Sunday, September 1, 2013

South Florida's Skipper Chuck: more than Popeye Playhouse

By Jane Feehan

It was tough getting a kid in the audience for Popeye Playhouse, the popular children’s show hosted by “Skipper Chuck” Zink on WTVJ (CH 4).  At times there was a three-month wait to get a coveted seat. Children had to be five years old to get on the set; it was not uncommon for mothers to lie about the little one's ages.

After five years in radio and television in Pennsylvania (when he was second choice host to a show Merv Griffin landed), Zink came to WTVJ in 1957. He hosted Popeye Playhouse, a concept he developed around a syndicated cartoon package, weekdays at 5 p.m. In 1961 he expanded programming for children with a Saturday show at 8 a.m. It replaced the weekly Western movies he hosted.

By 1961, the two shows were all that was left of live television at WTVJ. Zink, proud of that distinction, was known as a stern taskmaster on set who let cameramen and production assistants have it when they flubbed a prop cue.

By that time, Zink, who did not have children of his own, had a trove of stories about kids on the playhouse. He recounted one tale in 1961 about a boy who called out “Chuck” during a commercial. When Zink asked what he wanted the kid said “hurry up so we can get out of here.” When a savings institution sponsored Popeye Playhouse, Zink coaxed 9,000 South Florida kids into saving about $750,000 in total. Also noteworthy, the show had the first integrated audience of children in South Florida. 

Popeye Playhouse ran until 1979 but by that time, his resume included a number of titles and projects that elevated his popularity among all age levels. He hosted the Orange Bowl Parade a few times as well as the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. In 1968 he played a bit part in the Miami-made movie Mission Mars. He served as national vice president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and hosted the local productions aired during the Jerry Lewis telethons for the cause. Zink also hosted and produced a Ringling Brothers show and participated in about 50 documentaries.  

After his WTVJ days, Zink moved to Palm Beach County where he hosted a number of radio shows for seniors. Indiana-born Zink, a former U.S. Marine and Bronze Star Medal recipient who served in World War II, died in Boca Raton in 2006 at age 80. He was survived by wife, Clarice Zink who died in 2011. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Miami News, Oct. 29, 1961
Miami News, Nov. 27, 1980

Miami Herald, Jan. 6, 2006

America's children's shows - a history

Tags: Kids TV shows in Miami during the 1960s, Chuck Zink, WTVJ history, Skipper Chuck, broadcast history, historical researcher


  1. Hi Jane, thanks for posting a great bit of South Florida history! Do you know if any of the shows are available for purchase? I was on one of the shows and would love the episode.

    Thanks and best wishes,

    1. Sheri - you'd have to contact the station. They own them.