Dan McDowell and Jake Kemp were the co-hosts of Dallas sports talk radio station The Ticket’s The Hang Zone from early 2020 to last month when the duo resigned from the station after failing to agree to terms over a new contract.
Radio Insight published an internal memo from Cumulus Media Dallas VP/Market Manager Dan Bennett, which said “We began negotiations with both in December and remained productive and positive until late last week. At that time, talks broke down over competing digital media interests Dan and Jake wished to pursue outside of a Cumulus Media partnership.”
That competing digital media interest would presumably be the duo’s Patreon podcast called The Dumb Zone, which is not too dissimilar to The Hang Zone.
Cumulus, which owns The Ticket, initially sent a cease-and-desist letter to McDowell and Kemp, claiming that the podcast was a violation of their non-compete agreements. When the duo didn’t stop making the podcast, Cumulus filed suit against them on August 4 alleging breach of contract.
The radio giant alleges the former radio hosts started “recording an identical show…which follows the same program format as The Hang Zone, focused on a male audience and on Dallas-area sports.” They also claim that McDowell and Kemp rebranded social media accounts belonging to The Ticket for their podcast.
On Wednesday, a federal judge denied Cumulus’s request to stop McDowell and Kemp from recording a new podcast. Judge Karen Gren Scholer denied the application for a temporary restraining order, saying that nothing Cumulus filed “makes any reference to serving notice of the application on defendants, much less ‘certifies … any efforts made to give notice and the reasons why it should not be required.'”
Cumulus reacted by immediately re-filing their request for a temporary restraining order against the duo.
In a statement to WFAA, Cumulus officials said they were “very disappointed that the actions of Mr. McDowell and Mr. Kemp have necessitated litigation. Throughout their employment, we offered our unwavering support, engaged in good-faith negotiations for contract renewals, and reached a mutual agreement on salary matters while expressing our eagerness to collaborate on expanding their presence to new platforms. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to reach an agreement.”
For their part, McDowell and Kemp have filed legal responses of their own, refuting Cumulus’s assertions that they’ve violated any aspect of their employment contracts.
“The Dumb Zone does not occur at any specific time. It is not published daily or even on five consecutive work days,” reads the response, via BSM. “There is nothing about The Dumb Zone that prevents or discourages listeners from listening to The Ticket at any time. To the contrary, Ticket listeners choose to listen to The Ticket based on the content The Ticket broadcasts,” the response says.
“If Plaintiff suggests that its audience has shrunk, it’s not difficult to identify the primary reason.”
Cumulus claimed in its initial lawsuit that it owned The Dumb Zone name, logo, and digital properties because it was an obvious reference to The Hang Zone. However, the duo’s lawyers argue that the company has no legal ownership of a name that has nothing to do with their own programming.
The Dumb Zone “was used by on-air personalities to preface a question or statement that might make the speaker sound dumb. It was not a segment of the show; it was never owned, promoted, or otherwise used by Plaintiff; it is not protected by trademark,” the filing reads.
Their filing also claims that action taken by The Ticket management violated National Labor Relations Board standards because the duo attempted to negotiate collectively.
The pair mentioned the legal situation during last Sunday’s episode of their podcast.
“Apparently there are lawsuits happening,” McDowell said. “Apparently they do want us to stop this. We’re working with certain advisors. We’ve been advised that we are doing nothing wrong, so don’t stop, for now. So right now, we are putting this out there, and what’s in store for tomorrow? I don’t know.”