KDHX Fires Longtime DJs Andy Coco and Drea Stein

"This was a really dumb move. This was not a positive move for KDHX.”

Aug 30, 2023 at 9:30 am
click to enlarge KDHX at Grand Center.
Ryan Krull
The state of affairs at KDHX has been tumultuous since the station moved to its current Grand Center space.
Yet more turmoil has hit St. Louis’ most tumultuous independent radio station. KDHX has fired two longtime volunteers: DJs Andy Coco and Drea Stein. 

Without using names, KDHX Executive Director Kelly Wells announced the terminations in a statement yesterday that began by noting the importance of donors and volunteers.

“Unfortunately, two long-standing volunteer DJs who have helped build KDHX will no longer have shows due to their use of their platform to encourage listeners to defund our station,” she wrote. “While we appreciate their service, listener support makes KDHX’s independent programming possible.”

Reached by phone yesterday afternoon, Coco and Stein each confirmed that they had been fired. Coco said that he was informed by email on yesterday afternoon after he declined to meet with Wells and Director of Volunteer Connection Andrea Dunn without knowing what the meeting would be about. Wells and Dunn informed Stein during a meeting after her show yesterday afternoon.

“[They cited] the amount of instances that I had attempted to defund the station,” Coco says. “I’m not really sure what that accusation is about besides having withdrawn my own donations in protest times and not doing a whole lot of fundraising on the last drive. I don't think I really ever said, ‘Don't give your money’ or anything of that nature.”

Stein says she was told that her statements about KDHX had not been appreciated and that her “services were no longer needed.” She acknowledges that she’d been critical of KDHX on her personal Facebook page — especially about the firing of KDHX DJ Tom “Papa” Ray earlier this year and the way she views power has been stripped away from the station’s volunteers — but says she had never done so on her show page.

“I said, ‘You sure you really want to do this after 28 years of my volunteering?’” Stein recalls. “She said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘This was a really dumb move. This was not a positive move for KDHX.’”

Reached by phone this morning, Wells said the station had documented instances of both using their public platforms to ask people to withhold support, but she would not share specific instances. She said such efforts could be hurting the station's fundraising.

"Our listeners, they're the lifeblood of what we do here, and we're funded by them," she says. "Listener support, that's our largest form of support. So when people are actively working to encourage people to defund the station, they cannot enjoy the privilege of the airwaves."

Coco says there was little buildup to the conversation, aside from a cold shoulder from Dunn, whom he has considered a longtime friend. 

“It just makes me feel sad,” he says.

Until early last year, Coco served as production and technology director at KDHX. Earlier this month, he told the RFT that he’d “resigned in protest” because of leadership failures, but he had kept his funk and soul show The Rhythm Section until now. For 28 years, Stein hosted The Other One, a Grateful Dead-inspired bluegrass, blues and Americana show. She is also known for her T-shirt tie dye fundraisers, which supported KDHX until recent years.

Coco and Stein are far from the only ones unhappy with the direction of the station. Since the announcement, new members have poured into the Facebook page Save KDHX 88.1, which was started to protest “the unfair treatment of our community.” A post on the station’s official Facebook page last night seeking car donations has been flooded with angry comments about the terminations. A call for new volunteer DJs that suggested applicants should be “18 to 40” years old has also been a point of contention with the online community. (Wells says that the station has received about 20 applications so far and that the age range was meant to balance out the demographics of the current DJs.)

In May, a group of approximately 45 current and past DJs sent the board a letter of no confidence in Wells, naming eight missteps ranging from repeated PR debacles to KDHX’s lack of involvement in community events to failures to recruit new volunteers.

Of particular concern to the DJs was a volunteer agreement that they were being required to sign and a letter from Board Director Gary Pierson, which many believed were intended to chill volunteers’ ability to speak out. The agreement included the prohibition that the DJs not air “KDHX internal business and/or conflicts on KDHX channels or social media.”

When asked in May if the station would let go of volunteers who aired grievances, Wells demurred. “Well, I will say our goal will always be to seek a path toward resolution,” she told the RFT at the time. This morning, she noted that DJs encouraging others not to donate was in conflict with that agreement.

Coco spoke about his experiences at KDHX for that story and for a RFT profile that ran earlier this month. He says that he was resigned to the possibility the stories might end in his termination.

“I can’t say I didn’t expect it,” he says.

Stein had an earlier meeting with Wells and Pierson in April but hadn’t expected this turn of events. “[I’m] shocked, angry, sad that it’s gotten to this point where they are so threatened by anyone who doesn’t toe the line,” Stein says, noting that she’s concerned about the station’s disengagement from community events, such as Music at the Intersection and Festival of Nations, and its income, which she says the board has become less transparent about.

The only solution Stein sees is a new executive director and a new board. “They have a preset mindset, and they're not open to anything new or different,” she says.

When asked what the station was doing to remedy the DJs' unhappiness with the station, Wells pointed to Dunn assuming her new role at the head of a new volunteer connections department that is intended to help "forge deep connections with our volunteers."

The letter of no confidence in May wasn’t the first time that Wells has faced calls for her resignation. In 2019, employees alleged that the station had fostered racial tensions and seen intense staff turnover.

"In some ways, I've been demonized through some of what has happened to KDHX, and it's not about whether people agree with me or not, but we all do have to be working together for our listeners," Wells says. "We're here to serve our listeners and to serve our community. "

Wells first came on to the role in an interim fashion in 2015 after then-Executive Director Beverly Hacker was fired after the station’s move to its home on Grand Center sunk it into a financial hole.

This story was updated with comment from Kelly Wells and to clarify the timeline in which Andy Coco was dismissed.

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