In three months, WTVT-Ch. 13 meteorologist Howard Shapiro will face something he hasn't seen in 35 years: life without a job at Tampa's Fox affiliate.
But even as colleagues with similar tenures in TV news face layoffs or a push toward retirement, Shapiro stressed that his decision to leave WTVT had nothing to do with all that.
For the 62-year-old New Jersey native, it was about getting out while he still has his health and a drive to enjoy life.
"The Fox folks here want me to stay, and my contract isn't up until next March," Shapiro said. "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 worked in only one other TV outlet in a career that started the year Richard Nixon left office.
Shapiro will retire Oct. 23; he gave 90 days' notice but didn't want to leave on Halloween, fearing all the jokes. He'll take his wife, Gail, to Phoenix — mostly because it's a town with a similar climate but less rain, so the weatherman can ride his beloved motorcycle more.
A station representative 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, or about helping provide 42 hours of continuous weather coverage in 1985 when Hurricane Elena dawdled off the coast.
His secret to TV news longevity 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.
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 then-30-something morning forecaster Paul Dellegatto.
"By the time Roy retired 12 years ago, I was already considered old," Shapiro said. "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."