James Bickers, who served as a host on 89.3 WFPL and 91.9 WFPK for nearly 20 years, died on Thursday. He was 45 years old.
Bickers, an affable and engaging host with a seemingly endless capacity for knowledge that spanned the pop culture spectrum, hosted a variety of Louisville Public Media programs over the years, including an eight-year stint as the morning drive host on 91.9 WFPK and two years as afternoon jazz host.
He also hosted and produced “Down and Nerdy,” a pop culture podcast that demonstrated Bickers’ range — and, of course, his humor.
On 89.3 WFPL, Bickers hosted and produced a long-running literary talk show called On Second Thought. Most recently, he was the local voice of NPR’s Morning Edition. He left Louisville Public Media earlier this year.
“James was our renaissance man: music lover, writer, philosopher, humorist and resident pop culture nerd,” said Stacy Owen, WFPK program director and longtime colleague. “We loved him for these many talents and admired his kind nature and obvious love for his family. Our hearts are breaking.”
As morning host on WFPK, Bickers developed a loyal following with his signature voice and style. He would open his show with the phrase “Good morning, fellow babies!,” then launch into a favorite song from his eclectic tastes, which ran from prog rock to classic jazz.
He was fun to listen to and work with. He was a kind soul. And he was an unrepentant Rush fan.
WFPK Music Director Kyle Meredith summed up the way Bickers could make anyone smile.
“James had a brilliant sense of humor and wit,” Meredith said. “He and I were both fans of broken jokes and would trade them as often as possible. I’m grateful that, Wednesday at the hospital, I was able to throw one back at him, my favorite of the ones he had taught me: Do you know what’s green and has three wheels? Grass. I lied about the wheels.”
Along with hosting Morning Edition on 89.3 WFPL, Bickers conducted long-form interviews with authors, thinkers, artists, musicians and newsmakers. He won a 2016 Kentucky Associated Press Broadcasters award for his meditation on the music of Louisville singer-songwriter Joan Shelley.
His 2015 interview with food writer Mark Bittman was typical of Bickers’ approach: It opens with the interviewer’s intimate, disarming admission that he’s a big fan.
“If I could embarrass you for a second, I have here my personal family copy of ‘How to Cook Everything,’” Bickers says. “It’s from 1998. It is browned and pockmarked and dog-eared and beginning to fall apart, and it’s the most useful cookbook ever.”
In typical fashion, Bickers follows with a probing question about Bittman’s philosophy of food that sends the interview into unforeseen places.
Bickers is survived by his wife, Nancy, and their three children.