Will The FCC Take Away WJBE’s License?


    On Thursday we told you about Joe Armstrong, owner of WJBE-AM in Knoxville, who was convicted of a crime back in 2016 but did not report it to The FCC on two license renewals. To get a feel for if that might result in a license revocation, we turned to broadcast attorney John Garziglia.

    (By John Garziglia) Radio Ink, in Fighting the FCC, reports that the FCC has sent to Joe Armstrong a notice questioning whether Mr. Armstrong is qualified to be an FCC licensee for not revealing a prior felony conviction in an FCC application. Mr. Armstrong is the sole owner of WJBE(AM) 1040 kHz, Powel, TN. WJBE(AM) is also re-broadcast on FM translator W259AV 99.7 MHz, Knoxville),
    Mr. Armstrong reveals in his now pending March 18, 2020 WJBE license renewal application that he was convicted in 2017 of the felony of filing a false federal income tax return, with a sentence of three years of probation including six months of house arrest, a $99,000 restitution to the federal government, a $40,000 fine and 300 hours of community service.
    For hints on what the FCC will do regarding WJBE, the recent failed FCC license revocation attempt in Auburn Networks, Inc. may provide hints.
    In  Auburn Networks, Inc., the FCC held a revocation hearing on an Alabama AM/FM/FM translators/LPTV combination in response to a half-dozen 2016 felony convictions of its sole owner, Michael Hubbard. Mr. Hubbard, now in jail, was a former Alabama House of Representatives Speaker. Mr. Hubbard was convicted of two counts of soliciting or receiving a thing of value from a principal of a lobbyist, one count of using an official position for personal gain, two counts of representing a business entity for compensation before an executive department or agency, and one count of using public property for private benefit.
    The FCC administrative law judge in Auburn Networks Inc. carefully parsed the FCC’s character qualifications policy and stated that the “goal of the Commission’s character qualifications policy ‘is not to pass moral judgment on applicants but, instead, to determine whether the public interest will be served.'” With that observation, the administrative law judge held somewhat surprisingly that felon Mr. Hubbard continues to “possess the character to remain a Commission licensee.” As the Auburn Networks, Inc. case was released by the administrative law judge on May 9, 2022, it is still subject to review by the full Commission.
    Until the failed FCC  license revocation attempt in Auburn Networks, Inc., most who are knowledgeable of the FCC’s character policies set forth in Section 73.4280 of the Commission’s rules pretty much assumed that a felony conviction of an individual for financial misfeasance, particularly when it involves misfeasance against the government, would result in an individual being deemed to lack the required character qualifications to be an FCC licensee. Individuals have previously been disqualified from being an FCC licensee for cocaine trafficking, child molestation, murder, and burglary and firearms felonies.
    It is now impossible to forecast what will be the result of the FCC’s review of Mr. Armstrong’s WJBE FCC qualifications. At this point, there does not appear to be a publicly available FCC document describing its concerns. The pending WJBE license renewal application describes, in addition to the felony conviction, that the WJBE licensee failed to timely upload materials to its online public file and failed to timely submit required FCC biennial ownership reports, both of which may also attract FCC attention.
    The FCC character qualifications question is how the recent Auburn Networks, Inc. decision now guides the FCC in designating for hearing future felony convictions cases. Has the FCC’s character policy been so dramatically whittled down to now only include horrific crimes such as drugs, rape, and murder? Or is the Auburn Networks, Inc. case an outlier that may be overturned or ignored by the full Commission, and in the future those who ethically or financially cheat the government through tax evasion or otherwise will remain persona non grata with the FCC.
    John Garziglia - RadioJohn Garziglia is now living the retired life and can be reached by e-mil at [email protected]


    1. Very efficiently written information. It will be beneficial to anybody who utilizes it, including me. Keep up the good work. For sure I will check out more posts.

    2. I have read more then once about the FCC pulling licenses from owners that have been hit with a felony. I don’t even get what that has to do with radio or TV to begin with. Today it’s easier then ever to find ones self in trouble with the law and many times over things that are really petty. The system itself is one that not only punishes a person perhaps by jailtime and fines, but making sure this individual cannot ever possibly find employment after the fact to survive. Years ago I remember the FCC closing down a trio of stations in a market because the owner was allegedly convicted on a questionable sex crime. They shut down the plates right in mid morning during programming with no notice. The shutdown hurt listeners that liked the stations more then anything. It’s apparent, when your hit with a felony, there is no Government mercy.

    3. Mr. Armstrong has paid the penalties meted out to him for the felony. If his radio station is adequately serving its community, why shouldn’t he be allowed to retain the license? The FCC has even used “character qualifications” to deny people an amateur radio license…yes, a license for a hobby radio service!

      From a historical standpoint, there is nothing worse than concealing something from the FCC. An example is the case of WXUR-AM/FM in Media, PA (not connected in any way to present-day WXUR in upstate New York). The Media station lost its license in 1973. Contrary to popular belief, this was not due to Fairness Doctrine issues. The licensee, Faith Theological Seminary, failed to mention certain controversial programs to the FCC in the plans for the station filed with the purchase agreement. This is what eventually cost WXUR its renewal.


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