ST. LOUIS – Community radio station KDHX 88.1 FM has lost an alarming number of volunteer DJs this past month. At least 10 were fired as the station announced new fall programming changes on Friday, and at least five others have reportedly quit.
In Friday’s announcement, KDHX stated it currently has around 80 volunteer DJs, but that number appears to be shrinking in recent days.
On Tuesday, a group consisting of current KDHX associates and volunteer DJs, gathered for an emergency meeting. The group voted to remove two members of the station’s board of directors and nominate three members to replace them. In order for that to happen, however, upper management at KDHX would have to approve the change. That hasn’t been approved as of Wednesday.
At full capacity, the KDHX board of directors would consist of 15 members, with at least three appointed by associates. Right now, there are only eight members.
The board situation is one of several mounting concerns for current and former volunteers.
Michael Kuelker, one of 10 volunteer DJs dismissed on Friday, told FOX 2 in a phone call that there have been many puzzling developments since February, when longtime radio show host Tom “Papa” Ray was fired after decades as a volunteer.
“My position then is the same position I have now: Whatever personnel situation was involved, a less drastic solution was desirable and possible,” said Kuelker. “But they fired him.”
Several months later, KDHX announced Friday that 10 volunteers were “dismissed” and “displayed a pattern of behavior that was detrimental to KDHX.” Twelve others are also required to “undergo mediated discussions to continue in their roles.”
Days later, in a follow-up report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the KDHX Board of Directors President Gary Pierson said the dismissals were instead based on being “vocal and disruptive in their support of Ray.”
In that report, Pierson walked back comments that initially linked Kuelker and others dismissed Friday to racist and sexist behavior. Kuelker said the initial allegations caught him off guard and they were never previously brought up internally by management before his firing.
“Losing my show that I’ve worked at for 26 years is a difficult thing,” said Kuelker. “Having the added pressure and stress of being accused, falsely, of things like racism and sexism is outrageous.”
Kuelker also tells FOX 2 that KDHX resources have been largely underutilized over the past year. He says thousands of dollars worth of gear are not being used, and there are fewer live performances than past years.
As for his former show, which highlighted Reggae music and its impact on St. Louis culture, Kuelker says he is worried about the authenticity of what fills the time slot. Some programs previously belonging to fired DJs now consist of music without commentary, in addition to some pre-recorded PSA messages.
“[KDHX has] traditionally been a volunteer organization providing great radio and other media to St. Louis in an independent spirit,” said Kuleker. “That independent spirit, at least as it relates to any dissent, is being crushed by station management.”
Before Friday’s announcement of 10 dismissals, KDHX also parted ways with two longtime volunteer DJs, Andy Coco and Drea Stein. In a Riverfront Times report, KDHX Executive Director Kelly Wells cited the two used “their platform to encourage listeners to defund our station.”
Stein has since followed up with a lawsuit alleging “improper dismissal,” though the lawsuit is pending after a temporary restraining order was declined.
In a phone call with FOX 2, Stein says communication between upper management and associates has been a major issue. She says there was a lack of communication over the decision to fire Ray and questions about how listener donations were supporting the station.
“I don’t want to defund them; I want them to answer questions,” said Stein. “Decisions are made that affect us without our input.”
Stein is also concerned about community engagement. Among her examples, a decline in public events to raise donations, restricted in-person station visits as COVID-19 eased, and dealing with several pieces of broken equipment.
“It’s very frustrating trying to gauge how you rate in an organization you are working hard to support when there’s no communication,” said Stein.
It’s estimated that, including Ray, Coco, Stein and the 10 fired on Friday, KDHX is down 15-20 volunteers over the past year.
FOX 2 reached out to the KDHX Board of Directors for comment on the recent dismissals ahead of Tuesday’s meeting via email and has not yet heard back as of Wednesday afternoon.
KDHX is a non-commercial and independent community radio station powered by donations from listeners and has served the St. Louis community since 1987.
“I don’t know what the future is, but I’m going to fight to save it, because [KDHX] is near and dear to my heart,” said Stein.