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Judge Upholds WJBE-AM/Knoxville's FCC License


Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission

Joseph Armstrong, owner of Knoxville's only Black-owned station, WJBE-AM, has emerged victorious in a protracted battle against the FCC to retain his broadcasting license. The FCC's concerns about Armstrong centered on two main issues: his previous felony conviction and his failure to meet filing deadlines, notably neglecting to update the station's "Issues and Programs" list from 2018 to 2020.

In 2012, Armstrong acquired the AM outlet, originally established by the legendary "Godfather of Soul," James Brown. His commitment to providing a station with a Black focus in Knoxville led him to invest nearly his entire life savings into this venture. Notably, Armstrong had previously worked in sales at the station during the 1970s.

The felony conviction in question stemmed from an incident in which Armstrong, a former member of Tennessee's House of Representatives, failed to report approximately $330,000 in profits from cigarette tax stamps on his 2008 tax return. The FCC alleged that Arm & Rage LLC, Armstrong's company, failed to report this conviction by the required deadline in April, 2017 and also neglected to submit essential ownership reports and issues/programs lists.

In his defense, Armstrong argued that the felony took place 15 years before he acquired the station. He cited the FCC's 1986 Character Policy Statement, asserting that character assessments should have a ten-year limit, calculated from the date of the misconduct, not the date of conviction. Armstrong attributed the filing errors to administrative oversights and personal health issues, maintaining that there was no intention to mislead the Commission.

In a recent decision handed down by FCC Administrative Law Judge Jane Hinckley Halprin, she opted not to revoke the license held by Arm & Rage LLC. Judge Halprin ruled that the FCC's Enforcement Bureau failed to substantiate that Armstrong's prior felony conviction disqualified him or his company from holding an FCC license. She also determined that the Bureau could not demonstrate that the company's rule violations warranted the revocation of the radio license.

Judge Halprin further stated, "The Presiding Judge also concludes that the Enforcement Bureau has not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Arm & Rage's violations of the Commission's rules, as well as the additional violations alleged by the Enforcement Bureau, either individually or in combination with Joseph Armstrong's felony, disqualify Arm & Rage from being a Commission licensee."

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