Telling Our Story

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By Kelly Wells
KDHX Executive Director

I’m the executive director of KDHX and have led this organization as we work to embody our earliest mission of building community through media with diverse and independent voices. KDHX was founded specifically to serve underrepresented and underserved people in our listening area. 

Like many organizations, KDHX embarked upon a process of recommitment and change in 2020. Together with 800 community voices, we created a strategic plan to name specific ways we would increase our learning around racial equity and ensure that we provided programming to connect to all the people in our listening area. 

The expansion of music discovery continues in full force at KDHX. We begin 2024 with a renewed commitment to being the place in the St. Louis region that uses the power of music to engage and unite people across the many communities we serve – a source of music discovery for everyone

In the past few months, we welcomed 26 new DJs who are filling the airwaves with a wealth of new music and sounds. In early 2023, 23% of our volunteers were from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. By the end of 2023, that number increased to 58%. We have seen our listenership increase on our livestream by 43% and online engagement of  18-24 year olds go up by 500%. We spent much of 2023 developing an engagement plan so that we – staff, board, and volunteers – have an opportunity to be physically present and proximate to people in the St. Louis community.

2023 was a transitional and transformational year at KDHX and wasn’t without its challenges. Making real change in any organization is tricky. Making change in a listener-supported, volunteer-heavy radio station makes things even trickier when some individual volunteers, listeners, and donors have their own ideas of exactly how change should or shouldn’t happen.

Due to the efforts of a small group who believe KDHX should be their way or no way at all, we’ve gone from an organization with community support for transformative change to an organization that has parted ways with a quarter of our volunteer team, lost over a third of our donors, and currently face a financial struggle that will take a massive effort to overcome.

The Story

This isn’t the first time a group of community members has weaponized dissatisfaction at KDHX - most notably in the behavior and actions of a group of volunteers who have long professed to believe in our mission while, at the same time, centering their own perspective on how to fulfill it. In early 2023, we parted ways with a single volunteer. In response, a handful of volunteers began a secret campaign, reaching out to other volunteers to strongarm the board into firing me for leading such a decision. When they felt they had enough support, they went public with their reasons for why I shouldn’t lead this organization.

I was friends with and admired many of the volunteers who demanded my firing. I understood their passion for KDHX. They wanted what they thought was best for the organization and felt that a “lighter touch” was a better way to institute change. This resurfaced a longstanding pain point for KDHX – the battle over who had ownership of KDHX’s mission. It also surfaced a deep divide between lip service and follow-through for actual change. 

The tactics of this group of primarily white and male volunteers were seen as silencing and destructive by other volunteers, many of whom were women and people of color who had come to KDHX to reflect and serve the underrepresented and underserved communities our mission and commitments require. 

I felt all along that this frustrated group of volunteers would adjust their thinking and/or demands if we could engage in open, honest conversation. Unfortunately, despite repeated attempts, we could not convince them to engage in good faith conversations that sought a resolution other than what they demanded, which had expanded from my firing to the removal of the board president for supporting me. And a community most served by this group of volunteers followed their lead, outraged that a leader, especially a woman leader, could have the power to make decisions out of line with their specific desires.

In the following months, this group of volunteers embarked upon a public campaign of disparagement, spreading false information and allegations, filing frivolous lawsuits, and personally attacking staff, board members, and DJs who didn’t “side” with them. They used the age-old method of manipulating community mindset through media spin, threats, and backchannels, naming their own superiority while dehumanizing whomever they had to in order to advance their agenda.

This manipulation incited outrageous behavior by their followers: publicly sharing the personal information of volunteers and staff, making death threats to staff, threatening staff and board members’ families, threatening board member’s livelihoods by calling their places of work and demanding they be fired, sending strangers to show up at my house screaming and banging on my door.

In contradiction to the narrow perspective of that group of former volunteers, a majority group of long-time and brand-new volunteers are working alongside us to advance opportunities for everyone. They bring to the airwaves an attitude of welcoming people in rather than creating an exclusive club. And they’ve been in the crosshairs of this battle in ways they never dreamed or asked for.

That brings us to our current situation. A situation that features mostly older, white people publicly attacking an institution they “care” about, willing for it to fail rather than “look” different than they would like. It’s deeply uncomfortable to watch and raises the question of who KDHX has been serving and how that service advanced opportunities for one group that we didn’t advance for everyone. If we weren’t fully awake to these realities before, we certainly are now.

Regardless of the difficulty of the situation, knowing what we stand for is easy. Volunteers, listeners, and donors should have a voice in the direction of KDHX, but one segment of the community should never speak for everyone.

Let me be crystal clear: We will always be grateful for the time and talent every volunteer shares with KDHX and the listeners and donors who have been faithful to us through the years. 

When we started 2023, we had plans to part ways with one volunteer. Instead, we parted ways with thirteen volunteers; others followed them in parting ways with us. That wasn’t the plan for the year, but it became an opportunity to accelerate the change we expected would take years. Instead, it took a few months. 

The Opportunity

In 2020, we started asking ourselves questions like: How do we shift the organizational culture of KDHX so that all voices are heard? How do we bring along the folks who may not be excited by the shift? What work do we need to do as an institution so that people with different life experiences can thrive at our organization? What and who do we mean when we say “community?” And perhaps most importantly, how do we engage in radical relationship with each other, even when we disagree? 

My experience with this process of change has taught me to reframe my understanding of conflict and resolution. I used to think that conflict was negative, change should be peaceful, and resolution looked like everyone being on board. Instead, I’ve learned that conflict is necessary, real change is and should be uncomfortable, and resolution doesn’t always look like we think it will.

In light of that understanding, we must ask ourselves what we are willing to sacrifice to follow through on real change. Will we stand in our integrity and our intrinsic values, or will we sacrifice true stewardship by making decisions based on the desires and perspectives of a few? Are we willing to make real change even if we lose people who have been part of the core of this institution? I’d rather not make that sacrifice. I’d rather everyone came along with us. However, KDHX is here to serve the broad patchwork of communities that make up our listening audience and we no longer grant ourselves the choice of serving only some of them. 

The Practice

Radical relationship means that we come together in love. In the words of social psychologist Erich Fromm, love requires care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. Love “is not a resting place.” It “is a constant challenge” that requires faith, discipline, and patience. We have to practice it.

We know that as we continue with our work, this group of antagonists will continue to harass, bully, spread misinformation, and encourage hate. Meanwhile, we will continue to move forward with unyielding integrity, unwavering independence, and love.

We are building a KDHX with people who are willing to release their own ideas in service of what’s better for the whole. Who understand the importance of connecting with communities beyond their own. Who believe that the more voices and perspectives we have at the table make this organization stronger and better. Who are committed to being in radical relationship with each other because they understand that KDHX is here for one reason. We are here to make sure that we are reflecting the communities we serve, welcoming them in, and strengthening the broader community of KDHX together. 

The partnership that is KDHX requires that we all do our part. It requires the staff and board to steward the mission, vision, and values. It requires the volunteers to make magic happen on and off the air every day in service to community. It requires supporters who believe that KDHX should be free and accessible to all and who believe that KDHX is vital to a thriving, whole community.

As a community organization, KDHX relies on individual donations, and our sustainability is seriously threatened. At this moment, we are fundraising to fill the gap left by people who discontinued their donations, and we are rebuilding our operating reserve. If you believe that KDHX is an irreplaceable cultural institution, donate now at

We’ve always said that KDHX is a radical concept requiring radical partnership. I believe that as we actualize the practice of radical relationship, the best is yet to come. I invite you to join us in love as we use the power of music to engage and unite individuals and communities.

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