Remembering Bill Shapiro, Kansas City's Rock 'N Roll Lawyer And Cyprus Avenue Host | KBIA

Remembering Bill Shapiro, Kansas City's Rock 'N Roll Lawyer And Cyprus Avenue Host

15 hours ago

For thousands of members of KCUR’s audience, the folky-blues beat of Van Morrison's hit song Cyprus Avenue was the soundtrack of their Saturday afternoons or evenings. Lawyer-turned-DJ Bill Shapiro borrowed the name for his wildly popular KCUR program.

Bill Shapiro was a tax attorney by day. For almost four decades, though, he spent nights and weekends as a volunteer in a labor of love, a radio program called Cyprus Avenue.

Each week, Shapiro's deep, gravelly voice would come in over the opening notes: "The name of the program is Cyprus Avenue and I’m Bill Shapiro." 

KCUR's Ron Jones produced Cyprus Avenue for years and was a close personal friend. Now KCUR's director of community engagement and interim program director, Jones says Shapiro's talent as a music commentator is one of the things that gave Cyprus Avenue a cult following and consistently, a top fundraiser for KCUR.

"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 

Shapiro told KCUR’s Steve Kraske that the idea for a pop music show had been a Walter Mitty dream of his ever since he was a boy.

“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.”

The opportunity to produce a radio show was the result of a serendipitous encounter with a KCUR fundraising employee. Shapiro was freelancing as an auctioneer for KCPT, helping the Kansas City's public television station raise money. In return for providing fundraising advice, Shapiro asked if he might get on the air with what he called "an intelligent rock 'n roll show." He was introduced to the management and Cyprus Avenue was born.

Shapiro’s debut as a DJ began in October of 1978. 

KCUR was located at the time in a small house on Holmes Road, 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.

Not limited to rock 'n roll

Devoted listeners will remember the breadth of his musical palate from rock to jazz to gospel to folk. He had some favorites: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and of course, Van Morrison.

Shapiro told Kraske in 2018 that 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."

Cyprus Avenue Live

In 2006, The Folly Theater launched Cyprus Avenue Live at the Folly. The first concert featured Jerry Lee Lewis and the series went on to bring names such as Roseanne Cash, Bobby Rush and Sam Baker.

Gale Tallis, Executive Director of the Folly, says the series produced over 51 concerts and netted over a quarter of a million dollars that went directly into preservation of 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 on a theater was just something that brought a lot of joy to his life," she said. "His legacy will continue throughout the years because of what he did with Cyprus Avenue Live."

Bill Shapiro was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He went to Southwest High School and got his Bachelors of Arts 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, retiring in December of 2015.

At one time, Cyprus Avenue was carried on up to 50 stations nationwide. When the cost of distributing the show increased, Shapiro said sustaining national distribution would be full time job. He kept his day job in law but maintained his passion for music and his show- on the radio and live on stage until retiring in 2015. Over the years he ammassed a collection of LP's and CD's so vast, he measured it in feet rather than number.

Shapiro leaves two children, Carin Shapiro Harkness and Anthony Shapiro , and a brother, Robert. 

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig or by email at lauraz@kcur.org. 

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