As the founder of Panjab Radio, Sarjit Singh Ghuman has created a broadcasting triumph. Tom Deegan meets another British-Indian success story
In 2000 Sarjit Singh Ghuman MBE, a successful London-based businessman of Punjabi origin, decided it was time to retire. But he did not intend to retire simply to enjoy his wealth; rather, he had developed a new interest that would require a great deal of his time as well as money. It could even be said he had acquired a mission in life, and that mission was to serve his community through the medium of radio.
As a committed Sikh and Punjabi, Sarjit felt there was a need for a channel that would serve the interests of his own people in Britain. Punjab is a great state of India whose people have often led the way in the growth of Indian culture. Punjabis represent a significant portion of the Indian diaspora, and Sikhs comprise a significant section of those Punjabis who have immigrated to the United Kingdom over the past 60 years or so. Their rich heritage and culture is a matter of great pride to Punjabi people.
Starting with a 28-day broadcasting arrangement with Slough Radio, the fledgling Panjab Radio was introduced to London’s Punjabi population at the turn of the millennium. Sarjit continued broadcasting through Sky Audiofor another three years before switching in 2003 to digital broadcasting (DAB) around London and the Home Counties.
In 2016, Panjab Radio began broadcasting nationally. The station now has an audience of around 100,000 listeners all over the UK at peak times and is on air every hour of every day. It is far and away the most popular radio station for people of Punjabi origin, and Bhangra music is part of that popularity.
Bhangra originated in Punjab and is still widely enjoyed by many people of Indian origin, not just Punjabis. Elements of Bhangra music now influence various western musical movements and the strain is growing in popularity among western fans.
But Panjab Radio is more than just a populist broadcaster. It transmits programmes concerned with broader cultural, religious, political and social issues, and is currently hosting debates and drafting a petition to the UK parliament on the issue of Article 25 (b) of the Indian Constitution, which declares that Sikhs are Hindus. It is not clear whether this is an ethnic or a religious claim in the constitution, though the distinction would be fundamental.
What is evident is that Panjab Radio does not shy away from contentious issues. In the run-up to the EU Referendum, for example, the station hosted lively debates on the Leave and Remain campaigns, as well as on other contemporary political and economic topics.
Sarjit Singh Ghuman has spent the past 16 years developing Panjab Radio, along with some 18 other dedicated full and part-time staff, including veteran broadcaster, poet and lyricist Chaman Lal Chaman, whose song lyrics are well known in the Indian community.
And Sarjit is something of a trailblazer in other fields too. He is the youngest ever magistrate to sit at Maidenhead Magistrates Court, and one of the very few Indian broadcasters to receive an MBE. He is also the proud father of five children and three grandchildren.