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FCC threatening to take Knoxville’s only Black-owned radio station off the air

Since 2012, Joe Armstrong has been the owner of Knoxville’s only Black-owned radio station: WJBE 99.7.
FCC threatening to take Knoxville’s only Black-owned radio station off the air
FCC threatening to take Knoxville’s only Black-owned radio station off the air(IJ)
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 10:11 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Since 2012, Joe Armstrong has been the owner of Knoxville’s only Black-owned radio station: WJBE 99.7. Now, after a decade of ownership, the Federal Communications Commission is threatening to revoke his broadcast license over a prior tax conviction, one that came years before he took ownership of the station.

According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), a civil rights group, Armstrong served his sentence, paid his fines and even had his civil rights restored, but the FCC is now worried that his conviction means Armstrong won’t follow their rules.

“No law—at the FCC or anywhere else—should irrationally deny Americans a fresh start,” IJ Attorney Andrew Ward said. “Joe obviously has the ‘character’ to run a radio station. He’s proven that for a decade.”

The radio station was originally started by musician James Brown’s company James Brown Enterprises in the 1960s, and Armstrong worked there as a young man. In 2012, Armstrong bought the station, and, according to IJ representatives, refused to take a salary, saying the station was a way of supporting the community.

Armstrong also reportedly served for decades in the Tennessee General Assembly. In 2008, Armstrong legally sold cigarette stamps for a profit, IJ representatives said. His accountant reportedly did not properly pay taxes on the sale, and Armstrong faced trouble with the IRS. He was acquitted in 2016 of most of his charges and was only convicted of a single false statement count.

“I have a decade-long record of working well with the FCC, and my personal legal problems have nothing to do with the station,” Armstrong said. “I served my sentence and paid my fines. I’m far from the only person to run into these kind of senseless barriers, and I hope that my fight can motivate courts and legislatures to rethink permanent punishments.”

After his conviction, the judge called the offense an “aberration in an otherwise ‘exemplary life,’” IJ representatives said. Armstrong also had his civil rights restored in 2020.

Armstrong reportedly let the FCC know about his conviction in 2017, which has caused no issues until now. WJBE also has no complaints from the FCC- their complaint only centers on Armstrong’s previous history.

“Knoxville was without a radio station dedicated to the Black community for years, and I was grateful to be able to bring WJBE back to life,” Armstrong said. “I have a decade-long record of working well with the FCC, and my personal legal problems have nothing to do with the station.”

While Knoxville has seen other Black-focused radio stations, WJBE is the only one that has stood the test of time. Due to financial struggles, Knoxville’s Black community went without a station from 2006 until 2012, when Armstrong took control over WJBE.

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