- Published on Thursday, 24 May 2012 15:29
Howard Shapiro, the longtime Chairman of Chicago-based television corporation Weigel Broadcasting Company, passed away today from pneumonia at the age of 86. He had been the guiding force behind Weigel Broadcasting since the mid-1960's.
Shapiro fell in love with the television business in 1964, when his retail television business C.E.T. (with the famous phone number & jingle: Mohawk 4-4100) started advertising on a new UHF station run by John Weigel called WCIU-TV -- Chicago's first UHF station. The TV advertising greatly increased his sales at his C.E.T. store. A little over a year later, when WCIU-TV was in serious financial trouble, he started financing (via stock purchases) Weigel Broadcasting & WCIU-TV. By the late 1960s, Howard Shapiro owned it all.
It was Howard Shapiro who took numerous chances on programming, especially in the early days of his ownership of the station. He was the one who gave the OK and support to a young announcer named Don Cornelius to start up a local dance show called "Soul Train."
Heading into the 80s, the station quieted down and was far less adventurous. For a many years, WCIU-TV was a low-rated little station, showing religious programming in the early morning hours, stock market information, Spanish/Univision programing, other ethnic programming, and brokered shows. In 1994, with the Shapiro family's hiring of Neal Sabin, the station came alive, as did the whole company. Weigel Broadcasting now owns ten local television stations in three Midwestern markets, as well as running two popular national classic television networks: Me-TV and This TV.
Despite his age, Howard Shapiro stayed busy working at the company, as he was seen behind his desk as recently as last week, signing checks and conducting business.
Shapiro graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University. While there, he enjoyed working at Purdue's WBAA-AM public radio station, as well as a local commercial radio station in West Lafayette, IN. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he pursued graduate studies at Northwestern University.
Howard Shapiro served as President of the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences from 1983-1987. In 1997, the Chicago NATAS honored him with the prestigious Silver Circle Award. The Museum of Broadcast Communications honored Shapiro for his many years as a top local television executive at its 2010 event, "A Salute to Chicago Television."
In a statement today, Weigel Broadcasting called Howard Shapiro a "larger than life figure in Chicago business and broadcasting for decades." The statement also described him this way: "Those who really knew Howard knew that his sometimes gruff exterior masked a very warm and caring human being who put family first. Howard ran Weigel Broadcasting with this same sense of caring, but with a much extended family. His devotion to serving the under-served was his mantra and is a guiding force in all of Weigel's business pursuits."
His wife Jacqueline passed away in 2003. He is survived by his three sons, one daughter, and four grandchildren. One of his sons, Norman Shapiro, is the President of the Weigel Broadcasting and a co-owner.
Funeral and memorial services have not yet been announced.