GONZALES — When Gonzales’ beloved radio station KCTI closed its doors for good last week, former DJ John Zavadil, known to many as Mr. John, took the news with a little sadness and a lot of nostalgia.
This should come as no surprise for a man who was at the station before the sun was up— hosting its “1450 Polka Club” show— for 16 years.
Now Zavadil has not only had to say goodbye to fellow DJs like Al Urban, Jeremy Halliburton and Egon Barthels, but to the invisible airwaves that transmitted their voices throughout Gonzales County.
Zavadil’s journey began many years ago right here in Gonzales, where he was born and raised. A 1957 graduate of GHS, Zavadil went on at Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, where he majored in business administration. He took a job in Houston at a John Deere dealership as a sales trainee. After a couple of years, the store closed and Zavadil moved back home.
Zavadil spent the next 30 years teaching Gonzales Junior High students about the new age of computers. He did that for 10 years. The last three he produced the school newspaper, something he is very proud of because of how it grew over time.
Zavadil retired from teaching in 1995, but he has remained fascinated with radio. In fact, it was in 1947 that the 8-year-old Zavadil heard KCTI announce its entry into the world of radio.
One day he heard Joe Haynes, the music director at the time, say something about having a new show. Haynes then played a polka song and Zavadil had a revelation.
“I went to the station and told him I wanted to do polka,” he said. “He asked me what song I wanted to do, and I said, ‘No, I’d like to do the show. So he hired me.”
KCTI brought listeners a country radio station with a blend of Texas country, current country hits, and country classics. It also used to broadcast the syndicated the “Texas Country Weekend” program.
It was Feb. 5, 1996 that the 1450 Polka Club made its debut on KCTI. Zavadil DJ’d the show until Jan. 9, 2013. Through the years, Zavadil acquired and played a vast array of polka artists, noting that he spent his first year at the radio station cataloging songs on CDs, albums and 45s. He once said the list in his desk drawer was as thick as a dictionary. By the third year, he had catalogued some 22,000 songs.
All in all, Zavadil says the things he’ll miss most about KCTI include the livestock auctions, polka show, local news, and— especially— the Friday night football games.
“There’s definitely going to be a void,” he said. “AM radio is unique because you have a live DJ— it’s not a can piped in here from someone. If you have a live DJ that the people are used to, then there’s going to be something missing. I think AM is really important, especially for a small town where people know each other so well.
Zavadil fondly remembers co-workers from KCTI over the years, such as Al Urban, Sonny Sievers, Joe Haynes, Bill Hecke, Quincy Johnson, Dino Rodriguez, Mary B. Arnold, Dian Myers, Aaron Allan, L.D. Decker, James Darilek, David Janota, Gary Muelker, Jeremy Halliburton, Tina Sirilo, Clinto Robinson and Egon Barthels— who shared thoughts of his own on Facebook recently.
“I had the chance to spend five years at this legendary station, and it was an honor to be there for you, bringing you the news, Bill Hecke weather, and a number of different things that could only be done by a local radio station,” he said. “I would like to thank you all for your support while I was there at KCTI. We had a lot of fun.”
Barthels has since moved on to Texas Thunder Radio, which is based in Shiner, where he continues KCTI’s and Zavadil’s legacy by playing polka music.