A sound salvation
KZFR Community Radio celebrates 25 years
On any given Friday afternoon, the majority of the FM radio dial in Chico is filled with the same, excruciatingly palatable programming you’ll find any other day of the week. But toward the bottom of the broadcast band, at 90.1 MHz, you’ll hear something you won’t find almost anywhere else: obscure reggae cuts, interrupted occasionally by the maniacal shouts of Sanjay Dev, host of the weekly Devastation Sounds. Stick around for more than a song or two and you’ll likely hear Dev’s signature station ID, letting you know, in no uncertain terms, that you’re listening to “KZFR, the station that rules the nation!”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Chico-based KZFR Community Radio’s ruling of, if not the nation, then at least its own corner of Northern California. There is a bogglingly diverse array of programming—from a variety of jazz, blues and bluegrass shows to Hmong radio, political and environmental talk shows, and a handful of rock-and-roll mixed bags—most of which is produced on a volunteer basis by, and for, members of the local community.
“KZFR is an oasis of diversity amid the sameness of the commercial media landscape,” said KZFR General Manager Rick Anderson. “We are independent, volunteer-based, funded by the community and our only responsibility is to the listeners. Lots of different people listen to KZFR but we all share a common bond: an appreciation for the very special programming that only KZFR provides.”
Devastation Sounds serves as a prime example. Host Sanjay Dev has been part of KZFR for 23 of the station’s 25 years, ever since a friend suggested that Dev—a math professor at Chico State and Butte College—put his enormous collection of rare reggae vinyl to use by hosting a show. Although reluctant at first, Dev soon found that he had something of an affinity for radio.
“I feel so proud to be there every Friday,” said Dev over coffee before a recent installment of Devastation Sounds. “I feel like I give my heart and soul to the radio station and to the radio show. I’m a teacher already, so I feel like here’s another way to educate people. And getting that reciprocal support from listeners makes me want to be there even more and more.”
Community support has been the driving force behind KZFR from day one, said Anderson, a 35-year radio industry veteran who worked at San Francisco’s KFOG before taking what he calls “the best job I’ve ever had” at KZFR six years ago. In the early days, when the station was only able to maintain a spotty broadcast schedule, things were sometimes dicey: funds raised through yard sales with kegs of beer donated by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. would keep the station on air for another month.
These days, however, both the station and its fundraising efforts have become more sophisticated. The station broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week from its studios in downtown Chico over a recently beefed-up transmission chain, while also offering both streaming and archived programming on its website and mobile app. These improvements have been made possible in large part by pledges of individual listeners. The station’s recently completed spring pledge drive raised more than $57,000, breaking the previous record. And the KZFR live-event fundraising calendar—mostly concerts at Chico Women’s Club featuring an impressive roster of both local and visiting dance-friendly bands (everyone from GravyBrain to Dengue Fever)—has increased dramatically as well.
“Over the last 25 years KZFR has changed but remained the same,” said Anderson. “Location, equipment, transmitters, offices have all changed and been improved but the commitment from volunteers and supporters has never changed. They remain constant and are the backbone of our radio station.”
KZFR is hosting its 25th Anniversary Concert on June 13 at The End of Normal “to celebrate our past and look forward to the future,” said Anderson.
Count Dev—who recently celebrated his own 25th anniversary as a math teacher—among those who plan on making KZFR a part of their future for many years to come. “I have a slogan: math is my passion, and music is my salvation,” says Dev. “I tell my students I want to teach for another 25 years, because I’m so passionate about it. And I want to be there for the 50th anniversary of KZFR.”