James H. Quello
A Biographical and Historical Note
Compiled by Lauren Lincoln-Chavez for the James Quello Archive
James Henry Quello (April 21,1914-January 24, 2010) was born in Larium, Michigan, a northern Italian copper mining colony. In the 1920’s, the Quello family relocated to Detroit, where Quello’s father opened a grocery store in Highland Park, later working for Ford Motor Company as a factory worker and foreman. In a neighborhood dominated by the Klu Klux Klan, James H. Quello experienced discrimination and racial violence due to his Italian-American heritage. He describes his early years as where he “start[ed] becoming a strong believer in self-defense in school and in life.” After prohibition was repealed, the Quello family returned to Larium, opening a thriving saloon across from the police station.
As a college student at Michigan State University, Quello served in the ROTC and pursued journalism with the intention of becoming a newspaperman. He worked multiple positions for MSU’s college newspaper, including columnist and editor, and served as a newscaster on WKAR; a 500-watt college radio station. He graduated with a Bachelors of Art from the College of Arts and Letters in 1935 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in 1977 from Michigan State University. In 1975, he received an honorary Doctor of Public Service from Northern Michigan University.
A World War II hero, James H. Quello served as a Lieutenant and Lieutenant Colonel, earning several commendations for his service. He survived amphibious landings in Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France, and assault crossings on the Rhine and Danube in Germany. In addition to serving as Lieutenant of the infantry, Quello was paid to write articles for service papers. At the summons of Lieutenant Colonel Sandlin, he witnessed the horrors of the Dachau concentration camp before it was deemed off limits. At the end of the war, Quello was assigned to Camp Blanding, Florida, to train an infantry battalion in preparation for Japan.
In July 1945, James H. Quello began his position as Publicity Director for the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet at the WXYZ-AM Detroit station, where he became the personal liaison between Bing Crosby and the ABC radio network. After WXYZ-AM station was purchased by the ABC network Quello took a position as General Manager at WJR-AM, the dominant 50,000-watt clear channel station. Later, he was promoted to Vice President, where his broadcast executive leadership was distinguished by a doubling in WJR (FM)’s power, the implementation of affirmative action policies, and the placement of J.P. McCarthy in a key drive-time spot; where he was the highest rated morning man for 28 years. Under Quello’s leadership, WJR was awarded numerous awards and citations.
During his tenure, WJR implemented affirmative action policies; hiring the first black Disc Jockey, Bill Lane, in 1949. Quello was the architect of “complete range programming,” featuring minority and adult programming. WJR was the only station to feature a 16-piece orchestra and choir training program for high performing high school students, “Make Way for Youth.” Amongst the graduates were prominent black choral members Freda Payne and Ursula Walker. WJR served as the leader in coordinating with national news networks during Detroit’s 1967 rebellion, providing comprehensive local and national coverage. Quello also wrote articles for fourteen community newspapers, titled “Radiograms” by Jim Henry, and was a Detroit stringer for Variety magazine.
James H. Quello had extensive involvement in the Michigan Association of Broadcasting (MAB), where he served as president and government relations chairman. He was appointed by four different Mayors to serve as a member of the Detroit Housing and Urban Renewal Commission for a total of 21 years, where he advocated for open occupancy and low-cost housing for minorities. He also served as a trustee on the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund for 22 years, where he was appointed by four different Governors, and facilitated innovative initiatives. Quello’s broadcasting career provided a practical foundation for his career as an FCC Commissioner and Chairman (1993).
Federal Communications Commission
James H. Quello’s 24-year career as an FCC Commissioner, 1974-1998, was greatly influential, assisting the FCC in ushering in revolutionary technological changes during a global cultural shift in media and communications. His advocacy for communication and broadcasting policies brought new telecommunications options to the American public through the development of cable and satellite TV, high-definition digital broadcasts, and personal communications services. Quello’s regulatory philosophy was guided by a desire to create flexible policies to accommodate quickly changing technologies, as the world began to expand through economic and political initiatives into new territories, technologies, and cultures.
Known for the longest and shortest confirmation hearing, 8 days and 15 minutes, respectively, James H. Quello was first appointed as an FCC Commissioner in 1974 by President Richard Nixon on the recommendation of the Vice President, Gerald Ford, who built his political career representing Michigan in the House of Representatives until 1973. Despite Quello’s bipartisan support, his appointment was heavily contested by Ralph Nader, who viewed Quello as a pawn of the radio and broadcasting industry. Throughout his career as an FCC Commissioner, James H. Quello advocated for equal opportunity; minority ownership; affirmative action policies; free universal television; and deregulation; taking a strong position against sex and violence in television broadcasting, and financial interest and syndication rules. He heavily pursued the fining of shock-jock Howard Stern for anti-indecency rule violations.
Commissioner Quello was a champion for public broadcasting; committed to free over-the-air broadcasting, deregulation, and limiting violence in television broadcasting. He assisted with the modernization of broadcasting transmission systems, bringing HDTV into the modern age with minimal government oversight. A strong proponent of must-carry rules and retransmission consent, he believed these regulations would be beneficial for broadcasters and viewers. Commissioner Quello served as Chair of the TCAF committee, providing assistance to public broadcasting stations seeking financial stability. In the final year of his career as an FCC Commissioner, James H. Quello worked on the 1996 Communications Act, enabling cross-ownership between telecommunications companies; designed to foster marketplace competition, but which was followed by greater concentration of media ownership.
As a supporter of freedom of speech and First Amendment rights, Commissioner Quello supported the deregulation of commercial limitations in television broadcasting (1981). He adamantly argued against the imposition of three hours of educational programming in children’s television programming, contending that educational programming regulations would impose on First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, and quantitative regulations would be difficult to uphold in court. He later reversed his position in 1996, after outraged demands from congressmen and senators.
During his career as a Commissioner, the FCC initiated affirmative action policies utilizing rigorous standards of equal opportunity employment to increase minority hiring and ownership in broadcasting. Licensees were required to understand the community they served and make efforts to recruit employees represented in the community. In 1977, the Commission adopted affirmative action policies for the review guidelines for EEO license renewal, requiring an in-depth staff review for stations with six to ten full-time employees and no minority or female employees. In 1980, the Commission tightened the EEO review policy, increasing the standards for equal opportunity employment in the broadcasting industry; imposing sanctions on broadcast stations that did not provide opportunities to minorities.
James H. Quello was a consistent advocate for the review of ownership rules. He was the first FCC commissioner to demonstrate support for minority ownership, advocating for affirmative financing policies in commercial broadcasting station ownership. Commissioner Quello also pushed for distress sales to minorities at 75% of appraisal value versus license revocation and for tax certificates with tax breaks for minorities. Clear Channel Communications was the first network to sell a broadcasting station to minority owners, as they were forced to divest due to ownership limitations imposed by the FCC. Commissioner Quello supported improvements to UHF broadcasting to facilitate the development of local public broadcasting initiatives and minority ownership.
Personal Communication Services
Considered the “Father” of Personal Communication Services (PCS), Quello’s initiative helped spurr the development of the cellular industry. Quello served on a commission, which established the regulatory framework for PCS; developing the band plan and regulatory scheme for private land mobile devices. Quello’s staff advocated for a regulatory framework of the Low Earth Orbiting Satellites (LEOS), that made mobile communications globally feasible. Commissioner Quello ushered in a vision of global communication networks.
In 1993, James H. Quello was appointed Acting Chairman by President Bill Clinton, during which the FCC Commission implemented the Cable Act; imposing rate regulations on cable television broadcasting and lifting long-standing restrictions on television networks from entering the market for reruns and syndication. Congress granted the FCC auction authority, raising over $20 billion for the U.S treasury. Additionally, the FCC cleared the way for new wireless phone and two-way data services, expanding opportunities for personal communications services globally. His tenure as Acting Chairman was lauded as a period of transparency and collaboration.
Michigan State University
In 1998, James H. Quello assisted James Spaniolo, Dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, in the development of the James H. and Mary B. Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law at Michigan State University, as a multi-disciplinary center within the Department of Media and Information. The Quello Center’s original mission was to support social research of changing communication technologies, industries, and consumer choices through rigorous interdisciplinary research initiatives, global professional opportunities to facilitate cross-disciplinary dialogues, participation in communication policy developments, and expertise and independent research for public and nonprofit institutions. This mission remains central to the Quello Center moving into the digital age. Quello played a major role in the development of the Quello Center, helping to generate over 200 gifts for the Center through a general endowment that has grown to $5 million by 2017. James H. Quello died on January 24, 2010, at the age of 95, in his home in Alexandria, Virginia.
“You may have heard that an engineer is a person who knows a great deal about very little, and who goes along learning more and more about less and less until finally he knows practically everything about nothing. A salesman, on the other hand, is a person who knows very little about many things and keeps learning less and less about more an more, until he knows practically nothing about everything. Of course, a station manager starts out knowing everything about everything, but ends up knowing nothing about anything, because of his association with engineers and salemen.”
– James H. Quello, 11 October 1974
The Quello Center is off and running in creating a digital archive of James H. Quello’s papers. Our archive team includes myself, having never created such an archive, plus Anne Marie Salter at the Center, Valeta Winsloff from Media and Information who supports our design work and blogging, Scout Calvert with the MSU Library, who is orchestrating this project, and Lauren E. Lincoln-Chavez, who has hands on experience in developing archives and special collections, and is based in Detroit.
The collection contains over 1,000 papers, including speeches, statements, letters, and remarks by James Quello during his long tenure as an FCC Commissioner. To this we will be adding our collection of photographs, and videos, as well as photos of his many awards and honors. This promises to be another of the many fun and rewarding projects of the Center.
The archive will be part of our WordPress blog and publicly accessible to anyone who might want a view of over two decades at the FCC through the words of one of its longest serving and most colorful commissioners. I read one of his papers from 1974 saying the he is willing to forgive journalists for getting things wrong at times (before there was a term ‘fake news’) in order to protect freedom of the press, and I imagine he would say the same thing about the users of social media today.
Generally, sifting through this collection is addictive as you follow the history of such issues as the fairness doctrine, cross-ownership rules, and more. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.
We have just begun work on a digital archive of James H. Quello’s speeches, articles, and statements dating from 21 January 1974, for his Senate Confirmation Hearing. My thanks to the MSU Library for helping the Quello Center with this project, and from today we will start searching for funding to support this archiving project.
The core material will be Commissioner Quello’s written speeches, articles and statements, but we will be adding biographical materials, photos, and video material. This should be a valuable source for anyone seriously interested in the history of regulation and policy in the communication sector in the USA.
Our thanks to the MSU Library and to Sarah Roberts with the MSU Archives & Historical Collections.
The Quello Center has a unique collection of speeches, statements, audio and video recordings, and other documents from James H. Quello’s decades in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). We are developing a proposal to convert these documents and video recordings to an openly accessible digital collection, and invite colleagues and students who wish to gain experience in digital archiving to join us. We would welcome expressions of interest, tips on current technique, and recommendations of experts we should consult.