Knoxville’s only Black-owned radio station could go silent soon

The Federal Communications Commission is threatening to take away a station’s broadcast license because of the owner’s tax conviction.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knoxville’s only Black-owned radio station, WJBE, could soon go silent. The Federal Communications Commission told the station’s owner, Joe Armstrong, that they are moving to revoke his broadcasting license. 

Armstrong’s attorneys say it is all because of a personal tax conviction that happened in 2016. 

People like Felecia Outsey look forward to listening to WJBE every day. 

“It’s for our listeners, it’s for our audiences, but necessarily Black audiences,” said Outsey. “I like Jesus Speaks on the Streets. And I like the Gene Thomas radio show. And that both of those shows are shows that basically are for the community,” 

If WJBE goes silent, all of that could go away. The station’s owner Joe Armstrong is fighting to keep WJBE running, a  place that he says he’s been a part of for years, even before owning the station.

“I grew up in radio, one of my first jobs, and I worked my way through the University of Tennessee selling radio advertising,” said Armstrong. 

He said he bought WJBE about 10 years ago and he said things have been going well. 

“We’ve never had a complaint from a listener, a vendor, or a constituent; we’ve never had a complaint from the FCC,” said Armstrong. 

The FCC is threatening to take away Armstrong’s broadcasts license because of a tax conviction.

Armstrong’s attorney, Andrew ward said no law — at the FCC or anywhere else — should =deny Americans a fresh start

“Joe has the ‘character’ to run a radio station,” they said. “He’s proven that for a decade.”

Joe served for decades in the Tennessee General Assembly. In 2008, he legally sold cigarette tax stamps for a profit. His accountant did not properly pay the taxes on this sale, and Joe got in trouble with the IRS.

In 2016, he was acquitted of the most serious charges but convicted of a single false statement count. After his conviction, he retired from the legislature. Joe has served his time for the offense — which the judge called an aberration in an otherwise “exemplary life” — and his civil rights were restored in 2020.

In 2017, Joe reported his conviction to the FCC and did not think it was a problem for the station. But now, 5 years later, the FCC is threatening to revoke his license.

WJBE has no complaints from the FCC, but the agency says Joe’s conviction might have some bearing on his willingness to comply with their rules.

Armstrong says he paid his debt to society and served three years of probation. He believes that he and the community should not be punished for something that happened years ago. 

“So this community won’t lose another landmark, another heritage, that can’t be replaced,” said Armstrong. 

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