A pioneer of broadcasting in Oregon, James Madison Morris was born on May 23, 1904 in Sumner, Washington and grew up in Eugene, Oregon, where he graduated from high school in 1923. Morris was interested in radios from an early age, constructing his first rudimentary device out of a Quaker Oats cereal box in 1919. Not long after, he incorporated a business, Eugene Radio Laboratories, where he built and sold some of the area's first radio sets. Morris was also among the region's first ham radio operators, obtaining license 7JU in 1920. While still in high school, Morris likewise spent two years writing the first radio column and program review to be published in a Eugene-area newspaper.
In 1924 Morris began an association with Oregon State University that would last for the remainder of his life. As an undergraduate at what was then Oregon Agricultural College, Morris studied electrical engineering, completing his bachelor's degree in 1928. From there, Morris moved directly into graduate studies in physics and communications, serving as a teaching fellow in Physics from 1928-1929 and as a member of the faculty from 1929-1932. KOAC radio, which began broadcasting as radio station KFDJ in 1922, was initially run out of the Physics Department, and Morris became closely aligned with the operation early in his tenure, often serving as special events engineer for radio broadcasts.
In 1932 KOAC was moved out of Physics in favor of the State System of Higher Education's General Extension Division, and Morris followed suit. As a full-time employee of the station, Morris served as producer-announcer for thirteen years until being named program manager in 1945. He remained in this position until 1963, making time along the way to complete his Oregon State College doctorate in education in 1956. Morris later worked as Head of Information Services and as Managing Editor of Publications for the state board's Division of Continuing Education before retiring in 1972.
During his three decades of direct contact with KOAC broadcasting, Morris made an important and lasting impact. In addition to producing a full complement of agricultural and educational programs, Morris wrote and directed numerous radio plays, many of which were published in two book-length compilations, both titled Radio Workshop Plays (1940 and 1942). Morris also helped to push forward remote broadcasting at KOAC and served as an early "Voice of the Beavers," relaying Oregon State football from Bell Field and basketball from the Men's Gymnasium.
Perhaps most importantly, Morris emerged as a strong advocate for the efficacy of educational television. Morris first experimented with television as a medium in 1930 and was initially exposed to the notion of educational television while attending a graduate seminar held in New York City in 1941. In 1952 Morris was charged with preparing a study on the possible implementation of educational television in Oregon. From there he worked closely with state legislators and Oregon's governors to secure funding for state-run television facilities in Corvallis and Portland. KOAC-TV went on the air in 1957 and Portland's KOAP-TV followed suit in 1961.
KOAC broadcasting celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1972, the same year that Morris retired. In connection with the anniversary, Morris published a history of the station titled The Remembered Years... (digitized and available online). The recipient of numerous awards over the course of his career, Jimmie Morris had an annual award named after him in 1986 by the Consortium for Public Radio in Oregon. He passed away at the age of ninety on January 8, 1995, survived by his wife Lucille, son Sterling and daughter Rebecca.
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