Knoxville, Tenn. (WATE) – WJBE 99.7, the Powell’s Black-owned radio station, is hitting back as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers whether owner Joe Armstrong should have his broadcast license due to a previous felony conviction.
Armstrong said the FCC sent out a notice in March asking if he would be able to own a radio station with integrity because of his prior conviction.
“We’ve never had any complaints about WJBE, not from our vendors, or our auditors, or even our competitors,” Armstrong said. “We have an impeccable record with the FCC, and the quality of the programming we do – we’re particularly targeted to the black community in Knoxville – until we got on the air, we didn’t have access to the airwaves or any media.”
FCC public records also showed that there were no issues or complaints against WJBE from the FCC.
“No law — at the FCC or elsewhere — should irrationally deny Americans a fresh start,” said IJ attorney Andrew Ward. “Joe obviously has the ‘character’ to run a radio station. He proved it for a decade.
As a former member of the Tennessee General Assembly, Armstrong sold cigarette tax stamps for profit in 2008. However, his accountant failed to pay the taxes on the sale, leading to charges of fraud and misrepresentation. Armstrong was acquitted of the serious charges but convicted of a single count of misrepresentation.
Armstrong spoke with the FCC about his conviction and didn’t think it was a problem for the station until he received the notice five years later. The Institute for Justice (IJ) defends Armstrong against the FCC and, if necessary, in federal court.
“I have been sentenced, given restitution and all my rights have been restored, but yet I am discriminated against because of my past and there are other people here who are discriminated against because they have made a mistake in the past,” Armstrong said. “I can get a professional license or run a nursing home or work in some capacity, and if they’ve done well and paid their dues, they deserve a second chance.”
The station ran into financial problems in 2006, which caused it to no longer air. Armstrong, who worked at the station when musical artist James Brown still owned it, bought the station in 2012.
Armstrong invited community members like local businesses, churches, students, and sororities and fraternities to put their news or information on the radio. WJBE also provided internship opportunities for high school students.
Armstrong said he appreciates the support from the community after news of the FCC trying to strip him of his license spread in Knoxville.
“It’s about opportunities, it’s not about Joe Armstrong,” he added. “The most important thing is that this station survives for the next generation.”
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