By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
Jul 26, 2014 | 1:43 PM
Burton J. "Burt" Shapiro, who held various roles at WBJC-FM for more than 30 years and was a jazz and film expert, died July 20 of respiratory failure at Sinai Hospital. The longtime Pikesville resident was 68.
"Whatever Burt was interested in, his knowledge was comprehensive," said Jonathan Palevsky, WBJC-FM program director and part-time announcer. "His knowledge of the golden age of jazz was encyclopedic, as was his knowledge of classical music, film, baseball and sports. He was very well-versed in these areas."
The son of Joseph Shapiro, owner of Cambridge Iron and Metal Co., and Thelma Shapiro, a homemaker, Burton Jay Shapiro was born and raised in Baltimore. He graduated from City College in 1963.
In 1968, Mr. Burton earned a bachelor's degree in speech with an emphasis on radio and television and a minor in English from the University of Maryland, College Park.
He earned a master's degree in cinema studies at New York University in 1971 and a second master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1988.
Mr. Shapiro's passion for film began when he was growing up in Baltimore and saw "Rear Window," the Alfred Hitchcock classic thriller starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Stewart's character, who is in a wheelchair, looks across a courtyard into another apartment and witnesses what he thinks is a murder.
"That was the first important movie for me," Mr. Shapiro told The Baltimore Sun in a 2001 interview. "That was the movie that brought out the magic. … It showed me I could really be moved [by film], that it was a medium as strong as prose for telling a story."
"He was introduced to film at an early age and began, as a young adult, to keep records of each film he saw, not just the titles or actors but the directors as well as his own rating system," said his wife of 17 years, the former Sandra Block. "He had tallied 11,000 films at last count."
Mr. Shapiro carefully recorded his film records on 4-by-6 note cards.
He told The Sun in 2001 that he had seen "Citizen Kane" 23 times, and "The Terminator" and "Fargo" 10 times each.
"It was a film that was so exciting," Mr. Shapiro told the newspaper. "It made the Mafia a family you almost wanted to marry into."
His appreciation for film grew through his student days. During his time at NYU, he boasted that he had seen seven movies in a single day.
"You love this stuff," Mr. Shapiro told the newspaper, "… and your eyes are opening to all you see."
From 1972 to 1974, he worked as a cataloger for the American Film Institute and as an archivist, librarian and administrator for the Broadcast Pioneers Library, both of which were located in Washington.
He was a project manager and information specialist from 1975 to 1976 for Informatics Inc. in Rockville.
For a time in the early 1980s, Mr. Shapiro worked as a general supervisor, office manager and traffic controller for Cambridge Iron and Metal, the family business, but it was film and radio that beckoned him professionally.
In 1981, he produced a historical and contemporary jazz program for the old WJHU-FM.
Beginning in 1982 and through 1985, Mr. Shapiro filled in as an on-air classical music host and produced jazz programs at WBJC. He also was record librarian until 1985.
He also produced specials about comedy in classical music, the history of the American musical and the music of the Jewish High Holy Days, as well as specials on composers, including the Russian Dmitri Shostakovich and the German Wilhelm Furtwangler.
In 1984, he produced a five-hour Frank Sinatra special that included many rare V-Discs, out-of-print Columbia recordings and LP cuts from Capitol Records.
For years, Mr. Shapiro was managing editor of WBJC's Program Guide and was also the station's theater and film critic, where he was host of "Video Picks."
In addition to producing a program on the music of the Jewish High Holy Days, where he was on the air with Mr. Palevsky, he also was a frequent guest on Mr. Palevsky's "Face the Music," a weekly show that reviews newly released and reissued recordings.
"Burt was opinionated but not overbearing. He knew what he liked and he had good taste," said Mr. Palevsky. "He really was a very quiet guy. He thought before he talked and when he did, his remarks were always well considered."
In 1982, he dressed the set for Barry Levinson's "Diner," for which he provided original long-play 45 RPM records that came from his extensive collection and were the source of most of the music on the film soundtrack.
Mr. Shapiro hosted post-film discussions at Cinema Sundays at the Charles Theatre. After his death, the Charles posted Mr. Shapiro's name on its marquee.
"Burt was a wonderful guy and a pleasure to be around," said James "Buzz" Cusack, who operates the Charles and Senator theaters with his daughter, Kathleen Cusack Lyon.
"He really enjoyed movies and liked talking and writing about them, and every opportunity he had to see a movie, he did," said Mr. Cusack.
Mr. Shapiro was a member of the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and the Association of Recorded Sound Collectors and was a sustaining member of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors. He had been a member of the advisory board and program committee of the former Baltimore Film Forum.
Mr. Shapiro reviewed books for The Sun.
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In addition to baseball, football and college basketball, which he "followed religiously," said his wife, Mr. Shapiro was an American history buff.
He had an encyclopedic knowledge of American history including World War I and World War II, his wife said.
"Burt was a never-ending fact finder, but the facts were found in his brain," she said.
Funeral services were held Tuesday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a stepdaughter, Jennifer Landskroner of Pikesville; a sister, Sandy Shapiro of Phoenix, Baltimore County; and a granddaughter. His stepson, Darin Leavey, died in 2011.