This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on June 4, 2010 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at the Jewish Federation Building in the office of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. My name is Flo Gurwin and I am interviewing Neal Shapiro.
Interviewer: Neal, tell me a little bit about the beginning. How did you, where were you born? Where did you grow up?
Shapiro: I was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on March 18, 1951. I spent a couple of years in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My dad was then transferred to the New Jersey area with his job so we moved to Linden, New Jersey where I resided until June of 1960 when we moved here to Columbus. My dad was employed with Shoe Corporation of America. I think I was ten years old, nine years old when we moved here.
Interviewer: Okay. And you grew up here then?
Shapiro: I grew up in Berwick for several years. Then we moved to the Eastmoor area and I graduated from Eastmoor High School in 1969.
Interviewer: And what did you do after you graduated from Eastmoor High School?
Shapiro: I went to The Ohio State University as a freshman in 1969 as a Theater major.
Interviewer: And what did you do there, some interesting things that happened to you while you were at Ohio State?
Shapiro: Right. During my sophomore year I was going through one of the buildings on campus and I saw in a flyer that the campus radio station was looking for disc jockeys. This is something that I always was enamored with as a kid, listening to the disc jockeys on the radio and I would emulate and mimic the disc jockeys that I would listen to on the radio. And I thought to myself after seeing the flyer, “That would be very interesting. I’m going to go to this meeting and see what happens.” I went to the meeting and in the meeting was approximately 200 people. And the leaders of the meeting said, “Well how many of you would like to be disc jockeys on the radio. And I’d have to say that out of 200 people, 150 raised their hands. And I thought to myself, “Well forget it. I don’t have a chance.” He said, “We’d like to have everybody come for an audition.” And everyone would do the same audition. It would take between two and three minutes. It was sort of like what they would call in the acting world “a cattle call”.
And I went to the cattle call. I did my two or three minutes. And I went home and a couple of hours later, I was called by the manager of the radio station telling me that he was very impressed with my tape and would I be interested in becoming one of the disc jockeys on the radio. Out of the 150 people they were going to choose 12. So I figured I…you know, that was pretty good odds that I was able to be included in the 12. He said, “Can you come over and talk to us right away?” I said, “Well yeah, sure.” He goes, “I would, we’re very interested in what you’ve done on your tape. Can we get you to join our programming staff?” “Well sure I’d love to do it but I don’t have any idea on how it all works.” He goes, “That’s okay. We’ll teach you. Can you come in tomorrow evening and you’ll sit with one of the other people and they’ll show you how to spin the discs?” And back then a disc jockey actually was a disc jockey. You would actually cue up the records on the turntable and that’s how the music was played over the radio. I went in for a couple of hours of training and I got the pattern down and they put me on the radio and for the next three or four months, I was on two nights a week. I think it was Saturday night and Sunday night I was on.
Interviewer: And what happened after that?
Shapiro: Well everybody kept telling me how well I was doing and I thought to myself, “Well if I’m doing that well, why can’t I go and try to get a paying job on one of the big radio stations here in town?” So that’s what I did. I went down to WCOL, put in my application and within a week or two they called me and I got hired. You never get hired to be a disc jockey right away. They bring you in and you’re like a gopher. Our job was on the…in the evenings after five o’clock to man the phone lines: news tips, lost dogs. The kids would call in and vote for their two favorite records. It was way before the age of computers so this is how the radio station was able to be in communication with their listeners. So I was a telephone operator on…in the evenings and on the weekends.
And after doing that for maybe three or four months, I…one Friday evening I said to the FM Program Director, Lou Henry who at the time was one of the big radio disc jockeys here in town on the AM station, I said to Lou, “Hey when am I going to get my chance to go on the radio?” And Lou said, “Be back tonight at midnight”. So I came back that night at about 11:00-11:15 and I’m nervous, very nervous to go on the radio, on the big radio station, the one that was the popular FM station in town at the time. And I went in and I talked with Mike Adams who was one of the disc jockeys that I used to emulate when I was still in school. And I had, now I had a chance to work with this fellow. He said, “Well what do you want to call yourself?” I said, “Well what do you mean? I never thought about that before.” He said, “You don’t want to call yourself your real name because what these people will do is they’ll look up your name in the phone book and they’ll call you at home so we need to think of another name for yourself.” Well his real name was Terrence Hackney but he went by Mike Adams. No one in the radio business ever used their real name, I should say 95%, they always had some sort of a moniker that they came up with. So he said, “What’s your middle name?” I went, “Martin”. He goes, “Great, you’ll be Neal Martin”. And that was the beginning and that was in the early days of FM Radio in Columbus in 1972.
Interviewer: How long did you do that?
Shapiro: I did it from 1972 through 1977. I left for a few years and went and did other endeavors and came back in the mid-80s and I went back on the radio again for three or four years on the AM radio side and then I got into the advertising sales for the radio station.
Interviewer: Same radio station?
Shapiro: The same radio station. But I had gone to the AM side now as a disc jockey on the AM side rather than the FM. The FM side changed their format to something that I really did not want to do. But the AM was doing the “oldies but goodies” at the time which was the music that I grew up with and I was working with some of the disc jockeys that I used to listen to when I was a kid. So it was really a cool situation to be working with these guys that as a kid you listened to.
Interviewer: Who were those guys?
Shapiro: Wes Hopkins was the big one. He was “Mama’s Fat Boy Wes” and he was the Number 1 AM disc jockey in Columbus in the 60s. So it was really good to work with Lou Henry or I mean with Wes Hopkins. He was my buddy. He’s passed away at this point in time though.
Interviewer: What other disc jockeys did you work with?
Shapiro: Oh Mike Adams who was a big guy. And Mike just retired just a year or two ago. He was the Chairman of the Speech Department at San Jose State University Speech and Film Department. He was the Chairman of the Department. I worked with him for many years but over the years I worked with all of these superstars that I used to listen to as a kid. Even some of the news men, you know, made it to some of the big times, you know. A lot of them I’ve seen on CNN or the Money Channel or something along these lines. They had graduated from the radio business to television at this point, at that point in time.
Interviewer: Are any of these fellows still around?
Shapiro: Ummm, yeah there’s some of them that are still around, you know. But most of them are probably retired at this point in time because they were a lot older than I was. So, yeah I’m sure that, Johnny Hill was another big one. Roger Horning, Bryan MacIntyre, Bob Allen. They’re still around but I’d have to really try to find them. They’re not around here anymore. They’ve moved on.
Interviewer: Is that Bob Allen the piano player?
Shapiro: No it’s a different Bob Allen. His name was, his real name was Robert Roniak, Robert Allen Roniak. But he didn’t want to be Bob Roniak, he was, it made it a lot easier for people to remember your name just to have something that was very simple and easy to remember.
Interviewer: What other kinds of things do you remember doing as far as the radio is concerned?
Shapiro: Oh there were so many types of promotions that we had. I remember one promotion that we were going to go to the Zoo and have WCOL Day at the Zoo. So two weeks previous to going to the Zoo, our Promotions Director, she was a Vice President of WCOL, Sharon Devore, told us that we were going to be going out to the Zoo in the next couple of days with our photographer, Jeff Borden, to take publicity shots of the disc jockeys with different animals at the Zoo and that they would print these pictures up so that when we went back to the Zoo for WCOL Day, we would have something to autograph for the people that came out to the Zoo that day. One guy got a parrot. One guy got a boa constrictor. One of the other guys got in the Petting Zoo. But when it came time for me to have my picture taken with one of the animals, at the time the Zoo Director was Jack Hanna. He was the Director at that time. He said to me, “I want you to get in there with that kangaroo. Go stand next to the kangaroo and we’ll take your picture.” Well as I’m moving over to stand next to the kangaroo, out of the corner of my eye I could see this other kangaroo hopping over to, he was obvious, it was a he and he was curious to find out what, who I was. Well we did not know at the time, Jack might have known that the kangaroo that…they wanted me to go stand next to was a female. So the male kangaroo saw me as a threat to him and he tried to attack me.
Shapiro: And he knocked me on my, off of my feet and Jack Hanna had to get in between us with a big wooden pole and sort of like fend off the kangaroo. And it was just, it was a crazy, tumultuous time and a couple of years ago we had a WCOL reunion and Sharon Wilkin, Sharon Devore, came up from her retirement home in Florida and she sought me out at the meeting, at the reunion. She goes, “Neal I just got to tell you that the story with the kangaroo is by far the greatest story that I tell to my friends today when they ask me about my days in the radio business.” It was just a crazy time and it was just a very interesting happening to me, to be attacked by a kangaroo. They’re dangerous.
Interviewer: I know. I’ve heard. And I’ll bet you that’s a story you won’t forget either.
Shapiro: I’ll never forget that story of being attacked by a kangaroo at the Columbus Zoo.
Interviewer: Were there any other interesting things that happened?
Shapiro: Oh, you know, as a disc jockey I got to meet all sorts of incredibly famous people. You know, movie stars, music stars, Paul McCartney, Roger Daltry. I met all of the big rock stars of the time and even I got to meet some big movie stars. Richard Harris was one of the guys I got to meet. There’s just so many over the course of the years that you got a chance to interact with because you were on the radio. You know this was in the days before Cable TV. So before Cable TV came into existence, radio was a lot bigger than it is today. Now people, they can go and get one of a hundred channels on their television. You know, back in the day it was three. You know, 4, 6, 10 and Channel 34. So you had four channels and, you know, they didn’t even broadcast all night. They went off at midnight or after Johnny Carson was over, that was it. So the radio was a lot bigger back in the 70s and the 80s than it is today.
Interviewer: What would you like to tell people about you, something that maybe they don’t know?
Shapiro: Well, you know, back in the early days of FM radio, rock music was just becoming more popular. WCOL FM, originally in the early days FM radio was like the stepchild of radio. AM was the big station. AM garnered, at least WCOL radio AM garnered 60% of the listening audience in the central Ohio area, a little AM radio station. And the FM came into being but on FM were the preachers and the beautiful music. It was sort of like a stepchild. But the radio owners saw FM as this whole new way of getting to a bigger audience. Number one for the fidelity ’cause you could broadcast in stereo and it wouldn’t be hampered by atmospheric conditions like AM radio is hampered by weather. FM is not and it’s a much clearer, stronger signal than they could ever get out of WCOL AM. The FM channel was 50,000 watts and it would go out for 50 or 60 miles where the AM radio station, you know, in the evening time it was only 250 watts and they were lucky to reach Morse Road at night. So they could see that the FM was going to be the up-and-coming medium of the future.
But they had already signed all of these big contracts with these preachers because in the early days before cable was invented, that’s how the preachers got their ministry across to the people in the general public was through FM radio. They would buy blocks of time and back then the blocks of time were relatively inexpensive on FM compared to AM. But over the time FM became more popular and these preachers could not afford the time any more. But the owners of the radio stations saw these huge, huge dollars that they could garner by now selling contemporary music on FM. So half of the day they would play the preachers who were protesting the Devil’s music, and at the night it was sort of like the opposite. They were playing the Devil’s music. They were playing the Devil’s advocate. So it was pretty strange that during the day they had the preachers against the music but at night they were playing the music. But slowly but surely they kicked back the hours of the preachers and sent them off to something else and saw the potential of the big dollars on the FM radio. So finally after a couple of years it went to FM radio rock music around the clock. And that was a really big to-do back in 1974-’75 that now COL FM would play 24 hours of rock music.
Interviewer: What is your favorite kind of music?
Shapiro: Well I like the what, now they would call it classic rock. But back in the day, it was the new music, you know, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, that, those are my favorite types of music. What they have out today, the rap music and things like that, it’s an art form but to me it’s not music. I like the classic rock from the 60s and 70s. Sixties and seventies were my favorite. I have an IPOD at home with 1800 songs on it and not one of the songs is newer than, I’d say, ’76-’77. It’s all stuff that I grew up with and like.
Interviewer: Good. Tell me something about your family.
Shapiro: I’m the oldest of four children. I have a younger brother Todd. I have two sist—, I had two sisters. One has passed several years ago from cancer. My brother lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I have a sister who lives here in Columbus.
Interviewer: What’s her name?
Shapiro: Nina, Nina Golden. And my father has remarried since my mother’s passed away and I have two stepsisters, or two sisters I should say, Rhonda Schottenstein and Sari Allefeld. Rhonda lives here in Columbus and Sari is in Atlanta, Georgia.
Interviewer: What’s your brother’s name, the one that lives in Columbus?
Shapiro: My brother’s name is Todd. He’s two years younger than me.
Interviewer: And you have a daughter, I know.
Shapiro: I have a daughter. She’s 20 years old, Allie. A graduate of Bexley High School and she’s going to be a junior at Miami University, Ohio.
Interviewer: You look like you’re very proud of her.
Shapiro: Absolutely. She wants to be a doctor so we’re hoping to get her to that level. So far, so good.
Interviewer: What was your mother’s first name?
Shapiro: Carol, Carol Levy. She was from the New York-New Jersey area. That’s where she grew up, in Rahway, New Jersey.
Interviewer: And your father.
Shapiro: He’s from Bridgeport, Conn—, well he grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut but I think he was born in Northampton, Massachusetts. His mother’s family is quite a big family from Lithuania. I was fortunate enough a couple of years ago to be able to go to the reunion in Northampton, Massachusetts where there were several hundred people. It’s a very large family. They came over I think during the turn of the century and their name was Ogus, O-G-U-S. But when they got to Ellis Island, you know, whoever was sitting at the desk at Ellis Island changed the name from Ogus to August, like the month. You need a good American name so they made it August. And there’s a huge contingent of the August family back on the east coast in the Massachusetts area.
Interviewer: Have you ever looked up the ship manifest or anything for your grandparents and find out about that name?
Shapiro: No. I have a cousin, one of the Oguses, who did just that. And he even went back to the Old Country to document it for all of us that were at the reunion, he went and did a lot of investigations as to the family history.
Interviewer: And you found, did he find the ship manifest?
Shapiro: That I don’t know.
Shapiro: I don’t know.
Interviewer: Because I would venture to guess the name wasn’t August on there. It was probably the original name…
Interviewer: that was changed after they came here.
Shapiro: Right, right, when they got to Ellis Island it was changed.
Shapiro: Yeah, yeah, yeah, when they came off the boat.
Interviewer: Not off the boat. They would have the same name. But somewhere in between the time…
Interviewer: …they emigrated here, maybe between that and the time they got their first papers they may have changed the name.
Shapiro: Right. Yeah. The exact story of how, of how it, who really knows what, you know…
Interviewer: Yeah. Do you know what your mother’s maiden name was?
Shapiro: Levy. I think my grandfather Levy was from the Atlanta, Georgia area. I don’t really have any information because he died when I was a very small child. I’d love to get the information ’cause, you know, I don’t know much about everyone else except my father’s mother’s side of the family. Not much about his, my grandfather, although I do know that he was raised in London, England. My grandfather Shapiro came from London, England.
Interviewer: And do you know your grandmother Shapiro’s maiden name?
Interviewer: That was the Ogus?
Shapiro: Ogus, right.
Shapiro: Yeah Freda Ogus, Ogus-August, right.
Interviewer: But both of your parents were born in this country?
Shapiro: Correct, right.
Interviewer: But your grandparents came you said from Lithuania?
Shapiro: Vilna Gubernia, Lithuania. That’s where my…the Ogus family came from, right. As far as the Shapiros, I know that my grandfather came from London but where before that, I’m sure it’s…it was…they didn’t start in London.
Interviewer: How about your mother’s?
Shapiro: Well I know that my mother’s mother, my grandmother, she was born in Kiev, Russia. That’s where my maternal grandparents came from, Kiev, Russia. And their name in America was Kawut. Now…
Interviewer: Do you want to spell that?
Shapiro: I think it’s, I, this is going to be a guess, K-A-W-U-T, Kawut. I’m guessing. I still have some cousins, my mother was an only child but she has some cousins and I, I was, you know, fascinated to ask them can they give me any of the information ’cause I know that they’re from Kiev, Russia.
Interviewer: Okay. And do you know where their port of entry was? You don’t know?
Shapiro: Thinking back it was, I’m sure that a lot of them came through New York.
Interviewer: Did you ever hear any stories that your mother and father told when they were young?
Shapiro: Yeah my father, he would tell a lot of stories about the big family gatherings in Northampton, Massachusetts. His mother was one of ten or twelve children and she was the oldest so my father has, he had, a lot of them have probably passed away, dozens of first cousins. And talking about the holidays, going to North- ampton, Massachusetts to the farm as they would call it, where my great-grandfather would butcher his own meat and thing, and you know, provided for themselves with this huge family in Northampton, Massachusetts. They were a big family there and one of my uncles had a big restaurant in Northampton, Massachusetts, very well known in that area. And there’s still today a lot of them in that area, the Northampton area.
Interviewer: Do you know the name of the restaurant?
Shapiro: Jack August’s Seafood or something along, Jack August’s something, Fish House or something like that. But it’s long gone but it was a very popular place, you know, back I think in the 30s, 40,s 50s, whatever it might have been.
Interviewer: Do you ever remember any stories that they told you about your mother’s side?
Shapiro: My grandmother told me the story that they went back to the Old Country to visit her grandparents in Kiev, Russia. And while they were there, the Czar was killed. And in the darkness of night, they had to sneak out of Russia so they could get back to the United States without having to be there during the first World War.
And she talked about that where in the middle of the night, they got in a boat and crossed the river and got out to a place where they could embark from the Old Country back to the United States.
Interviewer: Do you know what happened to your grandparents?
Shapiro: My, it would, well they got, well that was my grandmother and her parents, they got out all right. But as far as other cousins and whatnot over there I don’t have, you know, any, there’s nothing that I can see or that I’ve ever found out. Although it would be very interesting to try to get that information. I’m fascinated with that kind of stuff.
Interviewer: Do you know the names of your aunts and uncles?
Shapiro: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: You parents’ siblings?
Shapiro: Oh yeah. Well my mother didn’t have any siblings.
Interviewer: She was an only child?
Shapiro: She was an only child. My father has an older brother and an older sister. My Uncle Milton lives in Palm Desert, California and my Aunt Charlotte lives in Connecticut near, in the Bridgeport area. My uncle’s sort of an interesting character. His name is Milton Shepard and I often asked him, you know, wanted to ask him why is it Shepard and I never really got to ask him but I found out a few years ago why he changed his name to Shepard. He wanted to break into the retail garment industry in New York but I’m, I found out that in the 20s and the 30s that there was a gangster who was getting the textile workers banded into a union and his name was Shapiro and he was once starting the textile workers union so he was the enemy of the owners of these, of the garment industry because he was organizing the textile workers for a union which the owners of the textile companies didn’t want to hear. So all the doors were closed to my uncle because they heard “Shapiro” and they knew that this was the guy who was organizing the workers against them so he changed his name so he was able to get a job, Milton Shepard.
Interviewer: What about your aunt’s name?
Shapiro: Charlotte Singer, Charlotte Singer. She was married to an American guy, Sol Singer. I’ve got two cousins. Michael lives in Florida. My cousin Bobby still lives in the Bridgeport, Connecticut area.
Interviewer: They’re both Singers, last name?
Shapiro: They’re both Singer, right.
Interviewer: Did your parents ever tell you how they met?
Shapiro: At the University of Miami in Florida. They were both students down there and they met going to college in Florida.
Interviewer: And the Shoe Corp is what brought them here to Columbus?
Shapiro: Right, my dad was working for Shoe Corporation of America. He was doing something in the shoe business in Bridgeport, Connecticut and I think he got a new job working for Shoe Corporation of America in Bamberger’s Department Store. That was sort of big on the East Coast. And he was hired to be the manager of the Shoe Department at one of the Bamberger stores. I remember Paramus, Plainfield and Newark. These are all names that I’m just, and he was the manager of these different shoe departments within Bamberger’s.
Then after several years, the company asked him to come to the corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio and that’s how we got here. And I can remember going to our dentist in New Jersey right before we came here and he gave my mother the Sear’s Catalog. And she said, “What’s that for?” And he goes, “Well you’re going out in the middle of nowheresville. If you want to get something, you’re going to have to mail order it.” Which she goes, “You’re kidding me. Is it that bad?” I think it was more of a joke than anything else because back then, Columbus, Ohio was, you know, in the middle of nowhere. Today it’s a thriving metropolis but back in 1960, you know, it was a blip, you know, on the radar screen compared to the New Jersey area.
Interviewer: I know you were married Neal. Do you want to talk about that?
Shapiro: That’s fine. Yeah I was married to a lady from Columbus and we were married for seven or eight years. We had a child. My daughter Allie was born in April of 1990. Then in January of 1996 my wife was killed in an automobile accident not very far from where we are today and I became a single parent and raised a girl on my own, not knowing what to do. You’re thrown into this situation and you make the best of it. But everything seemed to have worked out OK. I just feel bad for my child as she really never got to know her mother. My mother died when I was 22, from cancer. She was only 43 but at least I got to know her, you know. My daughter, she’s grown up, you know, 75% of her life not knowing her mother and that’s a difficult pill to swallow for a child.
Interviewer: What was her name?
Interviewer: What was her maiden name?
Shapiro: Russell. She wasn’t Jewish but she was in the middle of conversion when this all happened.
Interviewer: So you’ve raised your daughter all by yourself?
Shapiro: All by myself, right. But it was a fulfilling experience because I did something right.
Interviewer: You certainly did.
Shapiro: Let’s put it that way, something right. You know I can remember going with my grandparents, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and my mother on the maternal side, going into New York to do different kinds of things. Well you may know about this, Space Shoes, the custom-made shoes. I can remember as a little boy going with them into New York City where they would put their feet in the plaster and they would make them an actual pair of shoes. They were the ugliest things ever to be on earth but they loved them because they were so comfortable. Even remembering the old days of going to the butcher to watch them, you know, do the chickens. I went with my, you know, my great-grandmother. We walked in, they would, chhhht, you know, they would make the chicken, the kosher chickens.
Interviewer: And that was in…
Shapiro: In New Jersey.
Interviewer: New Jersey?
Shapiro: In New Jersey, yeah. Yeah, this is going way back in the 50s. ‘Cause I came here in 1960. My grandparents in New Jersey were in the soda fountain business. They had a, like a soda fountain and they lived right above it. That’s, you know, that’s the way it was. They owned a soda fountain and they lived up above in an apartment where my mother grew up in New Jersey. Her parents were always working so they had a woman who lived with them, like a nanny but it was an elderly lady who didn’t have any family, never got married, never had any children and my grandmother had known her for years and they just said to her, “Would you like to live with us?” And they obviously helped to raise my mother while the parents were doing their thing downstairs in the soda fountain.
Interviewer: And what are you doing now? I know you’re no longer a disc jockey.
Shapiro: Right, I’m the Commercial Sales Manager at Ricart Ford. I’ve been doing that for about seventeen years now. The radio business has changed completely from what it used to be. We had full artistic freedom. I could play any song I wanted to play, if it was Frank Sinatra, if it was B. B. King, the Beatles or any kind of music, we could have played it because in our studio we had three thousand record albums and I could play any one of the three thousand songs I wanted to. It was not a set list. Today that’s what they have. They tell the disc jockeys what to say and what to play. Back then it was total artistic freedom, which they’ve taken away. Because most radio stations want to broadcast to the lowest common denominator to try to garner the largest audience they can. So almost every station playing the same music. There’s no deviation, there’s no freedom any more to do what we did back then.
So I’m not enamored with getting into something where it’s totally controlled by what the sales department thinks they can sell. It’s not art any more and a lot of my friends that are still in the radio business agree with me wholeheartedly that it’s not the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago. They all are looking for the same piece of pie and they’re just making it smaller because they’re all doing the same type of programming. I listen to satellite radio ’cause they have that artistic freedom to do whatever they want to play. That’s what I’m listening to and I enjoy it.
Interviewer: Okay. Was the disc jockey work at the radio station your first job?
Interviewer: What was your first job?
Shapiro: My first job was working at one of the shoe stores that my father, he worked for Shoe Corporation of America. Back then it was Schiff Shoes. So that’s not my first job. My first job was probably selling hot dogs at Ohio State University football games. But my first real job in the business world was selling shoes on the weekends at Schiff Shoes downtown, 97 North High Street, where on Saturdays I would get on the bus in the morning and take the bus ride downtown to Broad and High and get off and walk up two or three blocks to 97 North High where I was, it was a rude awakening to sell shoes in the middle of downtown Columbus for a 12 or 13-year-old guy. And I got a, you know, it was a big education with the clientele downtown. It was, it was interesting.
Interviewer: You were 12 years old?
Shapiro: Twelve or 13, yeah. Back then you could work if you had a work permit so I went and got a work permit through the Columbus Public Schools. Only one day a week, Saturdays. I would go on Saturdays and then as I got older I worked more. And during the summertime I obviously would work more. But then they sent me to Town and Country Shopping Center and I remember riding my bike during the summer to go to work at Town and Country Shopping Center. And then a new thing opened up, Eastland Shopping Center. And Eastland Shopping Center was going to have Gallencamp Shoes, which is what, they changed the name from Schiff to Gallencamp and I worked at Gallencamp Shoes at Eastland Shopping Center for several years, you know, while I was still going to high school.
Interviewer: How much did you earn from it?
Shapiro: You know I, 90 cents an hour, a dollar. I forget but it wasn’t very much but, you know, back then it was a lot. You know, a couple of bucks an hour I thought I was swinging, living high.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Shapiro: But it was enough for a young kid and, you know, and I made my own money, you know, working, 13 years old. You know, if I made, you know, a couple of hundred dollars a month, I was lucky but that’s all you needed. That was my spending money. I never really went to my parents for spending money ’cause I enjoyed making my own and being able to go and buy what I wanted to.
Interviewer: You never served in the service or anything?
Shapiro: No I, when I got out of high school it was the Viet Nam…the height of the Viet Nam era and my…I did not want to go to Viet Nam. So I went to Ohio State University. Obviously I got a student deferment. But my cousin Michael Singer in Connecticut, he joined the Marine Reserves. He was a couple of years older than me and he told me, we were visiting the East Coast one time. He said to my father and I, he said, “Uncle Bernie, you should have Neal join the Marine Reserves”. And my father looked at him and said, “Are you crazy? Are you nuts Michael?”
So I never really got a chance to serve in the Army or the armed forces but I think that it was something that I missed out on. It taught a lot of my contemporaries who did get into the service a lot about life that perhaps I missed out on by not being in the service. But at the time it was the Viet Nam War so I did not participate. But I remember them having the draft. They reinstated the draft when I was 18, 17 or 18 shortly after I went to Selective Service to sign up. You had to sign up for Selective Service and I think my number came out to be 316 out of 365. So I got some information from one of my buddies. He goes, “Neal, you’re 316. They’re going to start at Number 1 and work their way up the numbers until they fulfill their draft.” He goes, “You’re at 316, you know. Unless there’s something that really goes bad, there’s no way they’re going to get to 316. What you should do is you should drop your student deferment, go 1-A for one year and if you’re 1-A for one year and they don’t call you, you drop down to even a lower status than a student deferment.”
So that’s what I did. I said I’ll drop my student deferment. It was a gamble. And after the one year I wasn’t called so I dropped down into a program where I would have probably never been called unless it was something really, really terrible was going on. So I was able to get out of that. But I think that it was probably a mistake, not a mistake, but I missed out on something by not being in the service ’cause there’s a lot of people like Phil. Was he in?
Shapiro: Yeah most of those guys were in. And it helped. It taught them a lot about life and it made them grow up very fast.
Interviewer: Yes it does.
Shapiro: So I think I missed out on that. I would have enjoyed it.
Interviewer: Or not.
Shapiro: Or not, right.
Interviewer: Have you ever taken a interest in any community work things, you know…
Shapiro: Yeah I’m going to be the Brotherhood Chair—, Brotherhood President at Agudas Achim beginning in a few weeks and I’m also the Men’s Chairman of the Chevra Kadisha…
Shapiro: …at Agudas Achim.
Interviewer: That’s important.
Interviewer: That’s good to know. What got you interested in that?
Shapiro: I don’t know. I don’t know what moved me to do so but it just was something within me. But (Indistinct) said, “You should be involved in something, you know, whether it’s the Brotherhood or, but just get involved with something. And I remember they had a meeting maybe three or four years ago. Sandy Lichtenstein asked about people who wanted to serve on the Cemetery Committee. And I said, you know, “I’ll find out about this”. So I went to an organizational meeting at the synagogue and there were maybe 10 or 15-20 people at the meeting and they were trying to organize the Chevra Kadisha which Agudas Achim never really had as far as I can tell, the group that would actually perform the taharas. It was always done by someone else and they wanted to institute their own Chevra Kadisha.
And I went to this meeting and someone stood up and they started to tell what was entailed. And someone at the table said, “You might as well stop ’cause no one here is interested in that.” I stood up and I said, “Wait a minute. Don’t speak for everybody. Continue. I’m interested.” And they continued and they, you know, what was entailed and I said, “I’m interested. I’ll do it.” And they, “Huhhhhhh”, you know. They were all aghast. “Why would you want to do something like that?” “Well because it’s been going on for thousands of years. Someone’s got to do it. Someone’s going to have the stomach to do it. You may not have the wherewithal to do something like that but I, I could.” And so that’s what, I’ve been doing it now for two or three years.
Interviewer: Good for you. Do you have any hobbies?
Shapiro: I like to run. I’m a runner. I try to run almost every day, three miles. I’m a 5K runner, 5 kilometer. I try to do three or four races during the course of the year, just in the Bexley area. Just the other day was the Jack Roth Memorial Run. I’ll do the Fourth of July Run for the City of Bexley. And then I’ll do the Mark Levison Run which will be later on in the year. But I do three or four races a year. I try to keep fit by doing that.
Interviewer: That’s good. Do you have any other interests?
Shapiro: You know, just raising my daughter because that’s a full-time occupation in itself, doing it by yourself and trying to maintain a household and working and things along those lines. So I don’t have much time for anything else.
Interviewer: How did you raise a daughter? It’s difficult for a father to raise a daughter alone.
Shapiro: You know…
Interviewer: Did you have, what did you use as, to guide you?
Shapiro: I used my mother as a guide. You know, she was great, you know. My friends loved her. She was the Number 1 mother because she got involved with the kids and she was able to talk to the kids and they saw something in her that they probably didn’t see in their own parents, you know. Here’s this hip woman that everybody could relate to. And so I took what I learned from her and from my grandmother. She moved from New Jersey to live with us after several years. ‘Cause my mother being an only child, when they moved to Ohio, my grand-mother, her husband had died and she wanted to be near her family. So when my parents bought a new home in the Eastmoor area, that had the extra bedroom. My grandmother Rose came to live with us. And she was quite cool, you know. Everybody, we called her “Nannie” and all my friends, you know, my brother and sister’s friends would call her “Nannie”. She was a hip person as well, you know, always involved with her grandchildren, you know. That’s what she lived for. She didn’t work. She lived with us and she helped my mother to make the household a place that we wanted to be.
Interviewer: Okay, somebody good to emulate.
Shapiro: Right, I had those two to emulate, correct. And besides that, you know, a lot of my friends, my good friends, their wives would help me out when there were things that obviously a man could not do for a woman. I would ask questions: “Well can you help me?” and they filled in and helped me a lot. Lisa Carroll was very big in helping me to raise my daughter Allie.
Interviewer: Well good. And I’m sure your daughter Allie…
Shapiro: Oh right, oh yes, definitely. She, in fact, Lisa has gone to Miami to Mother’s Weekend with Allie and her sorority, which was great.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Is there anything unusual, other than the things that you told me about that has occurred in your adult life that you would like to talk about?
Shapiro: Oh there’s just so many, you know, being involved with the radio. I got to meet and do all sorts of great things with people that you, you know, it’s like Entertain-ment Tonight. I’ve lived it, you know, I have million dollar memories that I’ll have for the rest of my life and the stories.
Interviewer: Want to share some?
Shapiro: Oh…umm…I can, yeah, I could do that. On the radio we gave away tickets to go see Led Zeppelin which was a big rock group in the 60s and the 70s. We gave away tickets to go to see Led Zeppelin in Cleveland at the Richfield Colosseum with a limousine ride to and from the concert. We gave the tickets away to a young guy and we told him to meet us a particular day and we’re going to get in a limo and we’re going to drive to Cleveland to see the show. Well he came to the radio station dressed up in a suit and a tie and his girlfriend had on a prom dress. They were totally out of sync to what we were going to be attending. So we, we told him, “You got to take the tie off because you’re going to a rock concert with one of the most famous rock bands of all time. You can’t go in a coat and a tie. You’re going to have to casual it up a little bit.”
Well we got…we took this limousine up to Cleveland, we arrived at the Richfield Colosseum. It was a two or three hour ride and after the ride up to the concert, some of the girls said, “Oh we want to go to the restroom.” One of the guys said, “Well we’re going to go and get a drink,” and what have you. So one of the other fellows and I went to go find our seats. ‘Cause he told us we had great seats ’cause he worked for the record company, the record label, and the label had given us these tickets, the good seats. So we worked our way down to the main floor at the Richfield Colosseum and about 20 rows back there was a fire aisle, you know, a space between the sections that in case of a catastrophe or a fire or what have you, there were room for people to leave, to exit.
Well we got to this one area and this one security guard said, “Hey fellows, let me see your tickets”. We showed him the tickets. He goes, “These tickets are no good. They’re counterfeit.” Well the fellow from the record company went, “No they’re not. I’m the Vice President of the record company. I can tell you right now these tickets are good.” He showed him his credentials. The security guard said, “Well wait a minute”. He brought over his supervisor. The supervisor looked at the tickers. He said, “No they’re perfectly good tickets. Let me show you to your seats.” I was in the seventh row, dead center. So about ten minutes, twenty minutes till eight, the show’s going to start at 8:00, I said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going to go get a drink, I’m going to go to the restroom, I’ll be right back.” I run up, go to the restroom, get a drink and as I’m coming back the lights in the auditorium went dark because it was time for the show to start.
Well when the lights went off, the crowd started to whoop and holler. I tried to scurry back to my seat. I got back to the same checkpoint where we were stopped the first time around and there’s another guy standing there. He says, “Let me see your ticket.” I showed him my ticket. He said, “No, man, this ticket’s no good”. “What are you talking about?” and there’s a lot of noise and commotion going on in the auditorium because the crowd is going nuts because the group is about to start and there’s all this whoop and hollering. He goes, “No man this ticket is no good”. And he calls over the deputy sheriff and I get arrested for having a counterfeit ticket.
Interviewer: Oh my goodness.
Shapiro: They take me to a staging area in the basement of the Colosseum where they’re getting ready to process all of these people that they think they’re going to be arrested during the course of the show for one reason or another: underage drinking, possession of illegal substances, whatever it might be, drunk and disorderly, whatever it might be. I’m the first one in the staging area. The music has not even started yet. Well they sit me down, “Sit right there kid”. I said, “Well wait a minute. I came in a limousine. We had special tickets from the group.” “Yeah sure kid, uh huh, right. We hear that all the time.” But it was the truth but they didn’t want to hear anything about it.
Well now I could hear, you could hear the music starting to start ’cause you could feel the vibrations. Well I know the music concert’s started and I’m in this holding cell and sure enough, over the course of the next couple of hours they started to arrest a lot of people and before I know it, the music stopped and they had us all sitting along the wall by one of these big garage doors. And you knew the concert was over because we could hear cars starting on the other side of the garage door from where we were. The show’s over. And the whole time I’m telling them, “Listen I came in a limousine. I’m a radio disc jockey from Columbus. We had special seats,” this, that. They didn’t want to hear from it. They thought it was just another story and they didn’t care. Well finally they said, “Okay, everybody stand up”. We stood up, the garage door opened up and there was a moving truck like a box truck and they said, “Okay, get in the back of the box truck”. We got in the back of the box truck, the door closed and we’re off.
The next thing we know, we’re at the Summit County Jail in downtown Akron at like 11:30-12:00 at night and I’m in the back of this van with 20 or 30 other kids. Well they took us out of the back of the van and they put four or five of us in one-man cells ’cause they were so overwhelmed. They never expected to arrest 50-60 people, whatever it was. So they were unprepared, so they put four or five of us in a one-man cell. Well at about 2:30 in the morning, I had fallen asleep in this cell. They were pushing me. “Okay, it’s your turn. Step up to the window.” I step up the window and they said to me, “Hand us your belt and your shoelaces”. I said, “My belt and my shoelaces? What’s that for?” “We don’t want you to hang yourself tonight in jail.” “Hang myself? What would I hang myself for?” You know, they arrested me for disorderly conduct. They said, “Well you don’t have any money. You got to spend the night in jail.” I went, “I’ve got money”. You know at the time they wanted my driv—, I didn’t bring a drivers license. I didn’t drive.
So they figured I didn’t have any money. I said, “I’ve got money”. They said, “You do?” “Yeah.” “How much do you have?” I might have had $70-80 in my pocket, $100 in my pocket. They said, “Well your bond is fifty bucks”. I gave them the fifty bucks. They said to be back at court at 8:30 in the morning. Eight thirty in the morning. I’m in Akron, Ohio, it’s 3:30 in the morning. I walked out of the jail. I looked up and down the road in the middle of downtown Akron. It’s desolate. I saw Holiday Inn. I walked down to the Holiday Inn and I explained to the desk, the night clerk, what was going on. He goes, “I’ll tell you what, I’m going to cut you a break. I’ll give you a room for twenty-nine bucks.” ‘Cause I had to be at court in five hours.
Well I went up to the room. I used the telephone to call back to the radio station to the special line that rang directly into the control room and the guy on duty, I said to him, “What’s…where did everybody go?” “Oh Neal they’ve been back for hours. They figured that you found another woman over there and you went with her.” “No man, I got arrested.” “What?” And I told him the story. I said, “Man I’ll be back later. I have got to go to court at 8:30 in the morning. I’m going to try to get a ride back to Columbus, okay?” So I went to court and I’m sitting next to all these kids that I was in jail with the night before. They’d probably spent the whole night in jail because they didn’t have the money to get out. They didn’t have the bond money. Well the one fellow sitting next to me, he goes, “Hey aren’t you Neal from the radio station?” I went, “Yeah I am”. He goes, “Oh man I listen to you all the time.” “Well how did you get here?” “I got my car.” “What do you mean you got your car?” “Well my car, my uncle’s here. He took us to the show. But my car is at his house and I’m going to drive back to Columbus.” I said, “Can you give me?” and he said, “Yeah I can give you a ride.”
Well I saw all these kids pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct or whatever it was and they got a $50 fine. So I decided rather than to fight city hall, I’ll plead guilty to $50 and I’m out and I can get back to work. Well that’s what happened. I pled guilty, it cost me fifty bucks, the money I put up for the bond. We drove back to Columbus and I asked the fellows that were there with me at the show, “Why did you leave me?” “Well we thought you found another girl.” “What do you mean another girl?” I brought to the show my friend who was a Hustler centerfold. Do you think…what better am I going to do in Cleveland than having Miss May from Hustler Magazine?” “Well I guess you’re right.” “But you guys didn’t even try to look for me to find out if I got sick or this or that? Nothing?” “No, no, we knew you’d be okay. We didn’t realize you got arrested.” Well as the story turns, I called the president of the record company and told him what happened. He goes, “You’re kidding me”. He’s still around. He’s still a big wig in the record, the music industry. He goes, “You’re kidding me”. I go, “No, no. If you want to you can call Mike, the vice president that was with us at the show and he’ll tell you that’s exactly what happened.”
Well sure enough he verified the story. He called me back and he goes, “Neal, how can we make it up to you?” I said, “I don’t know. I missed the whole show.” He goes, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. They’re going to be playing in Madison Square Garden in three weeks. How about if I give you four tickets for the show, give you airplane fare and put you up for two nights at a hotel. Would that satisfy you?” I said, “Yeah absolutely”. So that’s what he did. They gave me a hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria for two nights, four tickets for the show at Madison Square Garden and an airplane ticket. I went to New York and I called up my fraternity brothers from Ohio State, said, “Guys, we’re having a party. Come on and join me.” So that’s what I did. We saw Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Garden in 1975. It was great.
Interviewer: That’s a neat story.
Shapiro: What a story, yeah.
Interviewer: And never filed false arrest charges?
Shapiro: Nah, I decided to let it go.
Shapiro: It’s really not worth it. I’m sure that if I went back to the records in Akron, Summit County, it’s still on the record. I never even got it expunged, never even got it expunged. I just went with it. It’s just water under the bridge, just another one of the rock and roll experiences that I was able to have.
Interviewer: That’s quite an experience.
Interviewer: Does religion play an important part in your life?
Shapiro: Yes it does, although I’m not as religious as some people. You know, we’re living in a society today where, you know, people are becoming a little bit less religious than they were say fifty or sixty years ago and it’s just because of the conditions we’re living in. We’re living in a time where everything goes by so quickly that, and we’re so involved with so many other different types of things that weren’t even in existence fifty and sixty years ago. And some people, a lot of people are drifting away from their being very religious, although it plays a big part in my life. You know, it’s, I’m probably not as religious as my great-grandparents were who, at the time, they were probably kosher and…but we seem to have drifted away from it.
Interviewer: Do you have a favorite holiday that maybe revolves around it?
Interviewer: Or any holiday?
Shapiro: I like the High Holidays.
Shapiro: Just because you get a chance to see the whole community and they come together for the purpose of praying and being together during the High Holidays. And that’s very fulfilling. And I’m an usher at the synagogue for the High Holidays and it just gives you a chance to see these people at least once a year. And I think that’s real important. And I try to instill upon my daughter, that’s why I’m volunteering to do these things with the Brotherhood, and the Chevra Kadisha, to try to show her that you have to not only take, but you have to give back as well. In my own small way, this is the way that I give back. I don’t go to services on a regular basis. I got too much going on that on my days off I need to do other things. Although I do try to go once in a while.
Interviewer: What has helped you get through the tough times?
Shapiro: Family, you know, knowing that you do have support from these people that are going to be there for you when you need them. Friend and family, friends and family. Although when push comes to shove, you’re going to know who your real friends are and who the ones that are just fly-by-night friends, you’ll know who they are too. And when you come up against an adversarial situation, your real friends will come to assist you and your family will come to assist you and that’s helped me to get through a lot of the tough times.
Interviewer: Are there any stories you’d like to tell that I’ve not asked you about?
Shapiro: Wow, I should have written down a lot of these things. I should have written these things before I came here today. Tell you what we could do. I could, you know, there, it’s just so many that I could, if you want to get together again, I could write a bunch of them, I could write down like real quick notes of what I’ve done, if that’s okay.
Interviewer: Sure, we could do that.
Interviewer: If you could give a message about life and love to your children or your daughter, or grandchildren in the generations to come, what would it be?
Shapiro: Life is short. It goes by very quickly. Do as much as you can while you have the opportunity and time to do so ’cause you never know what the next moment is going to be. I went to work on a Thursday knowing, you know, and everything was fine. And several hours later I got a visit from the Columbus Police Department telling me that my wife had been killed and that my daughter was in critical condition at Children’s Hospital. So, which wasn’t true, my wife being killed was but my daughter was not in critical condition. She was not injured but they had felt that from the severity of the accident that she had to be in bad shape. But thank God no, nothing happened at all, that she survived.
But that’s the message: make the most of the time that you have now. Don’t put off to tomorrow what you need to do today ’cause you are not guaranteed that tomorrow will come and be thankful that if your, if you have your health, that’s the most important thing in the world. Money does not do it. Money is nice for being able to go and do what you want to do with that money but the money will not buy your health. So being mentally and physically fit is a lot more important than being rich. And mentally rich and physically rich as far as your body and mind is a lot more important than the money. I’ve known too many people over the years who were very wealthy that died because they didn’t have the health. So no matter what it is, I’d rather be healthy than wealthy. ‘Cause as long as you’re healthy, you can still earn some money. But if you’re sick, the money’s not going to buy you health.
Interviewer: Good point.
Shapiro: One of the things that we did talk about a week or so ago when you and Toby and I first started talking. We, for the Jewish Historical Society, is that a lot of the early disc jockeys on the radio were Jewish, from this area, Don Gorman who was Charlotte Gorman, Charlotte Lazarus Gorman’s son, was one of the early disc jockeys. Kenny Stone from Bexley was an early disc jockey on the radio. Barry Goldberg who went by Barry Stewart was another early disk jockey on the radio station with me. They had the Sinton brothers from Upper Arlington. They’re Jewish. They were early disc jockeys in Columbus. So it’s pretty unique that a lot of the early disc jockeys on the FM radio here in Columbus were Jewish.
Interviewer: Are they still around?
Shapiro: Don Gorman is still around. He still lives in the Columbus area. The Goldberg brothers, I’m not sure where they are. Kenny Stone died a few years ago. The Sinton brothers, Cary lives in Dallas. He’s a voice-over artist. He does commercials, radio and TV commercials. His brother Steve is in Atlanta, Georgia. He had an unsuccessful run for Congress here two or three years ago. But it’s pretty interesting that within our little community here, on the FM radio, there were several Jewish disc jockeys. Although you would have never known unless you knew them ’cause the names, they all used a different name.
Interviewer: Just like you did?
Shapiro: Just like I did. There was an early guy on the TV here in Columbus, Earl Green, Earl Greenberg.
Interviewer: I remember him.
Shapiro: He was Jewish. So it’s amazing. People don’t know that these people were members of the Jewish community here in Columbus.
Interviewer: Right. On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for contributing to the Oral History Project. This concludes the interview.
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Transcribed by Honey Abramson
Proofread by Marvin Bonowitz
Checked by Toby Brief
Read by Neal Shapiro