KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — WJBE 99.7, Powell’s Black-owned radio station, is fighting back as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers whether owner Joe Armstrong should have his broadcast license because of a prior felony conviction.
Armstrong said the FCC sent a notice in March questioning if he would be able to own a radio station with integrity due to his prior conviction.
“We’ve never had any complaints on WJBE—not from our vendors, not from our listeners, even not even from our competition,” Armstrong said. “We have an impeccable record with the FCC, and the quality of programming that we do—we’re particularly targeted toward the Black community in Knoxville—until we came on the air did not have access to the airwaves or any media.”
FCC public files also showed there were no issues or complaints against WJBE from the FCC.
“No law—at the FCC or anywhere else—should irrationally deny Americans a fresh start,” IJ Attorney Andrew Ward said. “Joe obviously has the ‘character’ to run a radio station. He’s proven that for a decade.”
As a former member of the Tennessee General Assembly, Armstrong sold cigarette tax stamps for profit in 2008. However, his accountant did not pay the taxes on the sale, which led to charges of fraud and false statements. Armstrong was acquitted of serious charges but convicted of a single false statement count.
Armstrong spoke with the FCC about his conviction and did not think it was a problem for the station until he received the notice five years later. The Institute for Justice (IJ) is defending Armstrong against the FCC and, if necessary, in federal court.
“I’ve been convicted and have made restitution and have had all the rights restored, but yet I am being discriminated against all because of my past and there are other people out here that are being discriminated because they have made a mistake in the past,” Armstrong said. “I am able to get a professional license or operate a nursing home or work in a certain capacity, and if they’ve done right and paid their dues then they deserve a second chance.”
The station had some financial troubles in 2006, which led to it coming off air. Armstrong, who used to work at the station when music artist James Brown was still the owner, purchased the station in 2012.
Armstrong invited community members like the 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 appreciated the community support after news of the FCC trying to strip him of his license spread through Knoxville.
“This is about opportunity, this isn’t about Joe Armstrong,” he added. “The most important thing is this station surviving for the next generation.”