By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 13, 2005 at 5:26 AM

{image1}For all the talk of Milwaukee's German flavor, how many of us realize that there is still a thriving, if smaller, German culture alive in the city of Gemuchlicheit? Besides Oktoberfest and German Fest, one of the most visible manifestations of this is the weekly radio show, "Stimmung Stunde," on WJYI (1340 AM) Saturdays from 10 to 11 a.m. Although a number of them were displaced by the format shift at WEMP, there is still a home for a number of German radio shows here.

"Stimmung Stunde" is hosted by Tim Kretschmann, who has been active in the German community here for many years. We asked Kretschmann about the show and about the state of Milwaukee's German-ness.

OMC: What does the show's name mean in English?

TK: Stimmung Stunde is really Happy Hour. Stimmung generally means "in high spirits" and best I can figure it comes from the similar word "Stimme" which means "voice." In Germany, there were many voice organizations -- as do we locally with German Maennerchors -- and they always had a whale of a time. "Stunde," pure and simple, means "hour." We keep things light and never bitter. If it works for beer, why not a radio show?

OMC: Can you tell us a little about the history of the radio show and your involvement in it?

TK: Actually on Feb. 10, I celebrate my 15th year on the air. The gentleman that had the show before me, the legendary Hans Windischmann, passed away quite suddenly and a hunt was on to save the German hour. My father was in charge of finding a new emcee, and he looked high and low and spoke to people that have been involved in various enterprises over the past years. It turned out he couldn't find anyone willing to take on the weekly commitment. My father was reporting back to the committee and one of the members said, "But, Elmar, what about your son? He has a big mouth."

Fifteen years later, I'm still here. I've been involved in Milwaukee's German-American community for even longer, often volunteering for German Fest and Folk Fair and various other local events. I'm easing back on those commitments as our radio show continues to grow -- particularly the success of our Web site and it's active forum at stimmungstunde.com has been taking a lot of my time.

OMC: Are there other German radio shows in the area, too?

TK: Indeed, but we're a dying breed. On WJYI (1340 AM), we have my program and "Continental Showcase" from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Many people remember "Continental Showcase" from its 49 years of host Herbert Wittka, who retired in September. The new host Robert Deglau and I both grew up listening to "Uncle Herbie" on the weekends. There are other ethnic shows, to be sure, such as the "Polka Parade," also on WJYI from 9 to 10 a.m. and again from 11 to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, but there are certainly less. Most of our shows were on WEMP until its recent flip to a sports format. We're really excited about our new station, WJYI, though and think it has exposed us to a whole new audience we haven't had in the past.

OMC: What is your listenership like? What's the "Stimmung Stunde" demographic?

TK: Well, we don't show up next to WTMJ in the ratings, that's for sure. Most of our listening audience is aging. Probably our median age is around 50. Two of my sponsors are local funeral homes, so that tells you a little bit. We have a pretty good-sized audience, but we only show up on the over 50 demographic ... at least that's my understanding.

I don't know much about this radio business. I'm an infomercial when you get down to it. This is my hobby. I purchase time from the radio station and they let me play my music and I play the ads that pay for the whole thing. What I do know is our listeners tend to listen every week. Our listeners own homes ... not many renters. Most excitingly for me, my audience is starting to get younger.

OMC: Is it a mix of talk and music? What's the format?

TK: There are as many different types of German music as there are American forms. I prefer a type of music called Schlager and another called Volksmusik. Volksmusik is more traditional with yodeling and accordions, etc. Schlager is a more modern form. I constantly compare them to country music in this country. Volksmusik would be George Jones. Schlager is Garth Brooks. I try to balance the two forms and being a bit of an organizational nut, I've made up little formulas to make sure I don't overdo one form of music over another. I don't follow it, of course, because I love to break rules, but I have the little formula. I also try to spotlight local bands like the legendary Johnny Hoffmann & the Herzbuben and the exciting new band Austrian Express. Bruce from the Austrian Express can outyodel anyone in the old country, so I love playing their music.

In the past year, we've actually interviewed a number of great German Volksmusik and Schlager artists. Last year, we interviewed Vincent & Fernando, Marc Pircher and the incredibly popular Oliver Thomas. They may not be well-known in this country, but now that our local cable has access to German TV, they are featured constantly on German television. I'm still shocked these artists want to speak to us, but Milwaukee does have the title of "Most German City in the USA" and that helps us attract some huge names. In fact, on Feb. 26, we'll have Feller & Feller from Germany on the show for an exclusive interview. It's all pretty exciting.

The format is simple. We play the ads to stay on the air. We play the music because German music isn't available anywhere else on the radio. We have interviews to keep us connected with the Milwaukee community. They have also been part of what has been drawing us younger and younger listeners. Nothing makes me smile more than hearing someone tell me they listened to my show with their grandma or their grandchild. Whenever I hear that, I know I've been doing my job -- helping unite a community in its most basic building block: the family.

OMC: The show seems to focus a lot on pageant winners; are pageants a personal passion of yours or something you do at the request of listeners?

TK: That's a funny story, actually. I started by having one young lady on simply because I know the pageant contestants have a platform -- a cause -- they are involved in. I've had various local groups on the show, but generally when they have something German like the Art Museum's exhibit of German art last year. We've had the Milwaukee Rep on. We've had the Pettit Center on. We've usually been able to tie it back to the German aspect of our community.

During the interview with this young lady, I noticed we didn't tie back to the German community at all, but we were connecting to something we overlook sometimes -- the AMERICAN of German-American. That's something that's equally important to connect with. Remember how I talked about balance with the music? I thought this is something to help me balance that part of the show.

As time's gone by, I've discovered even more. I went to college to become a teacher -- that didn't work out for me -- but I still like to interact with young, gifted scholars. The representatives I've met from the MAO have all been outstanding students. That kind of feeds the teacher in me, which lies dormant, but never really died. Most importantly, these young ladies compete in many things, but particularly in interview. That makes my job real easy. They sell these interviews for me and I can concentrate on keeping the music cued up and getting in and out on time.

The benefits have also been wonderful. During December, we had Nikki Groppi, Miss St. Francis, come on the show and sing "Stille Nacht." I have a collection of literally dozens of versions of "Stille Nacht," but I have to tell you, her version is one of the best. It was truly a sight to behold. Also due to this involvement, I've been invited to be a judge of the Miss West Allis/Miss New Berlin pageants on Feb. 5. This is another first for me. All this on the same day I will be interviewing Miss Wisconsin USA ... just days before my 15th anniversary on the air. It's pretty exciting, and best of all: we've noticed higher call volumes during ticket giveaways and monumental increases in Web traffic on the site. We're doing something right -- I may not always be sure of the reason, precisely, but you can't argue with success!

OMC: What's the state of German culture in Milwaukee nowadays? Is it still vibrant?

TK: Ten years ago, I would have shouted, "Yes," but today, I'll say it a little quieter. We still have a very strong community here in Milwaukee and our ability to hold an almost completely volunteer German Fest -- at last count nearly 3,000 strong -- is evidence of that. On Jan. 15, the Ramada Inn at the airport is going to have a huge "Maskenball" celebration, which is really a part of the German Mardi Gras tradition. You can't hold an event of that scope without a large, active community.

However, the great influx of immigrants that arrived here in the '50s after WWII are becoming older and we're sadly seeing many of Milwaukee's German leaders pass away. This past year, one of our German DJs of the past and a legendary yodeler, Erich Schuetz, passed away. You can't continue to plug holes like that. There's no replacing a man like that. There just isn't. We're hanging in there, but we're definitely in need of the younger generation to take a stronger position in the community.

OMC: Is it difficult to find young people inspired by the heritage and to help maintain the traditions?

TK: Absolutely. We have a young club in town, the Danube Cultural Society, that is really making a go of it and I keep rooting for them. They are doing a lot to attract young members and make being a part of a German dance group "cool." But it's an uphill battle. We're combating every other aspect of this society that is commanding our young people's attention. To be quite honest, many of our older German-American community leaders aren't always too willing to let the "kids" take over either. It's kind of a Catch 22. Being a 35-year-old watching this whole thing is amusing ... and yet a little sad.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.