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December 03, 2008

Engineering Pioneer Richard Shapiro Dies Remote broadcast trucks and more December 3, 2008

Richard Shapiro, pictured above and below, during his days with WBBM-TV in Chicago.

Richard Shapiro, an electrical engineer whose pioneering work in television technology helped to bring images from around the world into people’s homes, died November 20 while in hospice care in Boynton Beach, Florida. Shapiro, 89, reportedly suffered complications related to a stroke.

Inspired by the television exhibition he saw at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, Shapiro devoted his life’s work to the then-nascent medium.

Renowned for his prodigious technical skills, he was particularly adept at troubleshooting electrical challenges and the tricky task of figuring out how things work. Early in his career during the 1940s, Shapiro helped to put Chicago’s experimental station W9XBK on the air.

At WBBM-TV, where he worked from 1953 until 1984, he was on the vanguard of commercial television innovation, and is credited with creating the first “minicam” operation for WBBM-TV in the 1970s. This breakthrough was instrumental in the broadcasting of live events.

The son of an architectural engineer, Shapiro was born in Chicago in 1919 and grew up in nearby Wilmette.

He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a year and then studied electrical engineering at a school run by RCA. During World War II, he worked on microwave technology for the Navy.

Independent of his work at WBBM, Shapiro put his technical acumen to use with side jobs that included refining the sound system at Chicago’s Mister Kelly’s nightclub and building stereos, televisions and even a microwave oven for his home.

After retiring from WBBM in 1984, Shapiro established Trio Video, an outgrowth of an earlier venture called American Mobile Television.

At Trio, which became the largest mobile television production company in the Midwest, he helped to build a “TV Truck” for remote broadcasts of sporting contests and other events. He remained at Trio well into the 1990s, when he retired to Florida.

Mr. Shapiro is survived by his wife of 57 years, Charlotte, two sons, a daughter and nine grandchildren.

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