Walk into a desi store or salon anywhere in the United States and, chances are, you’ll hear Hindi songs wafting through the speakers. Walk into a desi store in the SF Bay Area and, chances are, you’ll hear live conversations in Hindi, Indian-English, Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi, or Kannada. “Listening to KLOK every morning gives me a warm feeling, like I’m in India, listening to Vividh Bharati!” says Amsarani Sivakumar, a childcare professional living in Saratoga and a regular listener of the morning drive time show Telugu Kendram.
KLOK 1170AM has given an on-air home to Bay Area desis, thanks to several Indian Americans making personal investments in time and money to create and anchor programs. Telugu Kendram was the inspiration of the Pravasvani radio company, which accounts for almost 62 hours a week of programming, making the company the largest collective-host at KLOK. “We emphasize quality in all our programming, including our choice of hosts,” says Raghu Malladi, President and CEO. Pravasvani recently announced the “Golden Voice” contest, inviting singers in California to participate and win a chance to share the stage with A.R. Rahman, during his The Journey Homeconcert series. Other popular programs under the Pravasvani banner include Sham Ka Safar, and Desi Nights, a Friday night dance music show. Raj Kumar is a co-founder of Pravasvani, (along with Raghu and Ravi Gondipalli); he, interestingly, has a Fiji connection, making KLOK truly a station for desis worldwide.
“What’s especially great is that KLOK has an all-India representation, as opposed to just Bollywood, which gets boring after a couple of hours,” says Viji, of Viji’s Beauty Salon in Cupertino. “I have the radio tuned to KLOK at most times, and my customers also like it. In fact, I introduced most of them to KLOK. I particularly like listening to On-Air Dilse, the program always airs quality music and the discussions range a wide variety of topics.”
On-Air Dilse was the first program with a live host—Seema Mahajan, software professional turned radio star. “I wanted to do a music based call-in show because I cannot live without music myself,” she confesses.
“On-air Dilse is a show that was conceived to connect people, to bring out the extraordinary element in our daily lives.” The program was a trail blazer at the fledging radio station, and when the phone lines were opened up for the first time on June 14, 2010, Seema wasn’t sure whether there would be any callers. The first call was from an American caller who, obviously inspired by the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” said he was Jamaal, and asked if Seema knew Latika (a character in the movie)!
June marks the first year anniversary for the radio station, and for owner Principle Broadcasting Network’s foray into the Bay Area desi market. Having tested the smaller Asian Indian market in Dallas, Principle decided to spice up radio frequencies in the Bay Area beginning midnight of June 1, 2009 with a fusion of Bollywood and South Asian music hits. At any given time, listeners from Monterey/Salinas to Stockton/Modesto to Sacramento and everywhere in between, including San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland, can hear desi conversation and music on air. Speaking of the decision, Bill Saurer, President/ CEO says, “The Asian Indian population has become the fastest-growing, best-educated and most affluent market segment in the United States. We are very excited that KLOK serves such a community.”
A testament to the forward-looking sentiment is the show Bay Area Third Eye. In July 2009, Raj Budwal, a Punjabi investment and real-estate broker-host at KLOK went live with a Hindi-Punjabi talk-show. The show enlightens listeners about new advances in any field that touches their everyday lives, including science, law, and medicine. One of his guests has been Lawrence Stone, the tax-assessor for Santa Clara county—a well-recognized name among home-owners. Being a Bay Area/ San Jose resident for over 20 years, Raj likes to give back to the community. After the shooting death of a desi immigrant in Sacramento, Raj motivated his listeners to give generously to the grieving family, collecting over $5,000 in donations.
Giving back to the community or inspiring connectedness is a theme that Mantra the host and dost (friend) at Morning Masti also echoes. “It thrills me to wish the listeners every morning.” Morning Masti is a commute-time show that starts with a devotional song followed by a Mantra ka mantra homily—an example being “Speak good and good will follow.” The show has a little bit of everything to prepare listeners for their day: astrology, stock updates, news tidbits. On Mondays and Tuesdays, people calling in for song requests can also opine on the topic of the day, for example, “Why can’t we live happily?” The masti (fun) element comes with Mantra teasing reactions out of his listeners by making outrageous or personal statements: One day the topic was ganjapan (baldness); another topic was a silly fact-finding mission, such as how many knew of the word jugaad loosely translated to “making it happen” in Hindi.
Radio provides anonymity and a go-to person for some of listeners’ queries, like those on beauty. On her The Beauty Show Seema Kapoor, a beautician for over 14 years and owner of two salons in Sunnyvale and Milpitas, circles back with her listeners in a unique way, getting them to share their own home remedies to beauty issues. “Wrinkles, dry skin, and hair loss are real problems in people’s lives, but they hesitate to talk to a professional about them. KLOK has made it possible for people to connect like it wasn’t possible before,” says Seema.
Each KLOK program has its own place by the hearth that you can snuggle into. The Indian Angle is a forum to discuss the Indian-ness in what we do, from sustainable landscaping to extreme athletics. “Indians are intellectuals, conscious community members, parents, professionals, but above all, we’re homesick immigrants,” says host Shachi Patel. Through conversations and connections, Shachi, a healthcare IT professional, guides listeners to share their opinions and experiences, get advice from experts on various subjects, and learn from others’ experiences.
For the questions, program schedule and hosting opportunities, tune into 1170 AM, visit www.klok1170am.com or call 408-440-0851.
Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, Washington, Chicago
Having a dedicated radio channel is one way of getting your voice heard as a community. A desi having a syndicated show mainstreamed in several cities is another. Johney Brar, aka DJ JoN-E, is the host of Desi Live, a nationally syndicated radio program. Desi Live specifically caters to listeners in their 20s and 30s, with upbeat programming including Bhangra, Asian Fusion, and Bollywood Remix music.
When did Johney Brar become DJ JoN-E?
I’ve been interested in DJing since I was five. I used to try and mix songs with two tape decks (this was before the computer age). But I didn’t really get rolling in the South Asian entertainment business until I was 17, when friends and I started BBC Soundcrew (a company created in 2001 to help develop the North American South Asian/Desi Music scene). We starting pushing desi music at all the major clubs; a few CDs later, we were off and running.
I got started in college radio, volunteering my time once a week. I pitched a show idea of Urban Desi radio program for the station. There were many Indian radio programs in Toronto for the adult listeners but very few catering to the younger generation. I wanted to change that. The show did very well in its four-year run, making it one of the station’s top three programs. In October 2008, I got the show syndicated nationally.
How is doing radio nationally different from your local experiences?
Contentwise, you can’t really talk about local events or artists since the show broadcasts in five different cities. You have to think national, not local, and it was a bit of an adjustment. Also, every city has its own vibe. My show is youth oriented, it works better in certain cities.
You were a young DJ. Did your parents support your music ventures?
They knew how successful I was DJing. The money I made paid for my university education. They didn’t mind that I was getting involved in radio as long as I didn’t drop out of school. But I did prove to them that I could manage both school and my business. Besides, they enjoy listening to their son’s voice on the radio.
Would you recommend a radio career?
Yes and no. The thing is that there is not much money in the radio broadcasting field. If it’s something that you’re really passionate about by all means go for it. But don’t look for any big paydays! I know some people who are teachers in the morning and moonlight as radio DJs at night.
Any thoughts on where desi radio is heading?
My station (HumDesi) just launched a free iPhone app for people to listen on the go. Look for a lot of stations doing this in the upcoming year with mobile phone integration.
Desi Live Radio Program is on the air Friday & Saturday 9pm-Midnight on HumDesi Radio which airs on the HD Radio format: Los Angeles – 105.9 FM HD2, New York-New Jersey – 98.7 FM HD2, Chicago – 101.1 FM HD2, Washington – 103.5 FM HD2, www.bbcsoundcrew.com
For a list of desi radio programs in North America, visithttp://www.garamchai.com/radio.htm