You can feel it in the air, just that slightest change; fall is here, and with that comes things like changing leaves, spooky decorating, sweaters, and Oktoberfest! A common association with Oktoberfest besides beer might be the polka music, to which we introduce to you Stacy Harbaugh, or DJ Shotski, vinyl DJ, radio host on WVMO-FM 98.7 in Monona, WI. She is a vintage polka record enthusiast playing vintage polka records at events and on Polka Time Sundays at 7:00 p.m. CST .
In her free time, Stacy credits Wisconsin as an outdoorsy paradise. “We have the most wonderful hiking, snowshoeing, boating and swimming. I moved here in 2004 and I still feel like I’ve just started to explore our beautiful state.” For her day job, she works as the communications director for River Alliance of Wisconsin. “I love that I get to work for clean water protections during the day, play vintage Wisconsin polka on the side, and then go swim in our amazing rivers and lakes for both recreation and a spiritual practice“.
How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?
I’ve always admired vinyl DJs and record collectors. During the COVID crisis I looked for something creative to do while staying safer at home. I bought some turntables and entertained myself by practicing with the equipment, and putting together sets of music that I liked. I imagined a post-COVID time when we could gather for events with fellow vintage record lovers.
I collect everything from jazz to the songs of my 80s childhood, vintage soul, and orchestral pop. I decided that the music I never got sick of was polka. It’s happy music, and we’ve needed happy music. It was something I could do that no one else was really doing in my area.
What is a day in the life like?
My creative time involves recording a weekly radio show at home (for now – DJs are slowly heading back into regular shifts in the studio), pulling records from my vinyl collection for the set, email and social media marketing, planning events, and hunting for records at antique and thrift stores. I’m heading into a busier season now because mid-September to early October is Oktoberfest season and polka is popular for fall events.
In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?
It’s hard to pick. Playing records under the blue and white tent at the New Glarus Oktoberfest event last year was a wonderful way to connect with a local community that has a lot of polka history.
But my favorite event so far has been playing polka records during a Green Bay Packers Game at the Harmony Bar in Madison. The pub is a local institution and the place where you know you’ll have fun watching Wisconsin’s favorite team. It was January 2. Cold, single-digit temps. A coronavirus variant made infection rates sharply rise again. Not great for an event. But I masked up and joined a small but mighty group to enjoy watching the Packers tromp the Vikings and listen to a very vintage Wisconsin sound during the breaks. The night was something I envisioned in the fall of 2020 when we couldn’t be together. It felt really good to make something happen that I wanted to see in my community.
What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?
Being a one-woman operation. I wish I had more help schlepping gear, especially heavy speakers. I wish I had more money for marketing. My radio show isn’t archived for streaming online yet and cost is a barrier to that too. The gap between what I can do and what I want to accomplish is always money, time and help.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?
I love this question. I would never say there was a “silver lining” or a bright side to the pandemic. Over a million Americans died. It’s been devastating and the social distancing we experienced before we had vaccines was such a sad time. But that time also gave me a lot of space to try new things by myself without any audience and without any critics. There wasn’t anyone to question my ideas or ask me “do you really think you can be a polka DJ?” All I had was time to imagine what I wanted to do when the COVID crisis was over. In the absence of critical voices, I got to practice and refine the thing I wanted to do.
My advice is to try to create some private space around new initiatives you’re working on. Keep your dreams to yourself for a while as you practice and plan. Pull very trusted people in slowly who can help you. Then go find the people who’ll get your vision.
The other thing is that things changed for me when I went from thinking “I want to be a polka DJ” to saying “I am a polka DJ.” It was hard to say “I am a polka DJ” when we couldn’t gather for events. But I remembered the advice that your inner monologue should be as kind to yourself as you’d be to a friend. I realized that I would never tell a friend who was in a band that just got started practicing in a garage, but hadn’t yet performed in front of people, that he wasn’t a musician. Just because I hadn’t yet had an audience didn’t mean I wasn’t a DJ. I was doing the work. I got a lot of early media attention which was really validating. The audiences came eventually, but that early attitude shift made a huge difference.
Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?
I’ve been collecting records since college. I sadly downsized my collection when I sold my house and moved back to Madison. But rebuilding it with my 40-something music interests is a fun process too. I only dig for records at antique stores and flea markets when buying vintage, or at shops when I buy new. I rarely buy records online. It’s too addictive. Setting a spending limit and only digging in person helps me keep collecting in check. I’ve also had a lot of generous and kind people donate vintage polka records to my collection and in support of my radio show. The answer to free records is always “yes.”
What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.
I love to see articles about how vinyl is making a “comeback.” It’s been making a comeback for thirty or forty years. One of Madison’s woman-owned record shops, Strictly Discs, posts photos of customers with their records and I’m happy to see diverse people enjoying vinyl. I think there is a stereotype of record geeks as being older white guys. That’s just not the case.
Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?
I have so many cheerleaders. Women in Vinyl has already featured DJ Cher and her work with Sister Cities Soul Club. While polka is my bread and butter, I love playing vintage soul music and I’m inspired by the international network of collectors and lady DJs who Cher is connecting with and hyping up. Her efforts have inspired me most because I get to see all the different people and events that are happening. Seeing those events and diverse lady DJs reminds me that I’m not too old to be a DJ, that we can be really creative with our events, and that there are people out there who like the same music that I do. We only need to find each other and have fun with it.
You also know Angie Roloff owner of Strictly Discs. She and her team at Strictly Discs in Madison have been really supportive and have followed my progress along the way. That shop is like Cheers and I’m greeted with a warm welcome when I go in to browse.
I’ve also had support from Will Nimmow, Lindsay Wood Davis and Joe Martin at WVMO-FM; Chali Pittman at WORT-FM where I’ve volunteered with the news department for years; and fellow lady DJs who have given me advice like Cooper Talbot, Cynthia “Grandma Cyd” Schuster and DJ Kayla Kush. Media coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Madison Magazine plus the contribution of professional photos by the brilliant photographer Paulius Musteikis, Wisconsin Public Radio, the Cap Times and Isthmus have all supported my growth.
Anything else you’d like to add:
It’s very possible that I am one of maybe seven female polka DJs in the country. In 2017 a sociology researcher tried to reach all the polka radio and internet DJs to ask about their background and motivation to share the music (study here). Among those who responded, 94% identified as white (which isn’t surprising due to the European ethnic nature of the Polish, Slovenian and German music) and 91% identified as men. The pandemic may have shifted things by pushing some shows online or retired them completely. But I’m still looking for the women in polka.
There’s Nat the Cat who plays Polish polka in New York on WTBQ-FM. Stashu plays polka and a wild mix of music on her Dance With Me Stanley show on WFMU-FM in New Jersey. Peggy Mueller plays very German music on WJOI-AM in Milwaukee. Stephanie Aps plays a mix, but mostly Polish online at 247PolkaHeaven.com. Patty Chimielewski plays in a band and has a show that broadcasts on stations in northern Wisconsin and online. I hear there are two women who play polka and jazz rarities on the WBCQ international shortwave station in Maine, but I’m not sure the show is still being broadcast. Only Heidi in Denton, TX has an all-vinyl show like I do, though Stashu plays lots of records. I try to focus on just playing the German-style Dutchmen polka recordings from Wisconsin and the upper midwest, so that’s a niche within a niche. We are a tiny club of women and the search continues to see if there are more.
Find DJ Shotski: