Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Orlando Radio: Mutiny At Christian WPOZ Z88.3 FM

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for one of Christian radio’s best-known stations, Z88.3 WPOZ in Orlando, according to the website Ministry Watch.

Known as “The Z,” the station left many people in the Christian radio industry scratching their heads a couple of weeks ago when the station’s President and Founder Jim Hoge planted a false story with an industry publication in a failed effort to keep another Christian station from competing against it.

That episode and other recent events have motivated more than a dozen current and former employees at The Z to go public with their complaints of a toxic work environment there, and some are calling for the resignation of Hoge as president.

Hoge founded WPOZ more than 25 years ago.  Under his leadership it grew it into a family of stations that have a combined revenue of more than $5-million a year.

However, that hard-charging style has also been hard on his staff.  More than a dozen current and former staff members have spoken to MinistryWatch about both their love for the ministry, and the difficulties they have had working there.

One of those is Cindy Simmons.  She joined The Z in 2018 as an on-air personality and quickly developed a following with her outgoing manner.  Some of her co-workers at The Z who called a “Joy Bomb.”

Jim Hoge
But after about six months on the job, her sunny outlook was put to the test.  “I began to see a leadership style I had never seen before, not even in secular radio,” Simmons said.  Simmons said Hoge would belittle staff.  She said he repeatedly yelled at her for mentioning Orlando’s biggest tourist attraction, Disney, on the air.  However, Simmons said it was tough for an Orlando station that was speaking into the Orlando community to make no mention of Disney.  She also noted that the station was also doing promotions with the huge amusement park.

Simmons confided in her husband, but had not spoken to anyone else until one Sunday at church, when her husband insisted that she talk with their pastor, Renaut van der Riet.

“She told me a disturbing story,” van der Riet said.  “She said Jim [Hoge] was an overbearing and abusive boss.  She said the environment was damaging her emotionally.  That it was really bad.”

Van der Riet reached out to a few of his friends at The Z.  When he did that, Hoge asked for a meeting with him.  Van der Riet immediately agreed and shared with Hoge what he had heard.  Hoge denied there was a problem.  But van der Riet could see even in that initial meeting some of the behaviors Simmons and the other Z staffers had mentioned to him.  “He raised his voice at me, too,” van der Riet said.  “He accused me of lying and attempting a hostile takeover of the station.”

However, Hoge agreed to allow Joel Hunter to interview the staff of The Z, and to present the findings to the board of directors.  Joel Hunter had served for more than 30 years as the pastor of Northland Church, one of the largest evangelical churches in the country, and a church many of The Z’s staff had attended over the years, including Hoge himself.

However, nearly a dozen current and former staff members who spoke to Hunter told MinistryWatch that they were direct with Hunter about their concerns.  They described a “toxic” work environment in which people were afraid of Hoge, who was known to belittle staff members.

Joel Hunter made a  report to the station’s board of directors in February 2020.   Hunter tried to assure Hoge that it was not a hostile takeover, or a takeover of any kind, but an attempt by those who love the ministry to help it take corrective action.  According to Kenyon, “Joel said, ‘If you don’t deal with these issues, they have a way of finding the light of day.’”

After the meeting, respected board member Dwight Bain resigned.  According to board member Carter Kenyon: “Once he stood up to Jim, it was over for Dwight.  Sad, because Dwight was someone who would come once a month and do a biblical-based lunch-and-learn with our staff.  At the end of the day, nobody is safe that stands up to Jim.”

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