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FCC choose guidelines that Knoxville’s solely Black-owned radio station can hold its license Categorical Occasions

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Joe Armstrong, the proprietor of WJBE, is proven exterior the station. A Federal Communications Fee choose rejected an effort by the company to strip the license of WJBE 99.7 FM/1040 AM — whose name letters pay tribute to the unique WJBE’s proprietor, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown — Knoxville’s solely Black-owned radio station.

Institute for Justice


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Institute for Justice


Joe Armstrong, the proprietor of WJBE, is proven exterior the station. A Federal Communications Fee choose rejected an effort by the company to strip the license of WJBE 99.7 FM/1040 AM — whose name letters pay tribute to the unique WJBE’s proprietor, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown — Knoxville’s solely Black-owned radio station.

Institute for Justice

A Federal Communications Fee choose rejected an effort by the company to revoke the printed license of WJBE 99.7 FM/1040 AM, Knoxville, Tennessee’s solely Black-owned radio station — permitting the station to proceed broadcasting.

In a ruling handed down on Sept. 14, a choose dominated that WJBE’s proprietor, Joe Armstrong, shouldn’t have his broadcast license revoked — regardless of the company’s issues over Armstrong’s previous felony conviction for a tax crime, one which occurred years earlier than he took possession of the station in 2012.

Decide Jane Hinckley Halprin, the company’s administrative regulation choose, concluded within the ruling that Armstrong’s conviction was an remoted occasion, saying that “sufficient time has elapsed to point out that Mr. Armstrong has remediated his fallacious.”

“If I used to be being completely punished for the errors I made in my previous, [WJBE] would not be in existence — nor would this station be acknowledged for the programming that we’re bringing to Knoxville,” Armstrong, a former long-serving state consultant within the Tennessee Normal Meeting, informed NPR.

“[The judge] appeared past my faults and noticed the neighborhood’s wants,” he added.

WJBE is thought for being a fixture within the Knoxville space, serving as a supply of reports for the Black neighborhood — being very a lot a community-oriented station, Armstrong mentioned.

The station broadcasts native information and climate, church providers, rising artists, free promoting for struggling small companies and, in recent times, details about the COVID-19 pandemic.

However for the final two years, WJBE — whose name letters pay tribute to its authentic proprietor, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown — has battled with the FCC over Armstrong with the ability to personal a radio station with integrity following his conviction in 2016 for making a false assertion on his tax return.

The company argued that Armstrong breached possession rules as a result of his prior conviction, as they tried to implement its 33-year-old character {qualifications} coverage for radio license holders.

“It isn’t like that is one thing that occurred, for instance, this yr or final yr — we’re speaking about one thing that occurred in 2008,” Armstrong informed NPR in a June 2023 interview.

Practically 15 years in the past, Armstrong and a associate legally purchased cigarette tax stamps that had been later bought for a revenue following the Tennessee legislature’s vote to extend the state’s cigarette tax, in line with the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public curiosity regulation agency that helped Armstrong struggle the case.

His accountant reportedly didn’t correctly pay the taxes on this sale and in consequence, Armstrong confronted hassle with the IRS.

In 2016, Armstrong was acquitted of many of the prices towards him and was convicted of solely a single rely of constructing a false assertion on his tax return. (His accountant, Charles Stivers, was convicted of tax fraud and was granted probation in 2017.)

Armstrong’s civil rights, together with his proper to vote, had been restored in 2020. In 2017, Armstrong says he let the FCC learn about his conviction, which he says had induced no points up till 2022.

However regardless of all efforts, the FCC nonetheless raised issues about his skill to run WJBE.

Andrew Ward, the lawyer who represented Armstrong within the case, informed NPR that an previous private tax violation should not prohibit somebody from holding a broadcast license.

“The federal government shouldn’t get in the best way of individuals working due to irrelevant prison convictions,” Ward mentioned. “It occurs on a regular basis. It was irrational right here and it is irrational when it occurs anyplace.”

The FCC didn’t instantly reply to NPR’s request for remark concerning Armstrong’s case. The company has the choice of interesting final week’s determination, however it’s unclear if it should select to take action.


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