John S. James, 69, a lawyer who retired from the Federal Communications Commission in 1970 after more than 30 years of federal service, died of cancer Dec. 12 at his home in Washington.

Mr. James was born in Conrad, Mont., and grew up in Helena, Mont. He graduated from Carroll College in Helena and moved to Washington in 1935 to study law at Georgetown University. He received his degree in 1938.

In the same year, he joined the antitrust division of the Justice Department. From 1949 to 1952, he was a lawyer with the State Department assigned to the military government of Germany. He then returned to the antitrust division.

In 1962, Mr. James joined the FCC. At the time of his retirement, he was chief of the legal branch in the agency's satellite communications office.

Survivors include his wife, Harriet L., of Washington; two sons, John, of Berkeley, Calif., and Robert, of Bethesda; a daughter, Mary James of Honolulu; his mother, Edith James of Upland, Calif.; two sisters, Edith Spain of Washington and Catherine Barnes of Upland, and two grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to Hospice Care of the District of Columbia, 1749 St. Matthews Court NW, Washington, D.C., 20036.