The History of Morgan Murphy Media

Original Morgan Murphy Media building

The story of Morgan Murphy Media is one of tenacity, creativity, innovation and a willingness to experiment with new communication technologies.

Founded by John T. Murphy in 1890 as the Evening Telegram Co. in Superior, Wisconsin, the company’s roots began in print journalism.

Once The Telegram was firmly established in Superior, Murphy branched out to build a chain of publications. It was the beginning of a growing media enterprise that would soon expand into radio and television.

Murphy
John T. Murphy was succeeded in the family business in 1932 by his son John “Morgan” Murphy, who served as an apprentice at the newspaper from an early age. Morgan was an extraordinary entrepreneur who expanded the enterprise into a chain of Northland newspapers, as well as into the emerging technologies of radio and television.

The expanding enterprise, dubbed Morgan Murphy Media, was one of Wisconsin’s earliest proponents of commercial television. In 1955, the FCC granted Morgan the license for WISC-TV in Madison, Wisconsin, and the station aired its first program on June 24, 1956.

The Evening Telegram, led by John Morgan Murphy, continued to acquire television and radio stations in the upper Midwest throughout the 1950s. It turned its focus to the Pacific Northwest when Morgan Murphy and The Evening Telegram purchased the radio station KXLY and KXLY-TV in Spokane, Washington, in 1961.

In 1970, Morgan expanded his empire again, this time starting Apple Valley Broadcasting in Yakima, Washington, which soon expanded to Pasco-Kennewick.

By the time he passed away, there were some 23 corporations under The Telegram umbrella.

After Morgan’s death in 1971, the torch was passed to his wife of 38 years, Elizabeth Beck Murphy, who successfully headed the business during a period of tremendous change in the telecommunications industry through the birth of cable television and the introduction of VCRs.

After Elizabeth Beck Murphy’s death in 1982, the torch was passed down to the third generation of Murphys, son John B. Murphy and daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Murphy Burns.

John B. and Elizabeth “Liz” joined the family business at young ages, just as their father and grandfather had done before them. They continue to work together closely to manage the family business. John B. focused on the print side of the business, which was eventually sold in 2003. Liz focused her attention on the broadcast side and became the first woman to serve on the CBS affiliates board in 1981.

In 1995, when the World Wide Web was just 2 years old, the company and its Madison CBS affiliate became one of the early adapters in online news. Murphy Burns let staff know early that digital media would be measured as its own business entity and part of the “core business.”

Morgan Murphy Media continued to expand in the 1990s and early 2000s with the acquisition of radio stations in southwestern Wisconsin and WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Morgan Murphy Media purchased the Texas-based Victoria Television Group and KOAM/KFJX from Saga Communications in September 2017, further fulfilling the vision of company owner and president Elizabeth Murphy Burns. In a 1995 interview with Electronic Media, Murphy Burns stated, “We’re not comfortable about what the future holds for anyone who stands still.” There is certainly no standing still, even today.

Elizabeth Murphy Burns
Morgan Murphy Media has entered into its fourth generation of leadership, and continues to make serious commitments to be a leader in the digital media world. Liz’s stepson, Brian R. Burns, and John B.’s daughter, Kate Murphy Doty, have begun their careers in the family-run business.

The future is bright for Morgan Murphy Media, as the company continues to seek opportunities on the leading edge of industry developments while staying focused on strong, local journalism.