Radio Mirchi's Shammy broadcasts a slice of home
Listening to Desi music on the radio is a perk of Jersey life
This month's interview features a local celebrity you may not even recognize if you walk by him on the street. RJ Shammy is the host of "Shaam Shaandar" on Radio Mirchi, which is on the FM airwaves in the Garden State at 92.7 and 103.3 HD2. His voice radiates enthusiasm and a playfulness as he mixes Hindi and English on the radio, jokes around with callers and intersperses classic Bollywood with the newest hits.
In a world where you can stream music anywhere, maybe it doesn't feel that important to have South Asian music playing on the radio. When I was a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 90s, I remember the joy my parents and I would share when we heard Indian music playing on random AM stations on the weekends. It was like a message from another planet back when we didn't have internet radio, that feeling amplified by the white noise that accompanied those weak signals.
It made America feel like home in those early years after we migrated from Pakistan. It made me feel like there was a place here for families who didn't speak English at home, who rented bootleg tapes of Bollywood movies at the local Indian grocery store and listened to the same Mohammed Rafi tape over and over again on road trips.
When I moved to a mostly white, semirural town in New Jersey last year, I felt disoriented. I'd drive around wondering how I landed so far away from the suburban enclaves of Asian immigrants that had become my definition of home in America. Then I discovered Radio Mirchi, and it felt like a dog whistle from my people. We are here, they were telling me. You are home.
So yes, hearing Radio Mirchi on the radio waves matters, even in a digital era. If you're lucky enough to live here, or in Dallas or the Bay Area, you can channel that same feeling. And for the rest of you, Radio Mirchi is just a livestream away — no matter where you are in the world.
Radio Mirchi, it's hot
Among fans of Hindi music, Radio Mirchi is known around the world. The network of radio stations launched in 2001 in India, and there are Mirchi stations broadcasting there, in Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain and the US. Many people, including myself, probably discovered Mirchi through online radio, which has offered a way for people to access music stations far outside the traditional reach of radio antennas.
When I first heard Radio Mirchi on the actual radio in New Jersey, I wondered whether I was listening to a local broadcast. The ads for jewelry shops on Oak Tree Road and the occasional radio segment on voting or legal rights for immigrants seemed to suggest so. I snooped around online and followed the RJs I love on Instagram to find out.
It turns out that some of the shows are local, and some are not. As I listened more closely, I realized that RJ Shammy, who hosts "Shaam Shaandar" in the late afternoons, frequently talks about the weather and events in the New York-New Jersey area, and thus was one of the locally based hosts.
To me, Shammy and his crew are one of the most important community gathering points in New Jersey for South Asians. We listen to them in our respective cars, and we feel a sense of togetherness. In this interview, I got to learn how Shammy came to Radio Mirchi and what he loves most about his job.
Thanks so much for speaking with Central Desi! I'm sure being an RJ is a lot of hard work, but it also looks like tons of fun. You get to interview celebrities and your job is literally listening to and sharing music. What's the best part of this job for you?
The part I love the most about being a radio jock is the connection with the Desi community. No matter if the people are born or raised in the USA, or have come from back home, they ALL know Mirchi. So, I just have to say the word and they recognize the brand instantly.
Given that people can livestream whatever music they want these days, why do you think Radio Mirchi resonates with listeners in America?
I think for them it is a slice of back home. The fact that a major media company from India chooses to have a presence in New Jersey when they just as well could go to Chicago, Houston, Boston or pretty much anywhere else, means something. They reward us with their loyal listenership.
How did you join the station?
It was during the pandemic. I had left New York and was chilling at my mom’s house for a while in the Midwest. The phone rings from a talent scout for Mirchi USA, who also happened to be their programming director and had discovered a lot of successful talent in India for the company.
A friend of mine who now works on the business end of Mirchi USA recommended my name to him. He called me and we basically chatted for a few. And then I interviewed with about seven different bosses in four different cities and then was finally selected for this station.
One of my favorite parts of listening to you is being introduced to new songs and artists. How do you discover music?
Honestly, it’s at a bar or a grocery store when I am looking for what to purchase and a song just catches me off guard. I pull out the Shazam app and find out who the artist is and then listen to their catalog to death.
You host "Sham Shaandar" in English but often pepper in a lot of Hindi. I’m curious about this choice and how you think it helps you connect with the audience.
I think it is a mix. We have a lot of families that listen so I clean up a lot of stuff that I would let fly if I was at a private event. Of course, there are FCC regulations and Mirchi standards, but I kind of speak whatever and whichever shabd or word comes to me at that particular second. I’d incorporate Gujarati, Marathi, and Bengali, etc. too, but unfortunately I do not know those languages.
Do people recognize you when you’re out and about in New Jersey?
Not really. Up until now, I didn’t have social media so I could be walking around and no one really knows it is me. Once, a friend of mine from Boston was visiting and we went to a bakery in the Metropark area and some dude just recognized my voice and said he listens regularly and took pictures. My buddy thought that was pretty cool.
I am always humbled whenever someone messages me, or if they come up to me at an event. I am thankful for their time and preference for tuning in to Shaam Shaandar on their previous evenings.
Thank you, Shammy! You can follow him on Instagram @mirchishammy, which I highly recommend if you want to get a peek behind the curtain of Radio Mirchi New Jersey.
Thanks for reading! If you have a story you want to tell about New Jersey's South Asian community, please get in touch.
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