Morgan was a familiar voice for generations of Harlan Countians and a broadcasting icon

Published 5:41 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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By John Henson
Contributing Writer
Even though I had no idea exactly where I’d end up after finishing my journalism degree at Eastern Kentucky University, I suspected I’d be in a small town somewhere in Kentucky learning the basics of the newspaper business.
It didn’t work out that way, even though I did travel to Harrodsburg and Somerset for interviews. I didn’t expect I’d have a chance to return to Harlan, but I learned one weekend that Jim Morgan wanted to hire a news/sports reporter for WHLN. After an interview in the radio offices in the Hendrickson Building, I had my first real job and a mentor whose voice I still hear on occasion when deciding how to approach a story or  facing an ethical dilemma.
The news on Tuesday that Jim Morgan had died took me back to 1985 and the eight months I spent in the radio business learning from two true legends in broadcasting — Jim Morgan and his father, James “Big Jim” Morgan. It was a crash course in journalism and professionalism that served me well in the 30-plus years that followed in the newspaper business.
I never imagined a job could ever be as much fun as the one I had in radio. I’ve never been a fan of mornings, but I actually enjoyed showing up to work at 6 a.m. that summer when Robb Lee was on the air and I was delivering the Harlan County news for the day.
I made the trip over to the current WHLN offices in 2019 when Jim retired from the radio business. Not only was Jim my boss and a teacher in many ways in my first year of work after college, he was one of the primary voices of my childhood, both when he delivered the news/sports before I headed out to school and when he played records on the Birthday Club as Dudley Du-Rite. In those ancient times before the internet, you may have to wait until the next morning to find out how the Baltimore Orioles did last night or get the Cawood Trojans’ score if they were playing out of town or my dad didn’t feel like going.
Morgan had no regrets about spending his life in his hometown at the only job he has ever known, as he said in a 2015 interview for the Harlan Daily Enterprise.
“My dad was asked once why he didn’t go elsewhere, and he was offered numerous jobs, and I was offered a few myself, and the answer to that is our commitment to the community,” he said. “We’ve always been committed to doing our best to help our community and protect it in times of trouble.
“That was his answer and it’s my answer. I have lived in Harlan all my life and will continue to until I can’t. It’s nice to live in a place where people know you by your first name and it takes you 30 minutes to walk to the post office.”
Jim Morgan was perhaps our last connection to a golden era of radio when you wanted to hear a local voice in times of trouble, such as the flood of 1977. I always tried to remember, even when I worked for him all those years ago, I was with a Harlan County legend when he was explaining how to approach a story or sharing a piece of our history. I was fortunate Harlan was the small Kentucky town where I began to work and learn. All Harlan Countians were fortunate having Jim Morgan in our midst through the decades.

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