WJBE owner, former Tennessee lawmaker Joe Armstrong, was convicted of a felony tax case. The FCC says he didn’t report it.
The Federal Communications Commission has informed the only Black-owned radio station in Knoxville, Tennessee it could lose its license.
Knox News, the online home of Knoxville News Sentinel, recently reported that WJBE owner and former state representative Joe Armstrong was surprised to receive a notice in March from the FCC. Armstrong’s 2016 felony conviction for filing a false income tax return eight years prior has come under examination as potential violation of station ownership rules. The FCC claims Armstrong, who purchased WJBE in 2012, didn’t disclose the conviction on two license renewal applications.
“We’ve got an impeccable record at this station,” Armstrong, 63, told Knox News. “How long does a person have to bear the cross? I’ve paid my debt to society.”
WJBE carries the slogan “Jammin’ 99.7 WJBE Radio: Just the Best Everyday!” It’s one of the few Blacked-owned radio stations in the United States. The African-American Public Radio Consortium reports on its website that less than 1% of the country’s 10,000 commercial radio stations are Black-owned.
The Tennessee Lookout says the FCC sent Armstrong a nine-page document that reads, in part: “An applicant or licensee’s propensity to comply with the law generally is relevant because a willingness to be less than truthful with other government agencies, to violate other laws, and, in particular, to commit felonies, is potentially indicative of whether the applicant or licensee will in the future conform to the Commission’s rules or policies.”
WJBE has an interesting history: In the late 1960s, James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” purchased it, along with two other radio stations. At the time, there were only nine Black-owned stations in the United States, The New York Times noted.
Armstrong reported his conviction to the FCC in 2017 and completed the terms of his sentence, which included fines and restitution, The Lookout reported. He is also barred from holding public office.
The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, has agreed to defend the former lawmaker.
“No one should lose their license because of an irrelevant criminal conviction,” Andrew Ward, an attorney for The Institute for Justice, told The Lookout. “There’s a growing consensus that these laws don’t protect the public. They are permanent punishments that don’t make people safer.”
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