Memorable interview with the late Jim Quello


By RBR-TVBR Executive Editor Jack Messmer

By the time I began covering the FCC for Radio & Records in 1990, Jim Quello had already been there as a Commissioner for nearly 16 years. He still had quite a few to go as he left his mark (a substantial one) on our nation’s communication policies. I was fortunate to record a lengthy interview with the Chairman in October 2001 in which he reminisced about his career, but also didn’t pull any punches about the state of US broadcasting and the people who regulate it.

The September 11 attacks in the US were still top of mind and the United States had invaded Afghanistan just a few days before to go after Al-Qaeda and topple the Taliban government which had harbored it in Afghanistan. Jim Quello’s first and only book had just been published, “My Wars: Surviving WWII & The FCC.” It was a reminiscence of his wartime experiences, his first career in radio and then the career which followed at the Federal Communications Commission.

With a new war just underway, Quello was fired up and lashed out at the “hostile press” which had eroded homefront support for US troops in Vietnam — in contrast to the united front and “patriotic press” that characterized his war, WWII.

As for the political and regulatory wars of his 23 years at the FCC, the former broadcaster was proud of his role in tearing down the pointless regulations he had encountered while serving as General Manager of WJR-AM & FM Detroit, but he also recalled fondly how station ownership and management had tended to be more tightly integrated into their local communities, before the era of large corporate station groups.

Quello reserved some of his harshest comments for the man who succeeded him as Chairman of the FCC (Quello had served for much of 1993 as interim Chairman under fellow Democrat, President Bill Clinton), Reed Hundt.

“More than anyone else he politicized the Commission and he was very regulatory on two fronts,” Quello said, naming broadcasting as target number one and cable number two for Hundt. “He wanted to have complete control over communications and he couldn’t quite make it,” Quello said in the interview with RBR.

Unfortunately, the FCC has remained highly politicized. It no longer has someone with real world communications industry experience as a member. Jim Quello’s folksy, down-home approach to problem solving and putting the public interest ahead of politics is sorely missed.

A few years after that interview, I had the pleasure of joining hundreds of others in celebrating Chairman Quello’s 90th birthday during the 2004 NAB Show in Las Vegas. He was still a remarkable dynamo at that advanced age, but we all knew that even someone as energetic as Jim Quello couldn’t go on forever. Now, five years later, we have all lost a great broadcaster and a great FCC Commissioner. Never before had one person been both and it appears unlikely that there will ever be a second. Jim Quello was truly one of a kind.

The audio file of that October 2001 may be accessed below.

Jim Quello 2001 Interview:

Click here to read the story that RBR ran in 2001 relating to the book release and this interview.