WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Communications Commission on Friday allowed a North Carolina broadcaster to return to the air after an appeals court reversed the commission's decision to rescind his license.

The FCC's action permits Zeb Lee to take over WZLS-FM in Asheville, N.C., on Saturday, giving him temporary control until a final decision on the license is made.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Dec. 19 ordered the FCC to reverse its decision that forced Lee off the air June 2, 1997.

The battle started in 1987 when Lee applied for the station's license. The FCC eventually selected him over other applicants after an administrative law judge ruled he was the most qualified applicant.

However, the FCC later said an unrelated appeals court ruling threw out the criteria used to pick Lee. The agency then invited him and the four remaining applicants to run the station together as a nonprofit organization until the license was awarded.

Lee refused and the station is now operated by the other four companies, which has since merged into Biltmore Forest Radio Inc.

The battle over WZLS and its FM frequency has drawn in some of the state's top politicians, including Republican Sen. Jesse Helms and Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt, a part owner in Biltmore.

Helms threatened to block the Senate last year from confirming FCC Chairman Bill Kennard because of the battle. Kennard abstained from Friday's action after saying he wouldn't take part in any votes in the case.