Knoxville Station Wins FCC License Fight


By Cameron Coats
Radio Ink 

Joseph Armstrong, owner of Knoxville’s sole Black-owned radio station, WJBE-AM, has won his extended battle with the FCC to keep his broadcasting license. The FCC’s qualms with Armstrong were twofold: his past felony conviction and missed filing deadlines, including failure to update the station’s “Issues and Programs” list from 2018 to 2020.

Armstrong purchased the AM, founded by “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, in 2012. He previously worked in sales at the station in the 1970s, then invested almost all of his life savings into the purchase to provide a Black-focused station in Knoxville.

The felony conviction came after Armstrong, a former member of Tennessee’s House of Representatives, failed to report around $330,000 in profits from cigarette tax stamps on his 2008 tax return. The FCC alleged that Arm & Rage LLC did not report this conviction by the required deadline in April 2017 and also failed to upload necessary ownership reports and issues/programs lists.

Armstrong defended himself by arguing that the felony occurred 15 years before acquiring the radio station. He cited the FCC’s 1986 Character Policy Statement, contending that character inquiries should be limited to ten years and calculated from the date of misconduct, not the date of conviction. Armstrong attributed the filing errors to administrative mistakes and personal health issues, insisting there was no intent to deceive the Commission.

In a Thursday decision, FCC Administrative Law Judge Jane Hinckley Halprin has opted not to revoke the Arm & Rage LLC license. Judge Halprin ruled that the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau failed to prove that Armstrong’s felony conviction disqualifies him or Arm & Rage LLC from holding a Commission license. She also found that the Bureau could not demonstrate that the company’s rule violations warrant revocation of the radio license.

“The Presiding Judge also concludes that the Enforcement Bureau has not proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Arm & Rage’s violations of the Commission’s rules identified in the Arm & Rage HDO, as well as the additional violations alleged by the Enforcement Bureau, considered alone or in tandem with Joseph Armstrong’s felony, disqualify Arm & Rage from being a Commission licensee,” added Judge Halprin.

Read more from the RBR+TVBR Archives about WJBE-AM by clicking here.