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Kaplan's Freewheeling Style Will Be Missed 

Stan Kaplan will never hire another "oddball" again. The 76-year-old owner of The Leader newspaper died last Monday of a heart attack.

As one of the "oddballs" Kaplan employed during his long media career as a Charlotte radio and newspaper owner, I'm uniquely qualified to add my piece to Kaplan's final hurrah.

Although I wish it weren't so, Stan Kaplan and I parted on less than good terms when I left the paper nine months ago to write for Creative Loafing. Kaplan was fiercely loyal to his employees, and always took the defection of one of his reporters to another media outlet personally. He'd beat me and any paper I wrote for, he warned me before I left. He even called Jerry Hancock, host of WTVI-42's Final Edition, a weekly political media roundtable, and lobbied against my ever appearing on the show again.

TV news reporter Mike Cozza got the same treatment when he left Kaplan's radio station years ago. When Cozza bumped into Kaplan and his wife Sis on an elevator years later, Kaplan turned his head away and wouldn't acknowledge Cozza.

It wasn't personal, it was just Kaplan's style. Kaplan, who was Jewish, often told stories of how he helped bury dead Nazi soldiers during World War II. Kaplan took no prisoners and went out of his way to fight for his friends and to bury his enemies.

But as ruthlessly bullish as Kaplan was, you couldn't help but like him. The two of us disagreed on everything but the proper way to breathe. He'd heft his robust frame up on my desk at The Leader and harangue me for the things I wrote the week before in his paper, but when his ultra-liberal friends called to demand that he fire me after a particularly flamboyant piece, he'd proclaim me "the best reporter in town" and tell them where they could go with their complaints. No matter how much it pained him, he let all his reporters be exactly who they were in print, a rare thing in today's media culture. Had he not, I probably wouldn't still be in this business today, and for that, I and many others owe him a tremendous debt.

The freewheeling journalistic style he and Sis Kaplan nurtured among their oddballs and his love of closing the deal were among the reasons for the Kaplans' success with WAYS radio, which the couple purchased in the 1960s. The renamed Big WAYS soon passed popular WBT radio in popularity. The Kaplans eventually sold the station to run The Leader, which they also sold at a large profit and later repurchased and built into a political news journal.

The short, stout man with the funny mustache and his diminutive, almost elfin wife made a dynamic, and at times explosive duo. The Kaplans had a close marriage and an emphatic way of communicating. Working at The Leader was at times like working in the Kaplans' living room, and employees would scatter when boisterous clashes between the two spilled out of an office into the hall and curses flew.

During the paper's reign in the little white building on E. Trade Street, local, state and national political dignitaries could often be seen pulling into the parking lot. Some were there for interviews with reporters. Others, all Democrats, were there seeking a campaign donation from Kaplan or help organizing a fundraiser, which both Kaplans did often.

In the earlier days of his US Senate campaign, before his face was well-known, Sen. John Edwards could often be seen standing on the sidewalk in front of The Leader building, greeting those who passed by.

Though the future of The Leader is now uncertain, sources within the paper say the Kaplans' daughter may take her father's place and keep the paper running. On Friday, two days after burying her husband, Sis Kaplan closed a deal with a major retailer and surprised Creative Loafing sales staff, who are working with The Leader on a joint sales venture.

It is what her husband would have wanted her to do, Sis Kaplan told them.

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