Many listeners tuned in to hear Joe Siedlik play what he called “happy music for happy people.”
Best known as the host of “Big Joe’s Polka Show,” Siedlik was a promoter of polka music for more than five decades. He brought tunes to fans through the radio, festivals and television.
On Thursday, Siedlik died at Bergan Mercy Medical Center in Omaha at the age of 80. He was hospitalized in December with lymphoma, according to a post on the “Fan of Big Joe’s Polka Show” Facebook page.
With his shows heard across the nation, Siedlik’s influence has been felt from coast to coast. One of his first stints in radio was in Columbus, where he lived for 25 years and his son and daughter-in-law, Mike and Barb Siedlik, own Siedlik Signs. His radio career began in Omaha when he was 26. He later moved to Columbus, where he was heard on the airwaves on KTTT playing music he grew up listening to.
In a previous interview with The Telegram, Siedlik said his parents, Joseph and Rose, instilled an appreciation for polka music in him.
“My mom and dad loved polka music. They were full-blooded Polish. My brother and sister loved it, too,” Siedlik said.
Promoting polka music became his livelihood.
Columbus Mayor Mike Moser, owner of Columbus Music, said Siedlik would stop by his store to sell his latest polka CDs, which were popular with customers.
“He was kind of a tireless supporter of polkas. He had a lot of enthusiasm for things that a lot of people wouldn’t dare try. He had a lot of good promotions with multiple bands. He was a mover and shaker,” Moser said.
Siedlik continued his career in Omaha. Most recently, he began the “Big Joe Family Shows,” a 24-hour television polka channel.
Over the past decades, Siedlik gave small-town polka bands the chance to shine by recording and producing their albums.
Gene Urkoski of Silver Creek, a member of The Urkoski Orchestra, said three of the polka band’s four albums were produced through Siedlik.
“The band would have never recorded anything if it wasn’t for him. None of the local bands knew anything about getting on a record or anything like that,” Urkoski said.
Siedlik used his connections with polka bands and his show to hold numerous fundraisers for those in need throughout the years. He also played polka music at festivals across the state for several years.
Paul Kozak of Columbus said his Harmony Boys band played at many of the festivals Siedlik promoted. He said Siedlik often tried new ways to foster interest in the music, including holding events in downtown Columbus that featured different polka bands. Many of the events were geared toward youths.
Music-wise, Kozak said Siedlik made a lasting impact.
“I’m sure polkas wouldn’t have been what they were if not for him,” he said.