By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 2010; B05
James H. Quello, 95, a champion of broadcast television during his 23 years on the Federal Communications Commission, died of heart and kidney disease Jan. 24 at his home in Alexandria.
Mr. Quello, a Detroit broadcasting executive appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1974, was one of the federal government's top regulators during the unprecedented boom that brought new telecommunications options to the American public, from cable and satellite TV to high-definition digital broadcasts, from the breakup of AT&T to the introduction of cellphones and Internet telephony.
He was the acting chairman in 1993 when the FCC imposed rate regulations on cable companies. During those 10 months, the commission lifted a long-standing restriction on TV networks from entering the market for reruns and syndication, set ground rules for the first auction of the nation's airwaves, and cleared the way for new wireless phone and two-way data services.
A loquacious and pragmatic regulator, Mr. Quello in 1996 yielded to a proposal requiring broadcasters to devote three hours a week to educational programming for children. He had blocked similar efforts for years, believing that they would "put broadcasting in a regulatory straitjacket." He reversed his vote when 220 members of the House and 34 members of the Senate signed petitions in its favor.
"This has taken up too much of our time," he told The Washington Post. "It's time to let the courts decide and get it out of the FCC."
The dispute effectively ended any hope he might have had to be reappointed by President Bill Clinton. Though a Democrat, he had often been at odds with Clinton's FCC chief, Reed E. Hundt.
James Henry Quello was born in Calumet, Mich., and graduated from Michigan State University. During World War II, he served in the Army in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, surviving six amphibious landings and rising to lieutenant colonel.
After his discharge, he returned to Michigan and became publicity director for Detroit's WXYZ radio. He then became general manager and vice president of the 50,000-watt WJR, a Capital Cities Broadcasting station in Detroit.
When his appointment to the FCC was announced, his predecessor, Nicholas Johnson, who had been the industry's leading critic, and consumer activist Ralph Nader both wrote letters of protest urging the selection of a candidate who was less affiliated with the broadcast industry. Representatives from public interest groups and those representing women and minority members testified in opposition, to no avail.
Although Mr. Quello was, as expected, an unabashed supporter of broadcast TV and radio, he also advocated efforts to rein in televised violence, and he went after shock jock Howard Stern for violating the FCC's anti-indecency rules. "I wouldn't be surprised if a big bolt of lightning came out of the sky and hit Howard Stern right in the crotch," he said during one 1993 discussion, according to an article in The Washington Post Magazine.
After the breakup of AT&T in 1984, Mr. Quello participated in decisions that helped new long-distance-telephone companies flourish. He voted for a licensing plan that created cellphone service in the United States. He also pushed for regulations that require cable systems to carry local TV signals. In his last year on the commission, he worked on the 1996 telecommunications act that freed local, long-distance and cable companies to get into one another's businesses; made it easier for companies to own more TV and radio stations; and deregulated cable TV rates.
"I never thought it would take so long," he told the Associated Press.
Mr. Quello won many industry honors and in 1995 was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame in New York. In retirement, he wrote a memoir, "My Wars: Surviving WWII and the FCC."
His wife of 60 years, Mary Quello, died in 1999. Survivors include two sons, James M. Quello of Toledo, Ohio, and Richard B. Quello of Palm Coast, Fla.; two granddaughters; and a great-granddaughter.