First Listen: WPNA-FM (103.1 FM) Chicago
When WKIE Chicago was dance-formatted Energy 92.7 in the early 2000s, my favorite record that then-PD Chris Shebel played was Zero’s “Bania U Cygana,” a pounding, high-energy Polish-language dance hit. Because, of course, that was what you should play in Chicago. In my ongoing quest for local hits and oddities, I kept hoping that Chicago’s major Polish community would make “Bania U Cygana” so popular that bigger rival WBBM-FM (B96) would have to acknowledge it, but that never happened to my knowledge.
By the early ‘00s, every language had a record that sounded like “Bania U Cygana,” but I knew there was a special connection between Eastern Europeans—there and here—and dance-pop. The danceable new wave of the late ‘80s, still largely underground here, was mass-appeal music and still shows up on one of New York’s brokered Russian-language HD-2 stations. Now, WPNA, the longtime AM station of Chicago’s Polish National Alliance has just added an FM (on a frequency that was once WKIE’s sister station) playing “new hit music from Poland, Europe, and around the world.”
For a certain type of radio listener, this is big news. “Have you heard it yet?” asked RadioInsight’s Lance Venta in the Radio Show 2017 press room. Of course, we both had. Beyond its own uniqueness, there’s always been a fascination for me in any North American CHR that takes its cues from somewhere other than the U.S. charts. That’s how CKOI Montreal recently became my station of summer 2017. It is also why XHTO El Paso and the short-lived CHR on KXOS Los Angeles—both influenced by Mexico City CHR—fascinated me.
“Chicago’s new Polish-American mix” has its share of the chirpy, sludgy trap pop that I’ve complained about so much lately. So does the pop music in any language, at this point. But there’s also a lot of uptempo dance pop in both languages. There’s the full spectrum of Polish-language hits, some in genres like ska punk not currently represented on the radio here. As with stations of this sort, there are also a few songs that mainstream American CHR has given up on (e.g., DNCE, “Kissing Strangers,” which I’ve heard several times now). And there was one song that stumped even Shazam and SoundHound.
When I’ve encountered them, WPNA-FM has been mostly jockless, but it just launched a new bilingual morning show. The presentation is still taking shape—hot contemporary jingles, but some formal sounding sweepers that sound like they could as easily run on the heritage AM. There’s also an ad for the Alliiance’s insurance business that uses “You’ve Got to Pay the Price” by Al Kent, the 1967 R&B instrumental classic that has endured for years as a music bed. And I hope it plays as a music bed somewhere for the next 50 years.
I hope WPNA-FM perseveres, too. This station has two franchises, and the dance/pop one is not found on any other Chicagoland over-the-air radio station at the moment. Eastern European-derived cultures know their Eurodance and it would neither surprise me if WPNA-FM found a non-Polish audience, or if it decided that the best way to serve young Polish-Americans was straight-ahead dance with only an occasional Polish-language title.
Here’s WPNA-FM at 9:45 on Sept. 13:
- C-Bool f/Giang Pham, “DJ Is Your Second Name” – Polish artist, but interesting English language lyric.
- Sarsa, “Volta” – Dance pop with an interesting Evanescence/goth feel on verses.
- Filatov & Karas, “Time Won’t Wait” – The No. 13 song in Poland.
- Big Cyc, “San Escobar” – Rancid/Mighty Mighty Bosstones ‘90s-style ska-punk. Chorus is “Viva! San Escobar! Viva!”
- Dua Lipa, “New Rules” – Still building here, but already a confirmed smash across Europe.
- Saszan, “8 Miejsc” – Loping midtempo Trop Pop of the sort prevalent in English-language pop now.
- Arizona, “Annie” – American EDM/pop band signed to Atlantic here. The first place I’ve heard them on the radio.
- Sound’N’Grace & Filip Lato, “100” – Stumped both Shazam and SoundHound, but MusicID found it. The #11 song on the Polish singles chart.
- Taylor Swift, “Look What You Made Me Do”
- Quebonafide f/Klaudia Szafarnska, “Candy” – Atmospheric R&B duet along the lines of The Weeknd or Khalid, “Location.” The current #15 song in Poland.
- Rafal Brzozowski, “Juz Wiem”
- Mystery Song #1 – Midtempo pop/rock ballad with late ‘90s/early ‘00s feel. Stumped all three music search apps.
- DNCE, “Kissing Strangers” – Followed by a jingle with just the “103.1 FM” name.
- Anita Lipnicka f/the Hats, “Z Miasta” – Ethereal midtempo ballad reminiscent of, oddly enough, “Slave to Love” by Bryan Ferry.
- Sigala & Ella Eyre, “Come Here For Love” – Another European hit just landing here. The #34 song at home. Followed by another jingle, this one attached to a legal ID.
- Red Lips, “Bez Regul” – Another midtempo rock ballad, this one with a female vocal. This was followed by a promo for the morning show, and the legal ID, then…
- Angel, “To Wlasnie Ja” – Retro, midtempo pop along the lines of the first Meghan Trainor hits, but punctuated by occasional EDM powerchords.
- Charlie Puth, “Attention”
- Kamil Bednarek, “Poczuj Luz” – More ‘90s-style reggae pop in Polish.