Steve Julian dies at 57; host of NPR's 'Morning Edition' on KPCC

Steve Julian, the genial, composed local host of “Morning Edition” at KPCC-FM (89.3), died Sunday morning at his home in South Pasadena. He was 57.

Julian died of complications from brain cancer, said Melanie Sill, the radio station's vice president of content.

A KPCC stalwart since 2000, Julian had also been a dispatcher, police officer and traffic reporter, and he retained the fast instincts and straight style of those professions.

He was a brisk, unflappable and earnest on-air presence familiar to masses of weekday public-radio listeners on their morning commutes. Outside work, he was a playwright and actor, active in local theater.

At the station, Julian had strong opinions and high standards and wasn’t afraid to voice them, Sill said. He also mentored his younger coworkers and maintained deep roots in the community.

"He wasn't someone who bounced from one market to another. He was very much a native Southern Californian with a strong sense of community," Sill said.

Julian was born July 4, 1958, to Bill and Marlene Julian of Pomona. His father was a police officer, and preceded his son in death. His mother worked in a restaurant.

In a 2011 profile, the Inland Daily Bulletin described Julian as “a Pomona boy through and through.” He attended parochial schools and Damien High, where he edited the school paper, the paper said.

He became a dispatcher for the Pomona Police Department and moonlighted as a reporter for a Pomona radio station. He met his best friend, Larry Mantle, host of KPCC’s "Air Talk," when they briefly hosted the afternoon drive-time show for KPRO in Riverside.

After Mantle left for KPCC, Julian worked as a police officer with the Baldwin Park Police Department for five years before switching to radio full time. He was a traffic reporter for AirWatch America in Santa Ana before joining KPCC, where he began his workdays at 4 a.m.

At KPCC, Julian was devoted to deepening the station’s connection to listeners, Mantle said. The two friends drove to Arizona each year for baseball spring training and always passed the long hours on the road with a discussion of how to cover the news better. Julian, the former traffic reporter, usually knew a good shortcut to Arizona.

“No one cared about listeners more than Steve,” Mantle said.

When the Twin Towers in New York fell on Sept. 11, 2001, Julian lobbied KPCC’s producers to break away from NPR’s feed, which wasn’t covering it in real time. The station broadcast live feed from WNYC, an NPR affiliate in New York City, said Bill Davis, KPCC's president. That set a standard for broadcasting news in real time that the station still follows, Davis said.

“We were able to stay on that story live and in real time because Steve was a consummate broadcaster and just a very committed journalist,” Davis said.

Julian was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. His last day on the air was Nov. 23, Mantle said.

Southern California Public Radio announced he was ill in early December in an online post from Mantle. Julian sent a candid note of his own to his friends and listeners in December and described how it felt to have brain cancer:

“I have this presence in my head,” it said. “ It’s an odd feeling. There’s no pain, really, but I am definitely aware that something is going on. As I speak, something whisks the words away as I’m talking and I struggle to recapture them.”

The note described his ever-growing love for his wife. But it was frank about darker emotions. “I am sad. I feel the unfairness of all of this,” he said.

As the weeks went by, Julian’s wife and caregiver, Felicia Friesema, blogged regularly about his condition and also sought donations to help pay for care not covered by insurance. Many supporters and friends responded with notes and small donations.

Her posts chronicle the couple’s effort, not just to maximize the time Julian had left, but to figure out exactly what “quality of life” meant in the context of an incurable disease.

She wrote of unceasing work, the “pull and pivot” maneuvers to move him, waiting for the hospice nurse, moments of panic, and of “laundry (so much laundry).”

But Friesema also described the joys of their time together — Julian’s last visit with his mother, their love and laughter. Friesema wrote of her husband’s kindness and in-charge nature, his acceptance of his illness, and his openness with grief. “Control has always come so naturally to him,” she said.

A memorial is pending. Julian’s family has asked that contributions should be sent to Coeurage Theatre  Co. at coeurage.org or KPCC at kpcc.org.

According to Friesema’s blog, Julian’s first wife, Laurie, died of a brain aneurysm in 1992. Besides Friesema, he is survived by his mother, Marlene Julian.

Jill.leovy@latimes.com

frank.shyong@latimes.com

Twitter: @frankshyong

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