James Leaders Loper was born on September 4, 1931 in Phoenix, Arizona. Loper attended Arizona State University, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1953 in the field of journalism. He remained at ASU after his graduation, serving as the assistant and acting director of the Bureau of Broadcasting from 1953-1959. In this capacity, Loper was instrumental in the activation of KAET, the public television outlet in Tempe, Arizona. During this time, Loper also served as the weekend news editor and announcer for KTAR (Phoenix) and the eight-station Arizona Broadcasting System from 1955-1956. Loper received his Master of Arts in Radio and Television from the University of Denver in 1957. His thesis focused on the groundwork and development of KAET. In 1967, he received his Doctorate in Communications from the University of Southern California. His dissertation discussed speech communication and was entitled An Experimental Study of Some Effects of Time Compression Upon the Comprehension and Retention of a Visually Augmented Televised Speech.
Loper moved to Los Angeles, California where he served as the director of Broadcasting Service Center at California State University from 1960-1962. In 1962, he became deeply involved in the movement to establish a non-commercial television station in Los Angeles. To this end, he acted as vice president of Community Television of Southern California from 1962-1963 and assisted in putting together the license application for what would be KCET. Loper's efforts landed him a position at the newly-licensed station that went on the air in September 1964: he served as assistant to the President of KCET from 1963-1965, and director of Educational Services from 1964-1965. Loper's tenure at KCET showed a continuous climb through the ranks to upper management: assistant general manager from 1965-1966, vice president and general manager from 1966-1969, executive vice president and general manager from 1969-1971, president and general manager from 1971-1976, and lastly, president and chief executive officer from 1976-1982.
Loper's activities have not been confined to work at KCET. He has been highly committed to the mission of broadcasting in general, serving as the Chairman of the Board and director for the Public Broadcasting Service from 1969-1972, as the president of the Western Educational Network from 1968-1970, as member of the California Governor's Educational Television and Radio Advisory Committee from 1968-1974, and as the executive director of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to name a few.
Loper served as the Chairman of the Board of Visitors at the Annenberg School of Communications on the campus of the University of Southern California from 1975-1980, where he also is an adjunct professor of radio and television. Loper has published articles in various professional journals and has contributed to two monographs: ETV: The Farther Vision published in 1967, and Broadcasting and Bargaining: Labor Relations in Radio and Television published in 1970. Loper has been a prominent figure in the Los Angeles arts scene, holding board positions in the Los Angeles Arts Center, 1968-1972, the Associates of the Otis Art Institute, 1971-1977, and the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company, 1974-present. He has also been involved in various civic organizations in the Los Angeles area.