Jim Jimirro is a Penn State alumnus who learned to embrace opportunities and passion during his time in Happy Valley. Earning his bachelor’s degree in 1958 helped him realize his dream of working with communications and forging connections through entertainment.
For Jimirro, that dream materialized in his founding of The Disney Channel.
Jimirro said he joined the Walt Disney Company around 1973, when the company was struggling to survive a turbulent corporate restructuring following the death of founder Walt Disney.
“In 1982, he was made executive vice president of telecommunications for Walt Disney Productions, and he spearheaded the establishment of The Disney Channel, serving as its first president,” according to D23, a website coordinated by Disney.
As a broadcasting and telecommunications executive in a rapidly changing industry, Jimirro recognized the role television and radio could play in building direct, interpersonal connections between people and the media they consumed.
Jimirro said he chose Penn State over the six other smaller schools he applied to because he “wanted to play on a bigger stage.”
After growing up in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with a passion for music and theatre, Jimirro was motivated to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a college where “competition would stimulate his creativity.”
“Penn State is a model for the continuously growing and evolving world that we live in,” Jimirro said.
The benefit of Penn State, Jimirro said, is having a large, inclusive community that allows individuals to grow and prepare for life after graduation.
At the university, Jimirro said his mentors were music professor Ray Fortunato and Dean of the former Penn State Communications Association Rob Oliver. Both mentors helped guide a young Jimirro as he looked to become involved in all facets of communications-related campus activities.
As a member of the “Penn State Players” and the Penn State Thespian Society, Jimirro said he developed a love for acting that continues to influence his love of musical theatre.
“In college, my favorite class was Shakespeare,” Jimirro said, “and my favorite play was ‘The Merchant of Venice.’”
Although, Jimirro confessed to a certain fondness for the adapted version of William Shakespeare’s “A Comedy of Errors” play known as “The Boys from Syracuse.”
“I honestly don’t know why I liked communications so much,” Jimirro said. “I just had a great proclivity for it.”
After leaving Penn State, Jimirro earned his master’s degree from Syracuse University in upstate New York.
Then, Jimirro said he worked as a program director for radio station WPBS in Philadelphia before he moved to New York City to join CBS as an account executive.
Working in the entertainment industry and living in California, Jimirro said he saw an opportunity for change despite being surrounded by “stubborn and resistant” peers who refused to abandon the “theatrical experience.”
When he originally pitched the idea for a “Disney Channel,” Jimirro said he told his boss he wanted Disney to “control their own distribution of content.”
Jimirro said he took the “home video” approach as creator and founder of the Disney Channel. During his time at the telecommunications company, he was responsible for developing and launching the “fastest growing pay-TV service in history,” as well as introducing interactive programming like the “Disney Channel Magazine.”
The Disney Channel achieved profitability in less than two years under Jimirro’s leadership at the studio, during which he also led the charge for the world’s first direct-to-consumer home video marketing campaign.
Jimirro said he realized his dream of spreading connections by creating the Disney Channel and linking generations of young kids to family-friendly animated shows and movies.
Current Penn State student Vincent Coppola said he believes the Disney Channel is a common experience for generations of Penn State students.
“I’m pretty sure everyone has watched the Disney Channel at some point in their life,” Coppola (freshman-enterprise technology integration) said.
With an eagerness to “chase the future” wherever it may lead him, Jimirro reflected on his contributions to the current streaming trend in Hollywood.
“The internet has created a better world for content because people can always find a way to watch the movie they are looking for whenever they want,” Jimirro said.
Saturated by a plethora of streaming services and content distributors, Jimirro said he views the industry as respondent to a “egalitarian nature” in which equality dictates entertainment access for the future.
“The corporate offices [of Hollywood] have also become more institutional,” Jimirro said. “Analysts are now taking over a business that used to be run based on instincts and ideas.”
As a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Jimirro currently enjoys watching a variety of new films. He regularly votes for which title deserves the annual Best Picture Oscar.
“Jimirro is an incredibly distinguished Penn State alumnus,” Jamey Perry, the assistant dean for academic services in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, said. “We are proud to call him a Nittany Lion and honored to associate him with the communications school.”
Perry said Jimirro has contributed to the development of the Bellisario Media Center through generous donations and continues to support students through his scholarship, “James P. Jimirro Professorship in Media Effects.”
Jimirro is a man who has followed competition from Penn State to CBS to Disney and beyond. He encourages aspiring artists to “spread their wings” and be confident in their individual voice.
His advice for current Penn State students is to follow their passion.
“Whatever industry you chose to enter,” Jimirro said, “there is absolutely no substitute for perseverance and passion.”
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