Wednesday’s hearing came after John and Brandi Underwood, who each own 25 percent of NewsTalk Corp., filed a temporary restraining order Aug. 29 against Gregory Detscher, who owns the other 50 percent of the company. The Underwoods filed the restraining order to keep Detscher off the property after he changed the locks and passcodes for the station in an attempt to keep the couple out of the business.
The hearing, which did not allow recording devices, was intended to decide who would run WYXC until the larger issue is decided.
“This order was issued for the purpose of maintaining status quo, preventing further escalation of violence, preventing further arrest, preventing any further destruction of property and preventing any potential damage to the goodwill of the business,” Smith said of the restraining order.
According to testimony, the conflict between the Underwoods and Detscher has simmered for months. Detscher said on the stand he felt intimidated by the Underwoods, as he claimed they would place their firearms on the table while having discussions inside the station. Detscher also claimed the business’ funds were being used to pay for some of the Underwoods’ private purchases. While testifying, Brandi Underwood denied intimidating Detscher.
To end the conflict and remove the couple from the business, Detscher contacted William “Chip” Rogers, who owned 100 percent of Clarion Communications, which supposedly held the station’s Federal Communications Commission license and had signed a licensing management agreement with NewsTalk. Clarion also held the lease NewsTalk had signed to use the station itself. Detscher signed a note to purchase all of Clarion’s shares for $185,000 on Aug. 22. Rogers still owns the land and building.
On Aug. 23 Detscher changed the station’s locks and passcodes. The night before, he said, he sent an email to the Underwoods saying he was giving them 30 days notice of ending the LMA. His testimony indicated he intended to take one day to inventory all the station’s property and then resume normal operations with the Underwoods as the notice ran out.
While testifying, Brandi Underwood called the action a “wrong and hostile throwout.” She said the couple went to the station to collect their personal property, but Detscher would not let them inside. While they spoke through the closed door, she asked to see proof Detscher had bought Clarion. She said he put a piece of paper with his signature and Roger’s signature on it, but he took it down before she could read the entire thing. Only after a Bartow County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrived did the Underwoods get into the building.
Detscher said he had previously talked to the BCSO and was told he should not allow anyone inside the station unless a deputy was present. Both Detscher and Brandi Underwood said they called the sheriff’s office.
Underwood said Detscher deleted ads scheduled to air, removed the advertising schedule from the building and did “irreparable harm” to the business in the six days he was in the station. Issues involving who should receive advertising payments and commissions not being paid out were raised as well.
Questions and testimony also focused on the station’s legality.
When Chuck Shiflett and Tommy Young operated WYXC, testimony indicated, Rogers held the FCC license as Clarion and the station operated with a LMA. Once NewsTalk purchased Clarion’s assets it became unclear who held the operating license. Brandi Underwood said Young acted as a consultant on general business matters, which she believed included securing the license. Detscher said he was still living in Alabama at the time and he was unaware of how the licensing process played out.
Smith came to the conclusion the station has been operating since the end of December 2012 without an FCC license. However, he said the license issue was a federal matter and he could not, and would not, consider it.
Smith’s primary concern, he said as he reached his ruling, was to ensure the business’ health. He said both parties had a right to be in the station as they all owned part of the NewsTalk Corp. Detscher has the right to oversee NewsTalk, Smith continued, as he owns Clarion Communications, which has the lease. He said he could not bar either the Underwoods or Detscher from the station as it would damage the business. Detscher is also in the process of acquiring a FCC license, with only the $970 application fee remaining before he gets it. Smith said the license was vital to WYXC’s health, as the FCC could shut the station down at any time without it.
As he acknowledged how intertwined the Underwoods and Detscher are in operating WYXC, Smith said the two groups must cooperate in the interim. He issued an order saying they must work together and not harass, threaten, intimidate or engage in any other such behavior while on the property. None of the radio station’s property may be removed or damaged while the order is in effect, and no business funds can be used for personal purchases. In addition, Smith barred any firearms from the property, regardless of whether the individual has a carry license.
Although he could appoint a receiver to manage the business until a final decision is reached on the injunction, Smith said he did not want to. As his main goal is to protect the business and its value, he preferred to keep it in the hands of its owners.
Moderation will occur within the next 60 days. Smith urged the Underwoods and Detscher to work together so their business is not damaged any further.
“If you keep acting the way you’re acting, you’ll have nothing left,” he said.