Harry F. Cole

Harry F. Cole


  • Boston University School of Law, J.D.
  • Amherst College, B.A., magna cum laude


  • Virginia
  • District of Columbia
  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Harry F. Cole specializes in mass media law. The primary focus of his practice is broadcasting, including transactional, regulatory and appellate work. In addition, he has been involved in a wide range of matters involving the regulation of non-broadcast radio services. He has represented clients before the Federal Communications Commission and in various courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Harry has practiced communications law since the day after he received his law degree in June, 1974, when he started work as an Attorney-Advisor in what was then known as the Broadcast Bureau of the FCC. He left the government 18 months later and has been in private practice since. He joined Fletcher Heald in 2001. In addition to assisting clients in their efforts to comply with the host of routine regulatory obligations imposed by the FCC, Harry has been involved in appellate cases which have shaped those obligations in important ways. As examples:

Fun Fact

  • Harry was on the team that prepared the brief on behalf of Pacifica Foundation in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, the 1978 Supreme Court known by many as the “Seven Dirty Words” case which established the basis for FCC regulation of broadcast indecency.
  • He formulated and implemented (with his since-retired partner, Gene Bechtel) the appellate strategy which resulted in the judicial elimination (in Bechtel v. FCC) of the FCC’s comparative broadcast policy.
  • He single-handedly litigated through the Supreme Court a Fifth Amendment-based affirmative action challenge to certain FCC policies.
  • He led the Fletcher Heald team which succeeded in relieving many broadcasters of the obligation of providing Social Security Number-based FRNs in their Ownership Reports (FCC Form 323).

Harry is the principal editor of Fletcher Heald’s monthly newsletter, the Memorandum to Clients (“MTC”), which focuses primarily on regulatory developments of interest to broadcasters. The MTC is distributed directly to more than a thousand subscribers and, through 15 separate broadcaster associations, to thousands more broadcast licensees throughout the United States. He is also the principal blogmeister responsible for the content of Fletcher Heald’s popular blog, www.CommLawBlog.com.

Harry’s writings have appeared in both trade and scholarly publications. Since 1990 he has written the Cole's Law column which appears periodically in Radio World magazine. In 2007 he co-authored an article (The Myth of the Localism Mandate) in the Catholic University of America’s CommLaw Conspectus which challenged the conventional wisdom that broadcasters are under any statutory or regulatory obligation to provide “local” programming. That article formed the basis of comments filed in the FCC’s Localism Inquiry on behalf of numerous broadcast licensees and associations representing broadcasters in nine states and Puerto Rico. He has taught FCC Practice and Procedure at the Columbus School of Law of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and Civil and Criminal Procedure at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

An acoustic and electric guitarist, Harry has performed solo and in numerous bands since the late 1960s. He has written songs about such esoterica as Sections 1.3, 73.37(e) and 73.2080 of the FCC’s rules, the felony murder rule in California, and various issues relating to land development law (including wrap-around mortgages). He served as a writer and performer on the Howard Stern Show on Station WWDC-FM in 1981-1982, and wrote the title track to Stern’s 1982 album. He has competed in the annual North American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and constructs the FCC-themed crossword puzzles which appear quasi-regularly in the MTC. He received his undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Amherst College, and his law degree from Boston University School of Law. Member of: D.C. bar. Member of Virginia bar.

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