Quello looks back at his wars


(reprinted from October 22, 2001)

First-time author Jim Quello is getting quite a send off this Wednesday (10/24), with an invitation only book signing on Capitol Hill hosted by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and John Dingell (D-MI), the Chairman and ranking minority member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
“My Wars: Surviving WWII & The FCC” is a collection of Quello’s reminiscences of his life, including his wartime experiences, a career in radio and then another career at the Federal Communications Commission. Even so, it’s a quick read, only 146 pages, since the former Commissioner (who spent 23 years as a member or Chairman of the FCC) focuses on his impressions of some of the people he’s dealt with over the years, rather than detailing events. In fact, the book leaves the reader thirsting for more of the stories that Quello only hints at. He told RBR that several people have asked him to write more about his WWII exploits and he may well do so.

With his book coming out just as the US enters a new war, Quello is more interested in discussing national unity and support for the US military than communications policy and his battles on Capitol Hill. In an interview with RBR he accused of “hostile press” of eroding homefront support for US troops in Vietnam—in contrast to the united front and “patriotic press” that characterized WWII. “We are blessed today, initially, with the same type of unification,” Quello said. “However, I’m beginning to see some erosion of this.”

For people who’ve known him only in his Washington years, Quello’s book tells some surprising stories of his run-ins with the FCC during his years as a radio station executive in Detroit. “So here I was with an agency I did not trust as a broadcaster,” Quello wrote of the beginning of his FCC career, which followed a long and controversial Senate confirmation of his nomination by President Richard Nixon. But Quello said he soon learned that the Commission was not the monster he had perceived it to be. Beginning in April 1974, he was on hand at the FCC as the US went through a communications revolution that greatly expanded the number of options available to viewers and listeners. Along the way, also, many of the onerous regulations he had found so objectionable fell by the wayside.
Although radio today is very different than when Quello managed WJR-AM & FM in Detroit, the former Commissioner has no qualms about the deregulation he had a role in.
“I came up in an era when management and even ownership was integrated” [in the local community], Quello said. “We miss a little bit of that, but you have some of these large owners who realize that they have to be civic conscious.”
Some of the harshest criticism in Quello’s book is reserved for Reed Hundt, the last Chairman Quello served with on the FCC.
“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. “He wanted to have complete control over communications and he couldn’t quite make it.”
It’s ironic that Quello will likely be most noted in history for his role in fining Infinity $1.7M for what the FCC said were indecent broadcasts by Howard Stern, since Quello (who by his own admission has a “fowl mouth and raunchy sense of humor”) didn’t hesitate to use several of the “seven dirty words” in his book. “Stern’s a very talented man, but he just went too far,” Quello said.
But with so many new, unregulated sources of programming today, even Quello is questioning whether broadcasters should be singled out for indecency enforcement. “You might say ‘why, Internet’s getting away with it’ and ‘cable’s getting away with it,’ why target TV or radio in a multi-channel world?” Quello asked. “It’s something to think about.”
Now that he’s no longer in government, we asked, might Quello be willing to appear on Stern’s show? “If he invited me, I might do it — just for the hell of it, have a little fun with him,” said Quello. “I don’t have any long buried grudge against him.”
RBR’s entire interview with Commissioner Quello can be heard at RBR.com. His book, published by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, is available on Amazon.com and at many bookstores.—JM
Editor’s note: Jim Quello died 1/24/2010 at age 95.

Click here to listen to the October 2001 interview.