By LANDON WOODROOF
When Aniruddha Sathe and Shalini Dixit were growing up in India, radio was an integral part of their lives.
Kids and grown ups alike all had their favorite RJs, or radio jockeys, who they would listen to regularly. Some RJs were so popular that Sathe said you could practically walk down a city block and hear the same music and the same voice coming out of all the windows.
Radio was a constant of life, a common companion. Or as Dixit put it, “Radio was everybody’s best friend.”
For all the cultural elements that have accompanied a local boom in the Indian and South Asian population over the past couple of decades, though, radio has been left behind.
“Here in Nashville when we talk to the Indian community they all miss the kind of radio which they used to listen to back in India,” Dixit said. “That is what is missing here.”
Sathe and Dixit want to fix that.
Shuddh Desi Radio is an online streaming radio station that Sathe and Dixit are launching on Saturday, March 3 from a studio in Brentwood. The station will feature Bollywood and regional Indian music as well as information about news, events and local business relevant to Nashville’s surging Indian and South Asian communities.
“Our plan is to have something different in the Nashville radio scene that is more focused on Bollywood music with local flavor and local content,” Sathe said.
Sathe moved to the Nashville area in 2002 from Detroit to work for Tractor Supply. Back then, the local Indian community was not nearly as robust as it is today.
“When we moved here I think we used to have only probably one or maybe a maximum two grocery stores and maybe two Indian restaurants,” Sathe said.
Indian families were such a relative rarity that meeting another one resulted in a kind of instant friendship. Sathe can remember, too, how different it seemed at the time when his wife would wear traditional garb out shopping in the Cool Springs area.
All of that has changed now. In the Cool Springs area alone there are five Indian restaurants and an Indian grocery store. Seeing another Indian family out and about no longer seems like a special event. At least one major theater chain in Nashville regularly plays Bollywood movies, and local dance and exercise studios have people sweating along to the infectious strains of Bollywood music.
“Every year its growing tremendously,” Dixit, who moved to the area in 2008, said.
This growth has allowed many Indian families to keep alive the cultural and religious traditions that are so prevalent back in India.
Sathe has two kids that he describes as thoroughly Americanized. Even so they watch Bollywood movies all the time and enjoy listening to Bollywood music.
Dixit said much the same about her son, who was born in India but moved here as a young child.
“He loves Hindi music and movies,” she said. “Some of them are his favorites that he will watch over and over.”
Traditions are also kept alive through language. Both Sathe and Dixit said they make a point to speak their native tongues at home.
“We Indian parents want them to watch Indian movies and talk in Hindi,” Dixit said. Not exclusively, of course, but as a way to keep open those connections to their past.
“I think if we don’t preserve it, if we don’t pass it on to our kids, it will probably end at that point,” Sathe said.
The same goes for religious traditions. Dixit said she will often get asked by friends back home in India if she is planning on celebrating certain Hindu festivals.
“I say, ‘You know what we are more Indians here than you guys are over there,’” Dixit said.
Dixit and her friends relish wearing traditional Indian clothes and they celebrate Festivals like Diwali, the Festival of Lights, or Holi, the Festival of Colors, with great gusto.
Back in India, many of these types of customs are simply everyday facts of life. They are so ubiquitous that there is not much worry about preserving them. Here, though, traditions have to be kept alive in a more conscious way. That gives them an added sense of excitement and importance to many Indian families in the Nashville area.
Dixit and Sathe also participate in volunteer groups geared toward preserving Indian culture. Dixit has been an executive member of the India Association of Nashville for three or four years and Sathe is the president of the Tennessee Marathi Mandal organization.
The first inkling of the idea for a new radio station came some years back.
Sathe used to travel a lot for work. He would hop around to cities like Chicago and Atlanta from his home base of Detroit, and in many of the places he went Sathe was pleased to find that there was a local radio station playing Indian music.
After he moved to Brentwood in 2002, Sathe looked for something similar in Nashville, but was unable to find it.
As the years passed, he began to realize that he was not the only one missing the presence of this kind of radio station.
“There is a great sense of demand for Bollywood music” on the radio here, he said.
Eventually, Sathe decided to try to fill some of that demand himself. About 15 months ago, Sathe and a partner started a Bollywood music program on Radio Free Nashville, which is at 103.7 and 107.1 on the FM dial.
The one-hour, Sunday morning show features Bollywood music from a variety of different genres.
“I do that for my passion for music,” Sathe said.
As much as he has enjoyed doing this show, though, Sathe does not think it is enough. He sees the appetite for Indian community news and Bollywood and other regional Indian music in the Nashville area as being far greater than what can be supplied by a single radio show.
“There is still a void in the Indian, South Asian community here where they want to listen to more Bollywood music with a local flavor,” he said.
By local flavor, Sathe means news about items of interest to the Nashville area’s Indian and South Asian communities. This could vary from notices of upcoming events or concerts, to review of Bollywood films playing in local theaters, to advertisements highlighting local businesses.
The latter is a particular area of concern for Sathe. He said that local businesses do not have any kind of platform to specifically reach the Indian community.
“There is nothing for them to promote their business,” he said.
With these ideas percolating in his head, he got in touch with his friend, Dixit, a Brentwood resident and self-proclaimed “super fan of songs and radio.”
She was receptive to Sathe’s message.
“We both like music, so it was a common background for us,” Dixit said. “We both like music, and we both wanted to do something about it.”
They first met to talk about the idea for Shuddh Desi Radio (“shuddh” means pure and “desi” refers to the Indian and South Asian communities) back in July or August of 2017.
“I said to her it’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of stuff where we’ll have to have a lot of patience,” Sathe remembered.
Dixit liked the ambition of Sathe’s idea.
“It hasn’t been done in Tennessee before, anything like this,” she said. “This is huge. This isn’t on a small level. I said, OK let’s do it.”
They thought about what format the station should take. They decided it would be too expensive to try to get on the AM or FM band.
“It’s cost-prohibitive, too much investment there,” Sathe said.
In the past, that would have been the dead end to many radio broadcasters’ dreams. Not today.
“With unlimited data everyone is pretty much streaming on their phones and while they’re driving,” Sathe said. Given that fact, the partners decided that online radio was the best path forward.
The initial idea is to start off small, with live, 4- to 6-hour broadcasts on Saturdays that will then be replayed on Sundays. The idea is to then gradually expand the number of hours.
“The plan is to get to a level of 24/7, but we’ll have to go baby steps and make the concept well known,” Sathe said.
As far as programming is concerned, Sathe said the show will be a mix of different styles and genres, both old and new, sprinkled with local business and event news. That eclecticism will be one of the station’s strengths, Sathe and Dixit believe.
“The people here have different choices,” Dixit said. “They don’t want just one thing, they want options.”
Sathe and Dixit hope that the radio station will become a profitable venture, but that is a little further down the line.
“Right now all of our focus has been to get this up and running, and then we’ll focus on the other aspects of it which are more commercial,” Sathe said.
They have selected Saturday, March 3 as Shuddh Desi Radio’s first day. It is the day after Holi, the Festival of Colors.
“We thought that would be a good occasion for us to launch something,” Sathe said.
While Sathe and Dixit hope that Shuddh Desi Radio will fill a need in the local Indian and South Asian community, they also believe it has a chance to help foster even stronger ties within and between those communities.
India is a land of many different languages and dialects. People from different parts of the country can have a difficult time communicating with each other.
Within this country of incredible diversity music can often act as a unifying force between disparate groups.
Shuddh Desi Radio will stream mainly Bollywood music, which is in Hindi, but it will also play some music from different regions and in different languages.
The appeal of Bollywood music is, of course, not just limited to India. While Bollywood has a worldwide reach, it is especially popular in many South and Southeast Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
“All of those folks listen to this music pretty often,” Sathe said.
In fact, Sathe and Dixit said one of the most popular RJs when they were growing up broadcast from Radio Ceylon. Ceylon is the old name for Sri Lanka.
Sathe hopes to reach Nashville area residents who have moved here from those countries as well as those who have moved from India, not to mention any other area residents who may just be curious about Indian music and culture.
The process of setting up Shuddh Desi Radio has been a sometimes arduous one, especially for two people with full-time jobs. Sathe and Dixit had to figure out how to get licensing for music and had to find a host for their streaming content, among many other challenges. On more than one occasion, Dixit contemplated quitting. But she and Sathe had a mission, they stuck with it, and now the launch of the Nashville area’s only local Bollywood radio station is only days away.
“We want to be the pioneers,” Sathe said.
You can listen to Shuddh Desi Radio on the station’s website. An Apple and Android app is on the way.
You can also check out the station at the following links: