James Loper, KCET founder and president, dies at 81

By Andrew Lapin

Loper (Photo: KCET)

Loper (Photo: KCET)

James L. Loper, a founder of Los Angeles’s KCET and founding chairman of PBS, died in his home in Pasadena, Calif., July 8 at the age of 81. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Loper was instrumental in creating the first public television station in Los Angeles. He first pushed for the station as a member of the Committee for Educational Television while a doctoral student at the University of Southern California in the early 1960s. When KCET first hit the airwaves in 1964, Loper was its director of educational television.

He spent the next two decades at the station in rising capacities, holding the roles of v.p. and g.m. before becoming KCET’s president from 1971 to 1983. Three of the programs Loper helped see to air during his tenure won Peabody Awards, including Cosmos with astronomer Carl Sagan. In the early 1970s, Loper also served as a founding chairman of PBS.

Loper’s time at KCET ended amid controversy in 1983, when the Los Angeles Times reported that he had been using a station bank account to maintain memberships in private clubs and charities while the station was in a period of financial crisis. Loper resigned from KCET following the investigation, moving on to oversee the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Loper taught at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and in 2005 the school established an annual lecture series in his honor. Since its inception, public media luminaries including Frontline Executive Producer David Fanning and former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller have delivered the James L. Loper Lecture in Public Service Broadcasting.

KCET has changed considerably since Loper’s days at its helm. In 2011 the station split from PBS with the intention to create a new model for public broadcasting, merging with Link Media two years later to form KCETLink.

“Jim Loper left an indelible mark on the history of KCET and public television,” Al Jerome, current president of KCETLink, said in a statement. “It was my pleasure to speak to Jim’s classes at USC each year and to watch first-hand how he would emphasize the distinctive value of public media and why it always needed to be nurtured and supported. Public media has lost a true champion, but Jim’s passion for our mission will still guide us as we chart our new course.”

Loper is survived by his wife, daughter, son and six grandchildren.

Services will be held July 19 at 11 a.m. at the Church of Our Saviour in San Gabriel, Calif.

Please send obituary notices to lapin@current.org
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