Bill Shapiro, a Kansas City tax attorney by day who spent more than four decades hosting a Saturday-night radio program devoted to rock-and-roll, died on Tuesday. He was 82.
"The name of the program is Cyprus Avenue, and I’m Bill Shapiro," he said each week in a deep, gravelly voice over the show's opening music, which was not Van Morrison's "Cyprus Avenue" but rather Matthew Fisher's "Interlude."
Shapiro's talent as a music commentator is one of the things that gave Cyprus Avenue a cult following, says Ron Jones, KCUR's director of community engagement and interim program director, who produced Cyprus Avenue for years and was a close friend of Shapiro.
"His gift of gab, his passion for popular music and his ability to convey the significance of the music in a social context is what formed a deep connection and drew audience for Cyprus Avenue on KCUR," Jones says.
Fulfilling a dream
The idea for a pop music show had been a Walter Mitty dream of his ever since he was a boy, Shapiro told KCUR’s Steve Kraske in 2018.
“I had a maternal grandfather who was a Russian immigrant to this country who had an RCA Victor Victrola that played 78 rpm records," Shapiro said. "And the first time I heard it, I didn't want to walk away from it."
He got one of those record players for Christmas when he was five years old. But his dad didn't have many records. A close family friend was in the coin-operated vending machine business in Kansas City and would hand off records to young Bill when they rotated out of the jukeboxes.
"That was my first source," Shapiro said. "That's why pop music was my turn-on.”
Over the years, he amassed a collection of LPs and CDs so vast that he measured it in feet rather than units.
The opportunity to produce a radio show was the result of a serendipitous encounter with a KCUR fundraising employee. Shapiro asked if he might get on the air with what he called "an intelligent rock and roll show." He was introduced to the management and Cyprus Avenue was born.
Shapiro debuted as a DJ in October 1978.
At the time, KCUR was located in a small house on Holmes Street, on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Shapiro's first broadcasts were from a studio in what was once someone's bedroom.
Devoted listeners heard a breadth of rock, jazz, gospel and folk, all reflecting Shapiro's personal palate. His favorites were Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and of course, Van Morrison.
Shapiro told Kraske he was still moved when he heard Morrison's music.
"It’s the fact that the guy sings his heart out," Shapiro said. "There’s a feeling of honesty, honest emotion behind what he does. Also, his work covers such a broad spectrum. He’s not a rock and roll singer. He’s not a jazz singer. But he’s both those things."
That wide-reaching musical sensibility had an enduring impact on Charles Segebrecht, who calls himself "an appreciative friend" of Shapiro.
"I raised my children with his rock and roll show," Segebrecht said. "My girls and I would arrange our schedules so we could listen together and talk about the music. I filled many voids in my music collection based on Bill's shows."
In 2006, The Folly Theater launched Cyprus Avenue Live with a concert featuring Jerry Lee Lewis. The series went on to bring in names such as Rosanne Cash, Bobby Rush, Chris Stapleton (with the SteelDrivers) and Sam Baker.
Gale Tallis, the Folly's executive director, says the series produced more than 51 concerts and netted more than a quarter of a million dollars that went directly into preserving the turn-of-the-century theater.
"I think that for Bill, taking what he did for KCUR ... and turning it into an actual live performance in a theater was just something that brought a lot of joy to his life," she says. "His legacy will continue throughout the years because of what he did with Cyprus Avenue Live."
Shapiro was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He went to Southwest High School and got his bachelor's degree from Washington University. He graduated from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1961, going on to New York University for specialty training in tax law.
He returned to Kansas City to practice business law with several firms, the last of which was Dysart Taylor, where he worked for 12 years before retiring in December 2015.
At one time, Cyprus Avenue was carried on more than 20 stations nationwide. When the cost of distributing the show increased, Shapiro said sustaining national distribution would be a full-time job. It stayed on the air on KCUR until 2018.
Shapiro leaves two children, Carin Shapiro Harkness and Anthony Shapiro, and a brother, Robert.