James Leaders Loper

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September 4, 1931 - July 8, 2013
PUBLIC BROADCASTING PIONEER AND EDUCATOR DIES

James Leaders Loper, public broadcasting pioneer and innovator and a founder of KCET, died July 8, 2013 at his home in Pasadena.

He was born September 4,1931 in Phoenix, Arizona to John D (no period) and Ellen Leaders Loper. His father was superintendent of all elementary schools in Phoenix for 40 years. Jim learned to read at age three with textbooks his father brought home from school.

In 1953, Loper, who was editor of the college State Press newspaper, graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Arizona State University in Tempe. He remained on campus to help form a broadcasting center which produced hundreds of radio and television programs aired statewide on Arizona's commercial stations.

He helped lay the groundwork for the activation of KAET (Channel 8) in Phoenix.

In the late fifties, Loper used his summers to earn a master of arts degree from the University of Denver. In 1955 he married fellow journalism student and Phoenix Gazette writer and women's editor Mary Lou Brion. She continued to be his love, strength and support for 58 years as they established homes in Tempe, San Marino, Pasadena and Palm Springs.

In 1959 they moved to Los Angeles. Jim began work on a PhD at USC in communications; Mary Lou took a leave from the Arizona Republic and supported them as a feature writer for the Los Angeles Times. They loved L.A. They stayed. Jim took a position as a director of educational television at California State University at Los Angeles while continuing his doctorate.

Loper designed a program at Cal State to teach hundreds of students basic courses by television. It became successful enough to warrant building a television studio and wired classrooms on the campus. Jim remained 4 ½ years, creating one of the largest and most successful instructional closed circuit programs in California.

During this period, Loper began talks with the Committee for Educational Television, a small group (including Winter Horton), attempting a large job to bring an educational television station to Los Angeles. The goal was to reactivate Channel 28 (KTHE) which 10 years earlier had been owned by the Hancock Foundation at USC. It had survived only ten months.

Caltech president Lee A. DuBridge was persuaded to lend his name to the venture. In turn, he brought in Security Pacific banker Elden Smith to be president. Smith designated Loper as the TV "professional" to begin preparing the written application to the Federal Communication Commission for Channel 28 and to raise national and local funds from the television community.

The FCC granted the request. With warm support from Los Angeles, Channel 28 (KCET) went on the air September 28, 1964, after a black-tie celebration the evening before.

Loper became director of education services, later assistant general manager and vice president and general manager. He led KCET to a national reputation with the backing of President Samuel Bowlby, a Shell Oil executive, and a later president, H. Russell Smith, president of Avery Products. Loper served as president and chief executive officer from 1977-1982.

During his career, Jim built the station into a national powerhouse of programming at 4401 Sunset Boulevard headquarters, winning an early Emmy for best program of the year, "Andersonville Trial." KCET, from its beginning, became the western organization for the Public Broadcasting Laboratory. Along the way it received Peabody and Dupont awards and also the Ohio State and Emmy awards.

As Loper developed KCET's powerhouse of programming, he also headed the station's move into new and rebuilt studios on Sunset Boulevard, replacing the meager Vine Street birthplace.

When the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was created in 1969 to provide programming for the young national network, Loper was named by nation-wide stations as their founding chairman, a position he held for three consecutive years. During that period he made numerous trips to New York and Washington, especially after the Ford Foundation began massive cash infusions to PBS, including nearly $16 million to KCET. ARCO also gave millions to KCET.

The funds supported such series as "Hollywood Television Theater" and "Visions." Notable also was the achievement of "Cosmos" with Carl Sagan. It was distributed world-wide.

Another innovation Loper pioneered at Channel 28 was the Medical Television Network, created with UCLA Medical School to send latest news and techniques to Southern California Hospitals.

In 1982 Loper left KCET. He became executive director of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the largest professional group (then 9,000) in the television industry. ATAS was and is primarily known for the Emmy Awards and its unique educational programs. Loper remained at ATAS until 1998, overseeing a period of dramatic growth including the construction of new Academy headquarters in North Hollywood and the building of the large Leonard H. Goldenson Theater, a gift Loper secured from Mr. Goldenson.

Loper was Chairman, Board of Visitors, Annenberg School for Communications at USC, from 1973-1981. He served, at the request of Walter Annenberg, as an advisor to the original faculty committee which developed the proposal that led to the Annenberg School. He also was a member of the Board of Councilors, USC College of Continuing Education.

He was an adjunct professor at USC. In 2004 the James L. Loper Lecture in Public Service Broadcasting was endowed to honor annually a major contributor to non-commercial media.

Former Governor Pete Wilson appointed him to the California Arts Council, and he was elected chairman.

In addition he served as vice president, Associated Presentations at the Music Center; president, Western Educational Society for Telecommunications; founding chairman, Public Television Playhouse; president, Association of California Public Television Stations and the Western Educational Network; director, Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters; trustee, International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

In the community he was a director of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium Foundation, a director of the Permanent Charities of the Entertainment Industries and a trustee of the California Historical Society and of Polytechnic School. He was the last president of the Los Angeles/California Light Opera Association. He had a love for classical music and passenger trains.

Professionally, he was a director of Western Federal Savings and Loan Association, a trustee of the Sears, Roebuck & Company Foundation. He was a member of the California and Valley Hunt Clubs, the Sunset, One Hundred and Lincoln clubs and Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

He worked with and advised broadcasting systems worldwide, traveling to Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Turkey, China, Japan, Hong Kong and Russia, where he helped develop a television academy.

Honors include Distinguished Alumnus Award, ASU; USC Alumni Award of Merit; Governors Award, Hollywood chapter of ATAS; honorary Doctor of Law Degree, Pepperdine University; Centennial Alumnus by the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, ASU; Man of the Year, California Museum of Science and Industry.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth (Michael) Serhan of Arcadia; a son, James L. Loper Jr. (Jennifer) of Newbury Park and six wonderful grandchildren - Molly and Emily Serhan, and Megan, Caroline, John and James Aidan Loper.

Memorial services will be held on Friday, July 19th at 11:00am at Church of Our Savior in San Gabriel, California.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on July 11, 2013
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