ST. LOUIS – Months of controversies between upper management and volunteer DJs at local community radio station KDHX 88.1 FM have now led to a lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that a group consisting of current KDHX volunteer DJs (also known as associates) voted to remove two members of the station’s board of directors and nominate three members to replace them in September. Current KDHX board directors have not approved those decisions, according to the lawsuit.
FOX 2 learned weeks ago that, at full capacity, the KDHX board of directors would consist of 15 members, with at least three appointed by associates. Right now, KDHX’s website lists six members on its board of directors.
The lawsuit asserts that the associate members “exercised their rights to remove [Franc] Florton and [Ray] Finney as directors of KDHX.” As of Thursday, the radio station’s board of directors website still lists both Florton and Finny as serving with the board.
Furthermore, the lawsuit states that associates elected three new members – Kip Loui, Courtney Dowdall and Darian Wigfall – to the board during a Sept. 26 meeting. “The lawsuit arises because KDHX and its directors refuse to acknowledge and recognize this action,” a court document obtained by FOX 2 reads.
“KDHX management is marginalizing the Associate Members and restricting their participation; dismissing numerous volunteer DJs in retribution for dissent [and] pushing to terminate their Associate Memberships,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday within the City of St. Louis, seeks declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. Essentially, the board is turning to the courts in hopes that a judge will declare the election results valid and authorize the results to take effect within the KDHX board.
This situation, plus several others, has sparked tensions between volunteers and board members. KDHX dismissed at least 13 dating back to the start of the year, including 10 in September as part of the announced “fall programming changes.”
The September announcement from KDHX states the “dismissed” volunteers “displayed a pattern of behavior that was detrimental to KDHX.” Some fired associates tell FOX 2 that they were falsely accused of racist and sexist behavior.
In a follow-up report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the KDHX Board of Directors President Gary Pierson, said they were “vocal and disruptive in their support” of longtime radio show host Tom “Papa” Ray. He was fired in February after decades as a volunteer.
The lawsuit states, following these dismissals and the handling of the associate election results, at least 20 other volunteer DJs have gone on strike or voluntarily quit.
To compensate for on-air content that would otherwise be produced by volunteer DJs no longer on the airwaves, KDHX has reportedly “been using computer-driven applications to program a significant amount of air time,” per the lawsuit. “Frequently, KDHX is broadcasting nothing but dead air,” court documents add.
Fired associates have also cited communication issues with management, underutilized resources, and a decline in public events that allow KDHX to raise donations.
“In recent years, KDHX has been plagued by dysfunction and controversies, including disputes regarding the role of volunteers in operations and governance,” the lawsuit states.
Last month, Pierson shared a statement Saturday morning addressing recent departures and the state of the station. In part, it reads: “Volunteers are not entitled to be a part of any organization they are actively causing harm to, including to our station.”
The lawsuit states the board’s next meeting is set for Nov. 20, but based on previous actions and statements, associates believe “they have been (and will be) denied the right to participate in this meeting.”
Following the lawsuit, a spokesperson sent this statement to FOX 2 on Thursday afternoon on behalf of Gary Pierson, President of the KDHX Community Media Board of Directors:
“As a board, our commitment to bringing the power of music to listeners in St. Louis and around the world has never been stronger. KDHX has an enthusiastic team of volunteers who share their love of music every day, including 15 new DJs who have joined us in the past two months as we embark on a new vision – expanding the voices of our community.
This week, Andrew Scavotto, a former KDHX board president, filed a baseless lawsuit on behalf of a small group of misguided former volunteers who dislike this strategic direction. This former board officer used confidential, privileged information obtained during his tenure about the organization to create this false narrative and target individuals. Decisions made by this former board officer are central points in the lawsuit.
At all times, KDHX has acted in accordance with its bylaws and Missouri non-for-profit law. We are confident that the courts will see this for what it is. KDHX will vigorously defend this suit, and continue its work to harness the power of music for all of St. Louis.”
KDHX is a non-commercial and independent community radio station powered by donations from listeners and has served the St. Louis community since 1987.