPA in the forefront by reuniting with Leon Kozicki and producing the IPA radio program, first on WCEV and then on WPNA from 1991-1996.
Today Stras is enjoying more nationwide acclaim by serving as the Announcer on the Nationally Televised Jimmy Sturr Television show seen on RFD-TV and Family Net His Broadcats are heard over the internet first on www.247polkaheaven.com and then at www.polkajammernetwork.org and his weekly "Polka Sessions Show" which is heard on WPNA on Sunday's from 10:30 AM(CST) "I've trimmed back my radio shows this year to devote more time to my family and business", said Stras, "Camille and I have two daughters Shelby who starts College in the fall and 12 year old Natalie can be heard a few times a month over WPNA with me.
Stras has also become a record producer and vocalists with many groups in the polka industry, they joke about Stras only knowing one song, The "Red Shoes" polka, a favorite of Stras', was recorded with Casey Homel's Band in 1994, and much to the surprise of many, he has recorderd many more tunes over the years Surprisingly, Stras doesn't speak or understand the Polish language..His latest project "Honky Heaven "is slated for release in July of 2013
Stras plans to be around for a long time..when asked how much longer he plans to promote polkas..he answers " As long as polkas keep people smiling, I'll be here to see them grin"