JOLLY JOE TIMMER TRIBUTE
Jolly Joe Timmer was the man who broke Alex into broadcasting. We at TRB feel it is appropriate to continue his legacy, as Alex does with the Steelworkers, by hosting a Jolly Joe Tribute on our site so all can know about the Polka King who opened the door for the next generation.
Joseph W. "Jolly Joe" Timmer(1930-2015) was a polka music legend who hailed from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Born February 16, 1930 on the South Side of Bethlehem, the son of local store owners Joseph(1904-1965) and Grace(1912-1978). Joe, ethnically Slovak and Hungarian, was raised in a largely Slavic neighborhood and attended Saint John Capistrano Catholic Church as a boy, the church which he would remain a lifelong communicant. Timmer grew up attending polka dances at various locales in the Lehigh Valley where he received his initial exposure to the industry. After graduating from Bethlehem Catholic High School in 1948, Joe briefly worked for Bethlehem Steel and then embarked on what would be a sixty five year run of excellence in broadcasting in the Lehigh Valley.
Jolly Joe's orchestra was well respected throughout the tri-state region. At their peak in the 1950s thru 1990s, the band regularly played 5-6 times a week, sometimes playing multiple venues in the same day. The band played at major fairs and festivals, including Musikfest in downtown Bethlehem, of which Joe was one of the major initial organizers. More famously, the band played the casino circuit in Atlantic City for many years.
Their early successes and popularity led to an appearance on the Ted Mack Show out of New York City in 1968 and a subsequent invitation to be the first major bandleader to bring their polka sound to South Beach, playing at the famous Di Lido Hotel. Timmer took many trips with his band, including Hawaiian and Caribbean polka cruises, winter getaways to the Catskills, Berkshires, Adirondacks and White Mountains. Timmer also led several European tours.
Regionally, Timmer's Orchestra performed at major polka venues such as the Bayway Polish Home, Polish Falcons and First Street Polish Home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the Polanka in Somerville, New Jersey; The Irvington Polish Home in Irvington, New Jersey; The Deutscher Club in Clark, NJ; The Evergreen Heimatbund in Fleetwood, PA; Reading Leiderkranz, Lancaster Liederkranz and many other dance halls and ethnic clubs in the greater New York and Philadelphia Metropolitan Areas.
Locally, the band would play frequently at smaller ethnic clubs such as the Easton Polish Home; The Sokol Hall, Slovenian Club and just about every bar and club on Southside Bethlehem, the Polish Home, Ukrainian Lodge and most bars and clubs in Allentown and the Hungarian Club, Edelweiss Haus and Tri-Boro Sportsmens Lodge in Northampton.
Joe's band continued to play up to his passing and now lives on via two Lehigh Valley bands: All The King's Men, which consists of Timmer's final group of musicians who continue to play his playlist; as well as The Steelworkers, a local band comprised of former Timmer radio employees, his former accordion player and other local high-profile polka personalities.
The Jolly Joe Timmer Orchestra released 7 albums over their time together.
Joe began his radio career in 1949 at Bethlehem's radio station, WGPA, with a 15 minute time slot, once per week. He quickly garnered support from the community and the program became a weekly feature. He would expand his reach in the 1950s to include hosting polka programming at WHOL in Allentown. He would remain a fixture in the radio industry in the Lehigh Valley for decades at both stations. He also was involved in the polka radio scene at several radio stations in the Coal Region, including WLSH in Lansford, WAZL in Hazleton and the now extinct stations of WMIM Mount Carmel and WMBT Shenandoah, where he partnered with their local polka star, "Jak Tam" Billy Urban to host radio programming and polka dances.
In 1991, Joe began exclusively working with WGPA on a daily basis--This time, as the station owner. Purchasing the station from Hank Chadwick, Timmer retained the musical format of Singers&Standards, Beautiful Music and Oldies, as well as its commitment to a wide variety of local programming, including coverage of High School and College sports, Municipal programs, health talk and more.
Timmer instituted one major programming change: The expansion of the polka offering. His popular "Jolly Joe Timmer Show" remained in it's coveted 11A-1P timeslot M-F, as well as Sunday from 9:30AM-12PM. To bolster his offering, Timmer added in a morning drive polka show from 7-8 AM as well as an evening drive polka show from 5-6 PM on weekdays. Thanks to a partnership with local German Butcher Karl Ehmer Quality Meats, Timmer added on a German-Austrian hour on Sundays in the mid 1990s, a show which remained on air until the sale of the station in 2015.
In the later years of his ownership, Timmer also added a Saturday evening program, "The Echoes of Europe" which featured a variety of Volksmusik, Schlager and other folk genres from Eastern Europe, giving WGPA polka themed programming seven days a week. Lastly, in the final two years of Timmer's ownership of WGPA, the station aired a wall-to-wall Sunday polka program which ran from 9AM-Sign Off.
One of the finest legacies in broadcasting which Timmer left behind was his consistent commitment to break in new on-air talent, specifically the hiring of college students interested in a broadcast career. During his ownership of WGPA, Timmer broke in no less than half a dozen current radio or TV station personalities who began as college students and later pushed on to further heights in broadcasting. Timmer's final three collegiate hires are now involved in The Steelworkers band.
Joe's band was also featured on many regional television programs and led to an opportunity for him to begin hosting his own in-studio cable TV program, the Jolly Joe Timmer Show, on Twin County Cable and Service Electric Cable in the Lehigh Valley. The program would run for over fifty years consecutively across the two venues, and in the early 2000s became exclusive to Twin County's new owner, RCN. The program featured polka videos, historical videos of Central and Eastern Europe, viewer calls and local guest hosts. Prior to its cancellation upon his passing in 2015, the Jolly Joe Timmer Show was the longest consecutively airing local cable TV Show in the entire country.
In addition to owning WGPA later in life, Joe also owned and operated a music store, "Jolly Joe's House of Music," which was located on the ground floor of his southside Bethlehem home, which was the same building his father had a small grocery in when Timmer was a boy. The House of Music sold polka records, cassettes, CDs and videos, as well as boombas, bells, tambourines and other instruments. Joe would spend the majority of his time handling bookings for his band and selling advertisements for his radio and TV shows, so the day to day operations of the store were managed by his wife, the late Dorothy, who went by the handle, "Jolly Dottie".
Timmer's recording label, Rave Records, was located on the second floor of the home. Rave Records produced dozens of polka and non-polka related albums during its 50 years of operation. Polka artists to record on Rave included Timmer's Orchestra itself, The King Brothers, Hazleton Hi-Hats, Steve Huber's Happy Austrians and many others.
He was the proprietor of Jolly Joe Timmer's Grove, a banquet and dance hall, which was located at 942 Liberty Street in the village of Point Phillips, for over 40 years. The Grove had a standing-room capacity of over 500, though top acts, such as Happy Louie, Jimmy Sturr and others would see well beyond that number in attendance. The picnic grove also had a full sized swimming pool, club house and additional room for parking and ballfields. Timmer would host pool parties during the summer, greatly increasing the attendance for dances. The most coveted ticket at the Grove for the majority of its operation was Timmer's annual New Year's Eve Party, which featured a top band, door prizes and a buffet dinner. For non-catered events, Jolly Dottie ran the kitchen and served a variety of Slavic and Germanic foods, including her home-made bigos, sauerkraut and pierogi.
For over 50 years, Timmer also had a line of pickled and jarred products which he sold at his store, the picnic grove, events his band played and also in several small local stores in South Bethlehem. His offerings included stewed tomatoes, dill pickles, sauerkraut, green beans, dried and smoked sausage. His media promotions for this product line were set to his song "Jolly Joe's Ogorki(Polish for pickles)", a song Timmer wrote himself and his band recorded. The lyrics included all the products he sold as well as a sales pitch.
In addition to the Grove, Timmer was a polka dance promoter, hosting televised polka dances at public locations throughout the Lehigh Valley, including Bethlehem's Westgate Mall.
Timmer also owned a number of rental properties in South Bethlehem which he rented to Lehigh University students--Which opened a door for him to play fraternity and sorority parties at the renowned University--to which he paid tribute to on his "At Lehigh" recording.
Jolly Joe ran many "polka vacation tours" as well throughout his years, including numerous trips to Pearl Harbor. Internationally, Timmer and other local polka band leaders ran trips to Germany, Austria, Poland and other Eastern European countries.
Throughout his radio career, Timmer ran promotions for thousands of clients. While he owned WGPA, some of his nearest and dearest friends became the station's anchor advertisers, including Ahart's Market, Karl Ehmer Quality Meats, Queens Nutritional Products, The John Yurconic Agency, William Posavek Remodeling, Deiter Brothers Heating and Cooling, Maryland Fried Chicken and many others.
Timmer was well respected in the region for his energy, willingness to continue working 16 hour days into his 80s and also for his pride in owning the station--It is most clearly evidenced by the fact that in the late 1990s, Timmer turned down a cash offer for WGPA that was well over one million dollars from a Washington DC based investor.
Joe passed away in the summer of 2015 shortly after selling WGPA, but his legacy lives on through his many fans, friends and listeners. The tribute bands which play in honor of him and other Lehigh Valley polka legends continue to keep his name alive and his legacy at the forefront of the Lehigh Valley.
-Jolly Joe was one of the original champions and contributors to the now famous Bethlehem Musikfest, which was originally founded as a polka event and has evolved into its current form with over 1 million attendees per year.
-Joe received well over 250 commendations throughout his career, all of which hung with pride in the hallways of WGPA. In addition to polka accolades, Timmer received multiple proclamations from Mayors throughout the Lehigh Valley and several held a "Jolly Joe Timmer Day" during his time on the top of the polka scene.
-In 1990, Timmer was inducted into the International Polka Association Hall Of Fame, alongside Myron Floren and Brunon Kryger.
-Timmer was the recipient of two locally televised tribute dinners coordinated by fellow IPA Hall of Famer Jimmy Sturr.
-Jolly Joe received multiple Telly Awards for excellence in mid-sized market television broadcasting.
-Joe was a regular supporter of the YMCA, Boy Scouts and other local youth-centered organizations.