The abrupt resignation of longtime St. Louis Public Radio talk-show host Don Marsh last week has left many in the region with unanswered questions.
On Friday, the station announced that Marsh, who has hosted the St. Louis on the Air talk show for 13 years, was stepping down. Station leaders have not explained the events that led to Marsh’s departure. But former KSDK news anchor Karen Foss, who appeared on the talk show a day before he resigned, wrote in a Facebook post that she heard Marsh was rebuked by radio-station management in a meeting, after he commented on her appearance. But station leaders say they had no issue with Marsh's comment.
Marsh said Monday via text message that he regrets that his departure has been the focus of intense public attention.
“But I’m humbled by the overwhelming support,” Marsh said.
The show's executive producer, Alex Heuer, declined to comment. He referred all questions to St. Louis Public Radio General Manager Tim Eby.
“The meeting relates to a personnel matter, and I can't really divulge what the core point of the meeting was,” Eby said Monday, hours after convening a station-wide meeting to address Marsh’s departure.
The St. Louis Public Radio newsroom and St. Louis on the Air are in different departments and are not managed by the same leaders.
On Saturday, Foss posted on Facebook that sources told her “that I had played an unwitting role in his departure.”
“Reportedly Marsh was reprimanded for greeting me with a, ‘You look good.’ The assertion being that Don was making a sexist comment. I am appalled,” Foss wrote.
Foss’ post was shared widely, eliciting more than 1,000 comments.
In a note posted on social media on Sunday, St. Louis Public Radio leaders wrote that “management did not take issue with Don for his in-person or on-air greeting of Karen Foss, a guest on Tuesday’s program. Additionally, Don voluntarily resigned as host.”
But Marsh told a Post-Dispatch reporter that he did resign after station managers questioned him about the way he greeted Foss.
Eby, however, insisted that station management had no issue with Marsh’s comment to Foss. He said the greeting may have been brought up at the meeting but that it was not at the center of the discussion.
“Perhaps his perception of things are different than ours,” Eby said Monday. “We feel the way that Karen and Don greeted each other is, by all points that we see, as the way friends greet each other, and we don't see any issue in terms of how friends greet each other by saying they look good.”
Eby declined to say whether station leaders had spoken previously to Marsh about his interactions with women.
Marsh said he is “encouraged that [the public debate about his departure] is producing a productive dialogue on matters of gender sensitivity and hyper sensitivity, with perhaps ageism as an unspoken element.”
A person who attended the station-wide meeting about Marsh’s departure characterized it as “sad, somber and serious.” Some employees wanted more information about the meeting between Marsh and station management but said they understood that station leaders are not free to discuss the details.
On social media, many listeners and readers questioned St. Louis Public Radio leaders’ version of events, and some said they are rethinking their support of the station.
“We are always concerned whenever we make a program change,” Eby said. “We saw that occur when Diane Rehm retired and Joshua Johnson came on with the new program, ‘1-A.’ There were some listeners that were so comfortable with Diane. They did not want to continue to support the station because of that.”
Eby said station leaders may have more to say at a later date.
“If there are questions about the integrity of the organization that we can answer, we can certainly respond in that way,” Eby said. “If there are other things that we can be transparent about that we had not thought of, we will certainly be as transparent as we possibly can.”
Eby said station leaders had not discussed Marsh’s eventual retirement. But he said St. Louis on the Air will continue uninterrupted.
“We will have hosts, many from our newsroom,” Eby said. “We will be looking for other temporary hosts, perhaps in the community. We will be putting together a job description and posting that job opening soon to find a new permanent host for the program.”
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Editor’s note: In covering the story of Don Marsh’s departure from St. Louis Public Radio, reporter Nancy Fowler and editor David Cazares are working independently of the station’s leadership. Newsroom editors make editorial decisions without interference from senior managers. The St. Louis Public Radio newsroom was not involved in the events that led to Marsh’s departure and is covering the news the way it would any other story. When station leaders share information with employees in off-the-record meetings, the journalists working on the story will not attend.