He was a World War II veteran during the European conflict in 1941–1945 and friend of American president Gerald Ford. At the time of his death he was the chairman of James H. Quello and Mary B. Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law at Michigan State University which was named in honor of the former commissioner and his wife. Up until his death Quello was also working as a consultant in the Government Affairs law office of Wiley Rein.
Quello hailed from Laurium, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula (often called "U.P."), where his parents settled after immigrating from northern Italy; he also had a sister, Alice, who later settled in Pennsylvania. Quello, along with his future wife Mary (who died in October 1999), were undergraduate students at Michigan State University in the 1930s. James graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and he and Mary were married September 14, 1937. In 1998, Michigan State University honored both with the creation of the James H. Quello and Mary B. Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law. James served on the Board of the Center and was also affiliated with Wiley Rein, a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm. In addition to numerous awards for his public service, Quello received awards and honorary degrees from Northern Michigan University and Michigan State University.
During World War II, Quello served as a lieutenant and lieutenant colonel in the United States Army (1941–45). He took part in six infantry amphibious assault landings in the war theater in Europe and Africa and fought in Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany. Quello earned several decorations and campaign ribbons and served as a trustee of the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, having been appointed in turn by four different governors of Michigan. He is the author of My Wars, Surviving WWII & the FCC, published in March 2001.
Quello started his career in radio broadcasting immediately after returning from Europe in 1945. He worked in the promotions department at WXYZ/Detroit. Two years later, Quello moved to rival station WJR and became vice president and general manager in 1960. When Capital Cities Broadcasting purchased WJR, Quello became WJR station manager and a Capital Cities vice president. For 21 years he served on the Detroit Housing and Urban Renewal Commission.
He was first appointed commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission by then U.S. president Richard M. Nixon in 1974. He served there until 1997 when he stepped down. His nomination at first sparked controversy as Ralph Nader accused Quello of "being a pawn for broadcasters". Fellow Michiganian, House minority leader and future United States Vice President and President Gerald Ford supported Quello's nomination by Nixon.