‘Work’ Is a 4-Letter Word to Leon Kaplan
1959 Nashville Grad Is the Famous “Motorman” of L.A. Radio
Growing up, Leon Kaplan always imagined himself as a race car driver. As a boy he raced anything he could get behind the wheel of; to this day Leon, a 1959 graduate of Nashville Auto-Diesel College (NADC), still drives fast, rides motorcycles, and flies planes. His pilot’s experience, in fact, earned him a call from NASA in the 1980s when the space agency still ran civilian missions into space.
But there were two events in Leon’s life that took him in a different direction and led him to the careers he enjoys today – one as the owner of Lancer Automotive Service, Inc. in Los Angeles; the other hosting the longest-running uninterrupted radio show at Talk Radio KABC in Los Angeles. First, there was a chance 1953 meeting with NASCAR driver Curtis Turner, who encouraged Leon to become intimately knowledgeable on every part of a car if he wanted to be a successful driver. Second was Leon’s decision to follow up on that advice by enrolling at NADC, now Lincoln College of Technology in Nashville.
“My time at the Nashville school changed my life,” Leon says. “Everything I’ve done since has been based on the education I had there.”
When Leon enrolled at NADC, Thomas Balls (son of NADC founder and automotive pioneer H.O. Balls) was campus President, and automatic transmissions were ‘new’ technology. “Those transmissions were, back then, what computers are to cars today. They were really fascinating, and I wanted to learn everything there was to know about them.”
Today, Leon “Motorman” Kaplan spends his Sunday mornings with the listeners of Los Angeles, talking cars, trucks, bikes, boats – “anything motorized,” he says. It’s a gig he’s held for more than 35 years, and he has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. “I’ve never been without a job,” he says, “And I don’t expect I’ll ever be without a job. This isn’t like going to ‘work’ – that’s a four-letter word to me. It’s too much fun. Retirement’s not in my vocabulary.”
“I give the Nashville school all the credit,” Leon says. “The instructors especially – the time they gave, and the friendships I made with them. I picked their brains more than anything, and they were very generous with me. If I had my life to live over again, I’d go back there in a heartbeat. My training helped me with my radio career as well – through the Nashville instructors, I learned how to explain things, technical things, the right without talking down to people. My listeners appreciate that, I think, and it’s part of the reason I’ve been able to stay on the air for as long as I have.”
Leon was inducted into the campus Hall of Fame in 1989. His son, Lance, graduated from the Nashville campus the following year and joined his father at Lancer Automotive. Father and son still come back to the campus whenever they can; Leon has been invited to speak at Commencement on multiple occasions over the years.
What does Leon tell the graduates and students he meets on campus? “Learning in the automotive field never ends,” he says. “And they’ve made the right decision in choosing this school. It will change their lives, too.”
Leon is one of a select group of graduates whose stories are being told on the Nashville95 blog, as the campus celebrates its 95th anniversary this year. Follow the blog to read more amazing stories written on the Nashville campus – yours might be next!
Return back to the Nashville 95th Anniversary home page.
- LCT Nashville