Sometimes you can be a strong presence without being a physical presence.
If you lived in Los Angeles in the past 15 years, it’s likely you’re familiar with Steve Julian’s voice. I can’t remember a time when I was in my car in the morning when he wasn’t there with me. He was the morning man for NPR station KPCC, the station’s call letters alluding to its operator, Pasadena City College. Because I live and work in the Pasadena area, he was never really far from me. But because his voice was modulated on a frequency of eighty-nine million, three hundred thousand cycles per second and beamed off the mile-high Mt. Wilson at 600 Watts, he was never far from the millions who lived in Los Angeles and Orange counties either.
He’s been off-the-air now for 5 months. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor the day before Thanksgiving. It was a cruel fate for Steve to be stricken in this way, akin to taking sight away from a photographer or hearing from a musician. For Steve’s stock-in-trade were words and his disease made communication with them increasingly difficult.
Words were part of Steve’s everyday life, not just as a broadcaster, but as a director, an actor, and, naturally, a writer. He was very much a presence in the Los Angeles theater scene and, especially, at the Hollywood Fringe Festival where his most recent play, Ribbon of Life, was staged in 2014. He was associated with many theater entities in Los Angeles, including the Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA Playwriting Unit, and sat on the boards of Coeurage Theatre and Good People Theatre Company.
Many of his plays were concerned with the sexual abuse that occurred, unchecked, within the Catholic Church. These stories about social consciousness and social justice allowed Steve to blend his life concerns as both a police officer and a news broadcaster. His desire for societal awareness on pressing issues was given full expression in his decision to waive all royalties for a year for productions of his 2013 play, What Kind of God?
Though Steve has not been on the airwaves for many months, he’s stayed on the minds of many in Los Angeles through the regular writings of his wife, Felicia Friesema. She chronicled Steve’s condition and the challenges it created for the couple. These are raw, brave writings. Unflinching in their honesty and candor, Felicia’s writing entries were too painful for some to read to completion. Nevertheless, her gift was helping his colleagues at NPR affiliates, his listeners in Southern California, and especially his friends in Los Angeles Theater, prepare for the inevitable. As if the responsibility of tending to a dying partner wasn’t enough, Felicia took on the addition burden to help all of us with our ensuing grief.
For Steve Julian’s own life was a ribbon that encircled so many in so many ways. His presence was felt with an immediacy. Not by his proximity but by his actions. Actions that caused personal sacrifice such as reporting excessive force by his brethren police officers to his department. Actions in writing plays that made demands on his audience as did his trilogy about institutional abuse by the Catholic Church. And even in actions as simple as reporting the morning traffic.
Traffic was a passion with Steve – an interest that neatly ties into his native SoCal status – and SoCal would not be SoCal without traffic. And SoCal will not be quite the same without Steve Julian. In Southern California, we felt Steve Julian’s presence both ethereally over radio waves and physically in live theater.
And now, sadly, that presence is no more. The City of Angels has lost one of its angels today.
Originally published April 24, 2016 in Footlights.