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AM License Under Review After Felony Conviction

A hearing proceeding by the FCC will determine if the station’s license should be revoked

A hearing proceeding is underway to determine if the license of a Tennessee AM station should be revoked following the felony conviction of its licensee. 

According to the FCC, a jury convicted Joseph Armstrong, proprietor of Arm & Rage LLC of filing a false federal income tax return. Arm and Rage is licensed for WJBE(AM) in Powell, Tenn., 

Armstrong, who is an elected representative in the Tennessee legislature, allegedly purchased cigarette tax stamps in 2007 and sold them at a profit of approximately $330,000 following the legislature’s increase in the state’s cigarette tax. 

During the trial, the jury found that Armstrong failed to include this profit on his federal 2008 individual income tax return. In 2017, Armstrong was sentenced to three years of probation, which included six months of house arrest. He was also ordered to pay $99,943 in restitution to the federal government, submit a $40,000 fine as well as perform 300 hours of community service. 

Arm & Rage has a license renewal application that is pending for review with the Federal Communications Commission. The felony conviction raises the question — under the commission’s Character Qualifications Policy Statement — as to whether Armstrong possesses the necessary character qualifications to remain an FCC licensee.

The Media Bureau said it will place the renewal on hold until a Hearing Designation Order is completed. If the license is revoked, the pending renewal application will be dismissed as moot. If the license is not revoked, the Media Bureau will attempt to determine if the renewal application — which also disclosed rule violations concerning Arm & Rage’s filing of biennial ownership reports and issues/program lists — should be granted, denied or granted under certain conditions. 

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The bureau will also determine if it will grant a waiver of those required reports that Arm & Rage submitted when the application was filed.

In a case like this, FCC rules require licensees to report a conviction as an adverse finding because this type of conduct may have a bearing on the character qualifications that the commission uses to determine eligibility of broadcast station license holders. Arm & Rage filed that document but did so about two weeks after the due date. 

Section 312 of the Communications Act lays out the circumstances in which the commission may revoke a license. Among them is the character of an applicant, a factor that the FCC says “is among the important public interest factors that the commission considers in determining whether an applicant has the requisite qualifications to become and/or remain a commission licensee.”

And the key question in any character inquiry, the bureau said, is whether the applicant is likely to be forthright in dealings with the commission and whether it can show willingness to follow FCC rules. 

The commission considers a felony to be a serious crime, and that type of misconduct — even though it doesn’t relate to an FCC violation specifically — may call into question a licensee’s character. The hearing will determine whether Armstrong, and by extension Arm & Rage, possess the requisite character qualifications to remain a licensee.

The hearing will be a restricted one, the bureau said, although parties who want the opportunity to participate can file a written request within 20 days of Arm & Rage’s hearing designation order.