By danny restivo
By spinning records every Saturday, Dennis Spisak is keeping a local tradition from fading away.
“What we’re doing is something a lot of us grew up listening to, and we want to see it kept going,” said Spisak, a 1977 Struthers graduate and disc jockey on WKTL 90.7 FM. From a studio in the high-school gym, the former Struthers High School assistant principal and current member of the board of education is responsible for the Irish, Italian, Latin, Slovenian, Slovak, Ukrainian and Hungarian music that is played from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every Saturday.
Spisak said he is delighted to know the musical tradition will continue after the board of education, which owns WKTL-90.7 FM radio station, approved an eight-year deal in February with an Akron radio station. The station plays modern rock and calls itself The Summit. The Struthers station uses The Summit, or WAPS-FM, which is owned by the Akron public school system. WAPS programming is broadcast into the Mahoning Valley through WKTL’s transmission tower.
Joe Nohra, Struthers schools superintendent, said he visited classrooms before board members approved the contract and asked students if they still listened to the radio station. He said the number of children who raised their hands easily answered his question.
“Struthers respects that this is an ethnic area,” said Nohra. “This still is a home-grown, Mahoning Valley community, and WKTL is still a part of it. We couldn’t lose our crown jewel.”
Nohra said Spisak was an influential part of keeping the 47-year-old radio station relevant in the community.
The part-time radio DJ got his start in 1975 when he was a high-school student who volunteered at the station. For three years, Spisak said, he played various polka music during Saturday’s ethnic music hours.
In 2009, he found out the ethnic music was going to end because the Saturday DJ couldn’t walk up the stairs to the studio anymore. Spisak said he immediately volunteered to return to the position.
“It was a tradition I knew I didn’t want to see die,” he said.
Spisak said he doesn’t know of too many other radio stations that still use vinyl, but he said it makes little difference to the listeners who are hearing more than music.
“People in their 20s and 30s are tuning in now because they are trying to rediscover their heritage,” he said. “People want to know what their grandparents or great-grandparents were listening to.”
Under the deal with the Akron public schools, The Summit will pay all costs associated with the station, including programming, equipment maintenance and Federal Communications Commission license fees. It also will agree to provide programming that is appropriate for school-age children and the greater Struthers community.
Nohra said he hopes to spawn new courses for students interested in broadcasting and technology, while Spisak sees a future for young people looking to experience the ethnic importance of the area.
“This station is what’s so great about Youngstown,” said Spisak. “An older generation tunes in to hear songs that remind them of days past, while a younger generation gets a better understanding of their ethnic identity.”