On Sept. 22, Sanjay Dev celebrated 30 years of programming his world-renown reggae show, “Devastation Sounds,” on KZFR, 90.1 FM. After three decades on the air, he’d planned for 2023 to be his last year.
“I was going to walk away,” Dev said one recent afternoon over cups of coffee in his backyard garden. “It’s not because I’m tired of sharing my love of reggae music, but because I’ve been so fortunate. I wanted to pass the baton. I’ve experienced greatness with the show, and want to give that opportunity to other people.”
Then, something happened: as word traveled of Dev’s imminent departure from radio, he started getting emails and other messages from all over the world similar to a snippet of conversation he shared from one recent text: “… On a more serious note, Sanjay, our global community wants you on these air waves for a very long time to come. Just know that.”
Dozens of similar messages encouraged Dev to keep at it … for the time being. He still plans to end his long radio tenure within two years to pursue another dream, building a school in the village where the Nepali native’s parents grew up. That goal, he said, was inspired by his more than 30 years in Chico, and three particular local institutions that have made his life what it is: Chico State, where he taught math until three years ago; Butte College, where he will continue teaching before splitting his time between Chico and Nepal after retirement; and the venerable “Zephyr,” KZFR.
“Butte College gave me life, Chico State gave me cultural connection, and the radio station gave me a sense of community,” he said. “I have been embraced here, and now I want to take the kindness I’ve been shown and pass it forward to my village.”
Dev’s love of reggae was initially sparked in the 1970s, when he 12 years old,. He was attending a Jesuit-run junior high when one of the teachers—a priest named Father Bailey—played Bob Marley’s album Live! for the class. He was instantly stirred by the music, and he and his friends would listen intently to Nepal’s only—one-hour weekly—English-language radio show, hoping to hear more Marley or other reggae artists. When he came to the United States in the early 1980s, his first concert was The Wailers (after Bob Marley’s death), which he attended with Father Bailey.
His father studied in the United States in Louisiana in the 1960s, and encouraged him and his brother to also seek an education in America. He came to Chico to study engineering initially, and after a few changes in majors landed on math, which he talks about with the same energy he talks about reggae: “Math is my passion and music is my salvation,” he said.
Dev said he was ready to leave Chico when he “accidentally started teaching.” He’d been working as a math tutor at Butte College and was offered a position at Chico State. Encouraged by his friend and fellow reggae lover Jay Langworthy, AKA DJ Boomshot, he started his “Devastation Sounds” show at KZFR, where he’s made good on his promise to “shake all five walls” since 1993.
He said the goal of his show has always been aligned with that of his teaching career—to both educate and entertain people. To that end, in addition to playing a wide range from his enormous vinyl collection, he chooses to feature specific artists, many of whom would be lost in obscurity were it mot for Dev and others of his ilk.
Records for classrooms
The aforementioned record collection—which consists of more than 25,000 pieces of vinyl—plays a central role in Dev’s plans to build a school. He is currently cataloging and organizing the records, with the intent to sell most of it off to pay for the facility in Nepal.
What he envisions is several classrooms to serve 100 students each year, with computers for every student. There will be living facilities for teachers on the grounds. The land has already been acquired in the village, Rajbiraj, and Dev said many of his former students who’ve gone into education have tentatively committed to teaching there.
It may sound like a pipe dream, but Dev has already done a test run of sorts. In the early 2000s he sold 300 records and raised $20,000, which he used to donate more than 25 computers to an existing school in the village. He estimates the whole of his collection could fetch up to $1 million, and he plans to seek more funding from UNICEF and other organization.
“My parents thought I was crazy when I started collecting music,” he said. “Back when I had 600 vinyl they were like, ‘Sanjay, why are you doing this? What good is collecting these records?’ Then I showed them the check and I bought the computers and they realized ‘OK, there’s something to this.’”
Dev is humble, has a penchant for universal spirituality that guides him, and says that—above all things—he is grateful for the Chico community.
“I want people to feel what a special place we live in. I’ve traveled to 82 different countries and some remote places, and there are very few places like Chico. This community has made me a better person.”