From James Brown to Joe Armstrong, Black-owned WJBE promotes the 'unity' in community

Prior to 2012, Joe Armstrong was embarrassed when people came to visit him in Knoxville. Not because of any particular quality the city was known for but, rather, what was missing: a Black radio station. 

“There definitely was a void,” he told Knox News.

It was a void Armstrong was uniquely qualified to fill, leaning on experience from his college days working sales for the original WJBE. The station’s call sign stood for “James Brown Enterprises,” according to Knox News archives, from when the Godfather of Soul owned the station from the late ’60s through the late ’70s.

Armstrong, a former state representative, has since revitalized the station and re-branded the call sign. But he hasn’t forgotten the station’s roots.

Coming out of a year marked by a national reckoning over endemic American racism, WJBE is continuing to fulfill its role as Knoxville’s only Black-owned radio station by telling the stories and sharing the songs that matter most to its listeners across AM and FM airwaves. 

“There was a lot of positive things that James Brown did and a lot of things that he created,” Armstrong said. “And one was putting radio here in Knoxville.”

During his time at WJBE, Armstrong picked up a “fire for radio,” learning all about the impact radio could have on its listeners. When the time came in 2012 for Armstrong to bring back the familiar WJBE letters, he knew the station needed to be more than a jukebox for the latest hits. 

‘There was no Black radio’ in Knoxville

When Armstrong started his version of WJBE, he brought Thomas on board. Thomas had years of experience in multiple forms of communication and shared similar sentiments about the lack of Black media sources in Knoxville. 

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