Telling Our Story

First printed in the St. Louis Business Journal on March 21, 2024

As we approach the 10th anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, organizations in St. Louis have found it necessary to reevaluate their inclusivity goals and embrace diversity. As KDHX Community Radio experienced in recent months, it has become clear that change is difficult and there seems to be as much resistance to such change as there was in 2014.

How can this be? Anyone leading or serving on the board of an organization should take heed: Making substantive changes in the name of inclusivity and diversity in St. Louis is as hard -- and as important -- as it has ever been. 

For 36 years KDHX has harnessed the transformative power of music to engage and unite people and communities in the St. Louis region. In 2020, KDHX led a months-long listener and community engagement process as a first step in building its 2021-2024 strategic plan. This process surfaced a stark reality: The music community we served was relatively small and homogeneous – white, older, and with limited representation across demographics and genres. After receiving input from more than 800 community participants, three priorities were identified: expand our audience, build anti-racist capacity, and diversify funding streams. 

KDHX’s board, which we serve on, fully endorsed this plan to broaden our reach - to be more inclusive and diverse in the community we serve. Governance is a balancing act, but when you keep the long-term goal in perspective, it highlights the tough steps that are necessary to ensure KDHX’s long-term success. Most importantly, as an organization with a federal mandate “to serve underrepresented and underserved people in our listening area,” it is imperative we use our platform to help drive the change St. Louis needs. 

Despite being rooted in community feedback, these efforts deeply angered some longtime volunteer DJs, listeners, and supporters. Some of our volunteer DJs openly rejected efforts to expand the voices on KDHX. No organization can engage volunteers who are working to undermine the organization, or who are actively hostile to other volunteers, staff, and board members. As a result, we had to part ways with 13 volunteer DJs. 

Parting ways with the volunteers sparked a public pressure campaign that has resulted in hundreds of people canceling their financial support of the station. The group has made public calls and private threats to replace station leadership and our board. Rather than see KDHX expand its platform to include others, this group is actively working to see it fail. They provide little substance as to how they would achieve the station’s objectives beyond restoring former volunteers to their previous positions and maintaining the status quo.

This damaging effort to thwart our objective to expand KDHX’s mission has illustrated just how difficult it is to make change in St. Louis. Nonetheless, amidst this turbulence, our board stands united with station leadership and is resolute in our commitment to effect meaningful change to broaden and deepen our impact on St. Louis’s music scene.

Since October, the station has brought on 34 new volunteer DJs who bring new music and a passion for reaching out to new listeners and new supporters. The proof is in the numbers:

• KDHX’s online listenership is up 43 percent and online engagement is up 500 percent for ages 18-24
• Notably, our market share remains robust at 1.2
• The year-end funding campaign brought in 275 first-time donors
• 65 percent of DJs are from historically underrepresented backgrounds, up from 23 percent in January 2023

KDHX is clearly on track to meet our updated values and expectations, but we need like-minded people, organizations, and businesses to support the station. Those opposed to these changes have created short-term financial challenges for us. We must attract new donors and underwriters who believe in the direction we have chosen. 

We are calling on everyone who believes in the power of music to connect people and foster goodwill to join us as we build KDHX beyond the small insular group of the past to reflect our broader community now and in the future.

Joan Bray, Secretary, KDHX Board of Directors
Ray Finney, Treasurer, KDHX Board of Directors

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