The ethnic music of your grandparents’ native countries may have seemed lost in time, until one Binghamton University alumnus and his WHRW radio show brought it back, with a twist.
Daniel Jan Walikis, class of ‘77, was cautious when he first decided to combine the world of multi-ethnic folk and polka music with music therapy for his show at WHRW, BU’s free-format radio station.
“I began to add bits of music therapy to my show under the radar so nobody would know what I was doing,” he said, laughing at how far he has come since he first started his show 22 years ago.
The idea for his show, which started in 1988, came about because he had a problem with how polka music was being broadcasted across the country and with the focus solely on one kind of genre, leaving music of other ethnic groups in their storage boxes.
Although born and raised in Binghamton, Walikis spent summers with his grandparents in a small coal-mining town outside of Pittsburgh. Being half Lithuanian and half Slovakian, he became immersed in the music of these two cultures.
“All of those ethnic music programs went in one ear and never came out,” he said.
With more than 45 years of experience in the bandstand playing with the band Perceptions, Walikis moved to the radio world at WHRW, and started a show that focused on ethnic music that never gets played.
It was not until 1998 when he came across Dr. Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and author who focused on music as treatment, that his interest in music therapy began. His interest in music’s ability to heal and prevent the aging process has yet to subside.
In 2004 he approached the then-program director at WHRW, Stephanie Wolf, requesting that his hour-and-a-half time slot on the radio be doubled so he could produce the first ever “multi-ethnic folk world nationality and polka music show,” combined with music therapy.
“Wolf’s reaction was excited,” he recalled. “We are the first in the nation [with this show]; this makes WHRW at BU different than any other station.”
According to Walikis, all of the stations within 100 miles of BU have ethnic shows, but they never made the connection to use music to slow down aging and restore the brain process, both short and long term.
Walikis begins his show each Tuesday night by playing a couple of songs, then welcomes his listeners. The music is identified in two languages, which Walikis makes sure is perfectly translated.
In order to do this, he spends hours at the Broome County Public Library, continuously checking out language dictionaries.
“I play music from Germany, Russia and Yugoslavia,” he said. “I greet my audience in about seven or eight languages to say ‘hello’ and ‘so long.’ It is bad luck to say goodbye.”
Walikis must translate every foreign word correctly, since people across the globe are listening. Based on fan mail, he has listeners in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria and across the United States. He even received one post card from a listener in the state of Washington, saying that his show is one of the best on the radio.
Walikis incorporates the music therapy into his radio show in a very subtle manner. The music from the past brings back childhood memories and allows listeners to relive their youth, he said.
“One person had aphasia and can’t speak,” Walikis said. “Her son was telling me that when my show comes on she starts tapping her feet and her eyes light up. She is communicating through the music, she remembers it!”
Walikis doesn’t need his music to keep him feeling young. Every time he walks into the WHRW office, he is treated as one of the students.
“I come to the station and I’m with youth between 18 and 22 years old,” he said. “It invigorates and regenerates me. If I am inspiring them, they are inspiring me.”
According to Robert Glass, news director of WHRW and a senior history major at BU, the students involved at the radio station respect and are inspired by Walikis for everything he has done.
“There’s a joke in the station that he’s the students’ stand-in parent, and we all love him like one,” Glass said. “There’s tremendous respect for his show and respect for his dedication to polka and Eastern European music, and we also respect his huge fan base and adoring listeners.”
Glass considers “Dan Jan,” as they call him in the office, an amazing man, one who will spend hours helping other people out of the goodness of his heart.
“He’s one of those people who would talk your ear off for an hour, or more, about his life experiences, and you’ll enjoy every last minute of it,” Glass said. “Without warning he’ll fix stuff at the station and set up major events. If this makes him sound like a saint, it’s because he is.”
Students at the station have repeatedly suggested that Walikis put his name in for the XCEL Award for Outstanding Multicultural Programming at BU, but each time he has modestly turned down the idea, not wanting to take the award away from deserving students. In 2008, the general manager decided to put in his name anyway, and Walikis won.
For more information on Walikis, or a schedule of his upcoming shows, visit danieljan.com or whrwfm.org.