About halfway through a radio talk show recently, co-host Yogi Chugh thanked a caller named Amrit for his opinion on gun control, and began to move on to another listener when the man suddenly stopped him.
"No, no," Amrit said firmly. "I am not yet done making my point." Chugh smiled and let the man finish, for it was the sort of thing he and co-host Dharminder Dewan envisioned last year when they started their program, "Jai Ho!: The Voice of Indo-Americans."
Chugh and Dewan, Indian immigrants and Fremont city leaders, know firsthand their community's rising political and social strength, and they aim to give that voice a podium through their one-hour show, broadcast at 3 p.m. on Sundays from a San Jose radio studio.
The Indian-American community -- boasting the highest wealth and educational status among U.S. ethnic groups -- has come of age, especially in prosperous Silicon Valley. But, Chugh says, too many have not yet embraced their burgeoning power, preferring to remain in the political background.
"We've begun to understand the importance of being of being involved in the process," said Chugh, a Fremont planning commissioner. "No one invites you; you have to do it yourself, and the only way to start getting involved is to have these dialogues. Participation is organic and that's what makes setting the framework of a dialogue so compelling."
Last May, the pair started hosting "Jai Ho!" -- or, "Bravo!" in Hindi -- on Desi 1170, an AM station that broadcasts programs featuring Indian music, culture and politics.
Chugh and Dewan like to work loose and unrehearsed, getting to the Desi studio -- also known as KLOK -- on suburban South King Road about 20 minutes before showtime.
When the red "On Air" lights click on, they start by stating the day's hot-button topic -- recent programs delved into divorce statistics and community reaction to a shocking rape in India. Then, studio engineer Lowell Tuckerman plays the song, "Jai Ho!," a hit tune from "Slumdog Millionaire," the 2008 Oscar-winning movie set in India. While the upbeat tune plays, the co-hosts hurriedly check their smartphones for text messages and their laptops for last-minute research.
Once the first caller speaks, the show is injected with politicized energy, as studio phones light up with Indian-Americans itching to chime in. One recent caller, Anu, said she is in favor of gun control but understands the need for self-protection, adding that her mother in India rarely left the house without putting an unloaded pistol in her purse -- just in case.
Chugh and Dewan say they try not to give their personal opinions. "Triggering the passion of our callers, that's really our goal," said Dewan, who serves on Fremont's Human Relations Commission.
The show is part of the wide-ranging lineup on the station, the former home of Top 40 and Spanish-language formats. In 2009, New York-based Principal Broadcasting Network bought the station and immediately changed it to "Desi 1170," an "Asian Indian format broadcasting 24/7," station general manager Brad Behnke said.
"Desi" is a Hindi word that refers to immigrants from India, Pakistan and other parts of South Asia, Chugh said. "It means 'somebody from back home,'" he said.
The station's roster illustrates the diversity in South Asia and India, where dozens of languages are spoken. The program that precedes "Jai Ho!," called "Virijallu," offers chitchat about current events, celebrities, music, cooking tips and other routine talk show fare, but it is all discussed in Telugu, a language spoken in a southeastern region of India.
Desi 1170's smallish brick studio could symbolize Indian-Americans' restrained voice. The modest, one-story building -- tucked in an area surrounded by a hardware store, a pasture, a grassy knoll and a housing development -- is easy to miss if you're not paying attention. Yet it's powerful, one of just four 50,000-watt megastations in the Bay Area.
Behnke said the Bay Area has three times more South Asians than Dallas, which has had a desi station for 12 years. Desi radio formats also air in New York/New Jersey, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and other markets.
A second Bay Area station airing Indian-American content, Radio Zindagi, went on the air 18 months ago in Fremont, where nearly one in five residents are Indian-American and two serve on the five-member City Council.
From 2000 to 2010, the number of Indian-Americans jumped from 21,600 to nearly 39,000 in Fremont, and from 67,000 to about 118,000 in Santa Clara County, according to the U.S. Census. About 70 percent of all Indian-Americans over 25 hold a bachelor's degree or higher, and their average household income nationwide was $88,538, well above the next-closest ethnic groups -- Filipino-Americans ($75,146) and Chinese-Americans ($69,037).
Given those demographics, switching formats was a no-brainer, Behnke said. "With no full-time (South Asian) stations in the Bay Area at the time, it looked like an opportunity to serve an underserved population," he said. "It's the fastest-growing, best-educated and affluent market segment in the country."
But political involvement still lags.
There was no shortage of debate during a recent "Jai Ho!" show about the rising divorce rate in the Indian-American community. As antsy callers lit up the switchboard, red lights pulsated in the dimly lit studio. One caller, Shalu, took the modern view, saying that divorce is painful but "staying in an unhappy marriage is to live a lie."
Chugh then steered the discussion in a direction any immigrant family could relate to. "When we immigrated here from India, there were older views that marriage was sacred and was held onto at all costs," he said. "But as we live in America, it enables people to make their own decisions."
He got what he wanted. A few seconds later, another studio phone rang.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.