Forecaster Howard Shapiro to retire at Tampa's Fox 13 after 35 years
Ask what inspired weather forecaster Howard Shapiro to retire from Tampa's Fox affiliate, wrapping a 35-year career as the most senior guy in the station's five-man weather team, and the meteorologist is most insistent about what didn't inspire him.
It wasn't about cost-cutting or fear of a layoff or all the economic gloom that has shrouded the media business these last few years. For Shapiro, it was about getting out while he still had his health and a drive to enjoy life.
"When the company lists 35 years of service behind your name in the newsletter, you know it's time to think about moving on," he said, laughing before noting that the health problems of some friends his age led him to consider a change. "The Fox folks here want me to stay and my contract isn't up until next March. But while my wife and I are perfectly healthy, we want to do this."
It's a sudden change for a guy whose career has been marked by steady continuity. Hired by legendary local weather guy Roy Leep just months after he graduated from college in 1974, Shapiro has only worked in one other TV outlet in a career that started the year Richard Nixon left office.
Shapiro will leave WTVT-Ch. 13 on Oct. 23 -- he gave 90 days' notice, but didn't want to leave on Halloween for all the jokes. He'll take his wife, Gail, to Phoenix. Why Phoenix? Because it's a town with a similar climate but less rain -- so Shapiro can ride his beloved motorcycle more -- in an area he doesn't know well.
A station spokesperson said WTVT hadn't yet decided if or how it would replace Shapiro, noting: "We are looking at a couple of options, but if necessary we have a robust weather team that is more than qualified to step in during the interim."
Ask about career highlights and he'll talk about taking a time-lapse radar image when the Summit Venture freighter collided with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on May 9, 1980; helping provide 42 hours of continuous weather coverage in 1985 when Hurricane Elena dawdled off the coast or witnessing the 9/11 terrorist attacks from the newscast set in 2001.
Born in Jersey City and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Shapiro served four years in the Navy before heading to college and eventually snagging his only other TV job, learning the business at TelePrompTer cable TV in Oswego, N.Y. He married Gail one year before he got the job offer from WTVT in September 1974.
His secret to longevity in the news business may mostly be the good fortune of landing at WTVT, where Leep developed a reputation for innovation and emphasis on weather that became the station's hallmark, ensuring forecasters would have all the resources they needed.
And he'll admit the only drawback from spending so much time in one place: he never got a chance to serve as chief meteorologist anywhere. When Leep retired in 1997 as WTVT's chief forecaster, he was capping 40 years at the station, succeeded by the (then) 30-something morning forecaster Paul Dellegatto.
"By the time Roy retired 12 years ago, I was already considered old," said Shapiro. "If I was driven that way, I could have taken any number of offers at other stations. But the idea of having to work past 11 p.m. was never that appealing to me."