Masala Radio Celebrates 20 Years

Sunil and Sandhya Thakkar, along with Masala crew and friends at the 20th Anniversary celebration on Sunday, May 26 at Blu Lounge.

Sunil and Sandhya Thakkar, along with Masala crew and friends at the 20th Anniversary celebration on Sunday, May 26 at Blu Lounge.

By Sandhya Thakkar

HOUSTON: The entire night, all we heard was “20 Years?  Really? You guys have been doing this for 20 YEARS? Wow..Time sure flies…”  Sunil and I celebrated 20 years of Masala Radio with a bang throughout Houston…100% Masala Style.  On the Wednesday May 22, Rush Hour show, we ran a special trip down memory lane with the top hits from 1993 to present.  On the same day, we promoted a city-wide Buy-One-Get-One FREE promotion at all our Restaurant sponsors – Madras Pavilion, Mayuri Indian Cuisine, and Tandoori Nite offered BOGO FREE on their entire menu (and all three were packed).  Baloch offered the deal only on their Kulfis and Faloodas selling out their entire Inventory.  Chef Nirman Shah said all three of his restaurants, Kurraywalahs, Café India, and Chowpatty Chaat were extremely busy, the latter having a line out the door.  Shahnai and Zaika, who offered the promotion only on Biryanis and Chaat, were shocked at the response.  Meanwhile that night, we had a private celebration at Fadi’s Mediterranean (also our sponsor) with all past & present Masala Crew: Radio Jockeys, Office Crew, Event Team, Print & Web Designers, DJs & Dancers.  The night featured an emotional 500-photo slide show from 1993 – 2013, and cake cutting celebrating 20 years of team achievement.  Preanka and Rajoo, who have been on the show for 19 of the last 20 years, recounted their most memorable moments, which led to an outpouring by everyone, right down to the newest 2-month-ago hired Naina & Shah.  A special thank goes to the Current Masala Crew. It includes Radio Jockeys: Preanka, Rajoo, Bijuria, Dilip, Alka, Abhishek, Kashmira, Priya, Naina, Ajay, Priti and Sushil.  Office: Rinku, Hima, Shah & Jose. Designers: Zaheer, Purav & Ravi.  Dancers: Sonali, Anand, Malav, Priti, Ashka & Mehran (who met on Masala Cruises, and are getting married this summer – Masala Ne Bana Di Jodi).  Event Team: Shilpi, Nimi, Ninad, Krupa, Devan, Shreya.  Priya has danced, choreographed, and RJ’ed for Masala, going from a teenage listener faxing in requests for her parents anniversaries to “now being a Radio Jockey and playing other teen’s requests…just too cool!”  The final 20th Anniversary celebration was Sunday, May 26 at Blu Lounge, where nearly 700 die-hard party-goers danced to a frenzy along with the Masala Crew.  Cake, Confetti, Balloons, hottest Bollywood music & videos by DJ Zee, DJ Nish, DJ Scoop and one of our originals – DJ Alxxx.  It was an amazing night, amazing year, amazing twenty years.


Throughout the week Listeners called in with their special Masala moments, some who have been listening SINCE 1993.  It seemed all of Houston had a special song, or dedication, or joke that had made their day.  “Sunil and the Masala Radio crew always make me forget my troubles and laugh.”  And really, that is all why Sunil has been on the radio, straight out of college, right after we were married, nonstop, for twenty years – to bring out the laughter, to spread his boundless energy, excitement, and passion.  One couple had met at one of first Masala parties in 1994, and now has teens looking forward to their first Masala Party.  We have hosted over 100 Bollywood music club parties – at Crystal, Caza Cozo, Shock, Spy, Toc, Oz, Azure, City Streets, Betty B’s Bomber Bar, Gatsby.  Sunil was the South Asian Gatsby.  In 1995, we expanded the radio show to Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Chicago, and New Jersey through Asia One.  Sunil and the show was an overnight success particularly in Los Angeles, and was invited to emcee shows and judge Miss LA and Mr. LA competitions.  We didn’t live there, but people felt like they knew us, such was the power of radio.  Of course we couldn’t keep up with the travelling required after the birth of our first child Simran in 1997.  Another couple called in who met and married at one of our six huge Masala Dandias held between 1998-2006.  One of our Panjabi fans called and said “Gujju doing a Gujju Dandia was expected.  But Gujju doing Bhangra event – chak de Fatte!”  We had designed a few shows of Bhangramania – Bhangra team competitions featuring B21, Sukhbir, and UK’s Dhol Foundation.  1999 was a busy year, from parties with Bollywood stars like Tabu and Sunil Shetty (Club Shock Memorial Sunday), to our first “Millenium Masala Cruise,” running our first commercial on ZeeTV which also premiered in the US in 1999.  The ship sold out with 500 passengers going on a “Cruise to Nowhere.”  Did I mention our second child, Sahil was born in 1999?


One listener called in to recall being one of over 3500 people at the rocking New Year’s Eve parties at the Funplex in the late nineties and early 2000’s.  He recalled the craze of those New years Eve Parties where there was some exciting aspect for every member of the family, and even though by IST he is always late, this was the only party he was in line with his wife and kids at opening at 7PM, and had to be thrown out with the last Ghazal-listening guests at 4:00 AM.  Masala had a huge party at Gotham on 12-31-1999 to welcome the new millenium.  Our first event of 2000?  Sunil emceed a show in Singapore, and our DJs Yogi & Alx were also invited to spin at the pre-party.  We toured Singapore with Apache Indian, Hari Haran, KK  – what a thrilling experience to kick off the Millenium!  While most everything was a grand, grand success, we did have some “learning experiences.”  Late in 2000 we opened a CD-DVD-Coffee-Pastry shop in Sugarland – Plant M.  Closed it after 2 months, realizing retail was not our thing – no excitement like the minute-by-minute action of radio!  While the shop failed, it attracted the admiration of Farid Virani, who inspired Sunil to quit his job with Shell Oil in 2001, and produce a full feature film – Where’s the Party Yaar?(WTPY).  We worked on the film for nearly 2 years, finally releasing it in theaters in 2003.  Film-making was an adventure, we learned every aspect of film shooting, editing, and distributing. We worked 4 months alongside our film editor Shamit Amin, who later moved to Mumbai to edit and direct award winning movies like Chak De India with Shah Rukh Khan.  Our star Kal Penn went on to become a huge star, and later made it to the White House.  But he still remembers us, the month he spent in Houston, and our wild 2004 promotional tour of WTPY in Delhi & Bombay! The glamour and the money faded quickly, but there was always the radio to come back to!

In 2002 Tara Energy was formed – and became one of our backbone sponsors.  Tara Energy supported the radio in ways no one will ever know, and for that, we are eternally grateful.  And with Sunil joining Masala full time, we launched Masala Cruises with a bang – he directed Marketing & Entertainment, and I managed the Operations & Finance.  Our first Galveston Carnival Cruise in 2003 featured comedian Vir Das.  Now, ten years later, he is coming out in the next big Bollywood movie. In December 2004, we featured Russell Peters in a cruise from LA, and now look where he is!  We have sailed over 37 cruises with over 15,000 Indo-Americans to Alaska, Mexcio, Carribean, and Europe.  And yet have many, many places to go.

In 2007, we decided to host a grand Diwali Festival of Lights event in Sugarland’s Town Square.  The unexpected 8000 that came out jammed all roads and parking garages in the surrounding area, effectively banning Masala Radio events in Town Square.  The City allowed us to host our first HOLI festival of Colors at Oyster Creek Park, however with 3 years of recording breaking crowds, we were forced to move the event to the larger Seabourne Creek Park, which is also approaching max capacity at 15,000+.  Meanwhile, the City of Sugarland is developing a Festival Grounds particularly to woo us back with a permanent home that can handle up to 50,000 people.  In 2006 we sailed our first Europe cruise, Venice to Istanbul.

 In 2007, Sunil was invited to lead a float dressed as Amitabh Bachchan in the New York City Independence parade.  With our Dance crew, we went down 20 block of Manhattan in front of 100,000 screeming fans.  Later Sunil shared a comedy jam with Johnny Lever, and Grand Marshal Priyanka Chopra.  All the while, the radio has been growing – in 2007 we doubled the hours from Saturday to all weekend.  In 2008, Star TV USA caught site of all those Masala Cruise commercials and invited Sunil to participate in the Great Indian Laughter Challenge Season IV.  Sunil never dreamed he would advance to top ten, or that they would pay for 2 months of training.  While he did the Saturday shows live from Mumbai, he had to quit in the summer to come back to the US for Masala Cruises.

In 2010, we launched the Rush Hour show daily from 5-8 PM, then a year later 4-8PM.  For 17 years we just didn’t have the time to do weekday shows, but once we started, it changed the game. With a fabulous team of Radio Jockeys, 24/7 seems the next logical step.  We love Houston and what we are able to do here.  God has shown us the path and we are cruising…with speakers on full blast.  Not sure what the destination is…but the journey has been incredible…and of course we are taking all of you with us!  Halo Re Halooooo!!!