By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
At WGAL-TV Zink's job was the antithesis of what it had been in Hanover. Instead of playing the guy next door, he was the distinguished newscaster. "I did everything but wear a boutonniere," he says. "I was very successful, but God, did I long to go back to that little radio station. The only person at the TV station who was having any fun was the guy doing the kids' show."
"One Saturday I was hanging around the station - I wasn't working, I was just hanging around - and the kids'-show person was involved in an accident and they were in a panic, because this was live TV. I went into the janitor's closet and got a pair of coveralls and an old hat, pulled it over my ears, and went on the air." Zink, who can't seem to carry on a normal conversation without breaking into an assortment of funny voices, says he enjoyed handling the show, even though it caused a station scandal. "Station managements take everything very seriously," he explains, rolling his eyes. "Everything approaches the end of the world. The program manager called me in and said, `You want to do a kids' show, you can do it, but you can't do anything else.' I said, `I want to do a kids' show.'"
The decision to join the Percy Platypus show, says Zink, had an immediate economic impact. "I was making $165 a week, which was a lot of money on a local station in 1950," he remembers. "It went to $40 for one show a week. All I could think was, how will I tell my wife?"
Zink recalls that scene with perfect clarity. "She thought it was pretty stupid," he says. Here was her husband, taking a severe pay cut to don a Santa Claus beard and share the screen with a battery-operated, papier-mache dog. Zink winces at the memory. "Oh, God, it was so ba-a-ad," he says. "I wouldn't think of sitting here and telling you that it was a good show. It was so bad, it really made a lot of money."
Chuck Zink had figured a way to triple his old salary: personal appearances. People would give him money or merchandise to show up at their functions. That, he says, is how he happened to pair up with the papier-mache dog. "I told the store manager, `You give me that dog, I'll put you on TV.' Now, TV was the newest thing since the wheel. Anything to be on TV, so he gave me the dog."
In 1953 Zink hung up the Santa beard and headed for a bigger market: WCMB-TV in Harrisburg. "I did the variety shows and the beauty pageants, and was the program manager," he recalls. "Worked fifteen-hour days." And at WCMB Zink met a photographer who changed his life. Ralph Renick hired the photographer, whose name Zink can't remember, to work at WTVJ in Miami. "He came here and started opening his big mouth, and said, `You gotta call this [Zink] guy.' One day my phone rang, and I said, `If you'll pay my way down for a vacation, I'll come down and talk to you.' They brought me down," he says, sounding as if he's still amazed 35 years later. "I would've come down on my own," he says. "TVJ was outstanding."
In 1955 Zink joined Channel 4 as a "general personality," responsible for hosting locally produced programs such as beauty pageants and for representing the station in the community.
Zink says he hadn't intended to return to the kid-show business, until he met Frank Weed, a big-game hunter. "He was a cross between Randolph Scott and Gary Cooper, about six-foot-two," says Zink. Thinking the good-looking Weed would be a perfect kid-show personality, Zink told station executives that he had an idea, and the program Tumbleweed was born. "There was one small problem," Zink remembers. "Weed couldn't put three words together. He'd come out, say, `Hi, kids,' and that was it. He'd bring a bear out and you'd say, `What's the name of the bear?' He'd say, `Bear.'"
Adding to the difficulty with Weed was the unfortunate fact that every six weeks or so, he'd go off on a hunting trip. "His wife would call and say, `Sorry, Chuck,' and that would be it," says Zink.
There was no choice. "I brought out the old beard and joined the show," Zink says. "We'd start the show and I'd say, `Frank, what do we got on the show today?' He'd say, `Well,' and I'd say, `I'll tell you what we've got on the show.'"
At the same time, about 1955, WTVJ launched a new program from the creators of Howdy Doody. The Lucky Duck Show, Zink recalls, "was the worst copy of Howdy Doody you ever saw. The duck was the same kind of marionette as Howdy - which is not a very good marionette." Zink says that in order to boost the show's ratings, station executives brought in a New York actor, Merv Griffin. "Merv Griffin didn't like kids," Zink says. "He'd just sit there at a white piano, playing `I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.'" Griffin, through a spokeswoman, says he does not recall ever having worked on the show, but Zink remembers things differently. He says he became Griffin's sidekick. From 4:30 to 5:00 p.m., he says, he did Tumbleweed, and from 5:00 to 5:30, he was Merv Griffin's cohort on Lucky Duck. "They didn't use the expression in those days, but that really sucked," Zink says. "We have a guy who is never here and a guy who hates kids and sings `Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.'"