Alfred E. Burk, 83, GM of WBAL radio stations

October 29, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Alfred E. Burk, retired general manager of WBAL radio and creator of the station's Kids Campaign, died yesterday of heart failure at his Timonium home. He was 83.

For nearly 30 years, he was general manager of WBAL's AM and FM stations. He retired in 1984.

Born in the Govans section of Baltimore and raised in living quarters next to his father's general merchandise store and post office at Long Green and Manor roads in Baltimore County, he was a 1936 graduate of Towson High School.

He worked at the former Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River, making aircraft parts, before enlisting in the Navy in 1941. He became a flight engineer on submarine patrol bombers that guarded the East Coast during World War II, and attained the rank of petty officer.

After the war, Mr. Burk became advertising manager for General Electric Supply Co. in downtown Baltimore, then joined WBAL as an advertising salesman.

"He was a very good salesman," said Brent Gunts, former vice president and general manager of WBAL-TV. "So good, they made him head of the sales department."

In addition to becoming general manager of the radio stations, Mr. Burk was named a vice president of Hearst Corp., which owned them. He supervised the stations' move from 26th and Charles streets in the early 1960s to Television Hill. He also shepherded WBAL-FM from a classical music station through a brief period as an all-news format to its present operation as WIYY, 98 Rock.

"He was a tough boss, demanding, but always very fair," said Jeffrey Beauchamp, WBAL radio's vice president and station manager. "But he was very kind and was there to provide emotional - or financial - support. He was the kind of boss you would want as your dad."

Mr. Burk hired the station's on-air talent, including its talk-show hosts.

"Some listeners seem to want a father figure. Others want someone they can kick around. Some want a walking encyclopedia. Some want a sympathetic ear as an antidote to loneliness and anonymity," he said in a 1983 interview in The Sun. "Someday, somebody should write a book about who these people are and why they want to talk to some stranger on the radio in the middle of the night."

Colleagues said that Mr. Burk enjoyed telling jokes, occasionally transposing their punch lines. But in these situations, he recovered and brought a smile to his audiences.

"In the broadcast field, people tend to bounce from job to job from city to city," said Mr. Beauchamp. "Not Al. Baltimore was part of his life. He fancied WBAL as the station of record in Maryland."

About 30 years ago, he founded the WBAL Kids Campaign, a charity that has distributed $3 million to help needy Baltimore children or support organizations that help children.

"Through the years, most of our donations have come from little people who gave a dollar or two. They formed a bond with us because they know it's a no-frills charity that pays 100 cents on every dollar," he said in another 1983 Sun story.

Mr. Burk's hobby was horseback riding. Three days a week he rode his horse, Beau, which he stabled at Goucher College.

Services will held at 11 a.m. Friday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

Mr. Burk is survived by his wife of more than 55 years, the former Barbara Baker; two sons, Alfred E. Burk Jr. of Lutherville and Bradley Burk of the Bare Hills section of Baltimore County; a brother, John F. Burk Jr. of Timonium; and two grandchildren.

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