When Jim Quello went to work for the FCC, Ma Bell was the phone company and everyone watched one of the three major television networks.
It was 1974. Rotary phones were not yet museum pieces, fax machines and cellular phones were in the future and cable TV was for people living way out in the country.
In the years since he took his seat on the Federal Communications Commission, Mr. Quello has helped guide a revolution that's brought e-mail, pizza-size satellite dishes, long-distance rates of 10 cents a minute and the Weather Channel.
Mr. Quello, who will step down when his replacement is confirmed by the Senate, is the Cal Ripken of the FCC, having served through six administrations, the second-longest tenure behind Robert Lee.
"It's been the most fascinating and most productive job I've ever held," said the former television station manager.
Mr. Quello jokes that he paid a heavy price to be a commissioner - about a million dollars a year. He sold his Capital Cities stock in 1974 for $200,000, and the stock would have been worth about $23 million today, he said.
Industry officials say Mr. Quello not only says what he thinks, but was always accessible. A dinner honoring Mr. Quello last month had to be moved from the Mayflower Hotel to the Omni Shoreham as the guest count grew to more than 1,000.
"What a turnout" of congressional leaders and communications chiefs, said Richard Wiley, a former FCC chairman who served with Mr. Quello. "I think he's got a lot of bipartisan support."
Mr. Quello needed that support, especially starting out.
The radio station manager from Detroit faced a contentious eight-day confirmation hearing. Nominated by President Nixon with the strong backing of Vice President Ford from Michigan, Mr. Quello was one of the first FCC commissioners to come from the broadcasting industry.
"There was a lot of controversy because the public interest groups said he would give away the world," said Larry Harris, former mass media chief at the FCC. "He bent over backward so it didn't appear that he was a rubber stamp for the broadcasters." He had support from Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat and long-standing chairman of the House Commerce Committee
"He even said, `Jim, why do you want the . . . job - you'll get beat up by Congress and overruled by the courts,' " Mr. Quello said.
But Mr. Quello cultivated friends on the Hill, even playing tennis with a number of them. In 1991, his fourth confirmation hearing took 15 minutes.
Critics have accused Mr. …