Howard Shapiro, chairman of Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting, died from pneumonia today at the age of 86.
A graduate in electronic engineering from Purdue, Shapiro was a electronics dealer, with a business called C.E.T. (Chicago Engineers of Television) and was one of the first advertisers who bought commercial time on WCIU, which was launched by the Weigel family in 1964, becoming Chicago’s first UHF station. Shapiro later bought shares in Weigel and became the station’s principal owner. In its early days, WCIU aired a lot of low-budget programming, including bullfights, ethnic-language shows, and was the originating station for Soul Train.
WCIU was also known for The Stock Market Observer, a business news show which ran during the day while Spanish-language programming ran at night.
When Univision (then affiliated with WCIU) purchased WGBO-TV in 1994 from Combined Broadcasting, Shapiro relaunched WCIU as a general market independent, acquiring syndicated fare and bringing back Svengoolie back to local television. After a rough start, WCIU hit its stride and started to surpass rivals WPWR and WFLD in the ratings.
Around the same time WCIU became an independent, Weigel’s WDJT snared the CBS affiliation in Milwaukee, thanks to the Fox-New World deal, which sent then-New World owned WITI from CBS to Fox (Weigel also owns sister station WMLW in the same market.)
Weigel later launched WBND in South Bend/Elkhart, Ind. and became an ABC affiliate in 1995, and launched two low-power stations, WCWW (CW) and WMYS (My Network TV/MeTV.)
In 2005, Weigel launched MeTV as a classic TV channel in Chicago, expanded to Milwaukee in 2008 (and launching a spinoff channel, MeToo the same year.)
The company also became a pioneer digital multicasting, by launching This TV in 2008 and taking MeTV national in 2010.
As for Shapiro’s personal achievements, he received the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS)’ Silver Circle Award in 1997 and also served as president of the Chicago chapter from 1983-87, and was also honored in 2010 by the Museum of Broadcast Communications. While Shapiro still remained active at Weigel, day-to-day operations of the company were handled by his son, Norman and by Neal Sabin, who he lured from WPWR in 1994 to help relaunch WCIU.
Howard Shapiro is survived by three sons, one daughter, and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.