New Festival Seeks to Save KDHX — By Toppling its Leadership

S.O.S. Fest is being planned for Benton Park this fall

Sep 1, 2023 at 9:32 am
click to enlarge KDHX in Grand Center.
Ryan Krull
KDHX leadership has drawn the ire of many listeners this year following the dismissal of volunteer DJs Tom "Papa" Ray, Andy Coco and Drea Stein.
The roots of St. Louis’ newest to-be musical festival began in an unlikely place: a dismissal.

In March, KDHX removed DJ Tom “Papa” Ray from its airwaves. The firing of the longtime volunteer from the independent radio station shocked a good portion of its listeners. One such person was Len Jewell, 55, a stone and brick mason who’d been a loyal, if casual, listener for years. He also happens to be a friend of Ray’s.

“Tom Ray was fired out of nowhere, and the explanation that we were offered doesn’t fit,” Jewell says. “It was like, ‘No, this isn’t right.’”

Jewell and others began thinking that maybe there was a lot going on at the station that wasn’t right. In response, they began the Facebook page SAVE KDHX 88.1 — which now has more than 1,200 members — and began protesting outside the station during Ray’s former time slot.

Over time, the community’s willingness to keep protesting waned, even as the station saw more turmoil throughout the year, which led to a weekly drink and talk meetup. Soon, that eclipsed the protest in attendance numbers, and Jewell grew concerned that it wouldn’t have the effect he was hoping for: to draw enough attention that the station would ditch Executive Director Kelly Wells and the current board of directors and return to a previous iteration of itself. He realized that they’d have to change tactics.

“So I said, let's start, let's do a festival that will give the community music and art and food and a place to party for free,” Jewell says. “What a community should be doing.”

click to enlarge S.O.S. Fest flyer.
Courtesy Len Jewell
The festival is being planned for October in Benton Park.

In other words, what he and others thought KDHX should be doing. Thus, S.O.S. — Save Our Station — Fest was born.

Within a surprisingly short time, Jewell and the SAVE KDHX page had some details hashed out. S.O.S. will take place from noon to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 21, outside SPINE Indie Bookstore and Cafe in Benton Park.

Jewell says he has a few potential artists booked already, like Bob Case, Jesse Irwin, the Long Sweet Minutes, SoulCity Organ Trio and The Vertigo Swirl, but is still looking for a full lineup that includes every genre of music reflective of what listeners might find on KDHX’s airwaves. For the moment, the 45-minute sets are volunteer. The festival is also looking for artists, vendors and food trucks. Jewell encourages anyone interested to reach out to him on Facebook.

S.O.S. will also have a fundraising aspect, to collect some of the pledges from people who had previously withdrawn their support from KDHX, with the hope of helping the station down the line, after a leadership change, or to help those working to change it now.

Jewell says the point is not to hurt KDHX but to help it. “We're not interested in shutting them down,” he says. “We want to help them find their way back to the community. That is our goal.”

Things took on an extra urgency this week, when the radio station dismissed two more longtime DJs: Andy Coco and Drea Stein. Jewell feels like he saw the terminations coming from a long way away.

“Basically, I kind of warned them,” he says. “I said, ‘If you don't make it fast, if you don't make a scene, they are going to be emboldened, and things will get worse.’ And sure enough, here we are.”

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