Once known as Captain Six and later as a captain of the broadcast industry, Dick Belkin was a pioneer in television. Since retiring 25 years ago, he brought that same entrepreneurial spirit to the World Trade Center in New York and to myriad leadership roles in the Tucson Jewish community.
Belkin studied pre-law at the University of Hartford, not far from where he grew up in Connecticut. But after graduating, he changed his career path and went to Syracuse University to pursue a master’s degree in television and radio broadcasting.
“This was in 1956. Television was a brand new industry and no one really knew very much about it,” Belkin said. “But I thought it would be a great career.” And it was — spanning more than 40 years and touching on almost every aspect of the field.
However, upon completing graduate school, Belkin was drafted and spent the next two years in Germany with the U.S. Army Special Services division. He toured Europe as an entertainer for the troops and also served as a contributor to the division newspaper — a precursor to his future in journalism.
“Following that, I got a job in broadcasting and the rest was history,” he said. Belkin started off in television in Albany, N.Y., and then moved to WRGB Channel 6 in Schenectady, N.Y. “I did everything. These were the days of black and while television. Everyone did everything. I became steeped in the industry — directing, producing, on-air talent, advertising.” He worked on local sports shows, children’s shows, quiz shows and news shows.
He even took on the role of Captain Six, the host of “Satellite Six,” a local children’s program. “Going off into space every day wasn’t easy,” he said. “The kids who watched me, now they’d probably be in their 50s.” As Captain Six, he introduced cartoons and games, did puppetry, voices and mimed musical instruments. “When Sherry and I were engaged, I brought her on as a guest, Sherry Six,” leading to many letters of congratulations from his young fans. He eventually became program manager of the station and was transferred to Denver, where he was vice president and general manager of an AM/FM radio station.
After returning to Schenectady, Belkin became vice president and general manager of WRGB, WGY and WGFM TV and radio stations for General Electric. Shortly thereafter he was appointed general manager of a brand new division for GE, in the fledgling field of closed circuit television. His company produced the closed circuit broadcast of the Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier “Fight of the Century” at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Back in Connecticut, he found a new implementation for closed circuit TV, developing the first electronic horse racing track. “At that time, off-track betting was done in small store fronts. This was the first time anyone had the idea of betting on live horse races from around the country, shown via satellite,” Belkin said.
His career in broadcast management continued with Outlet Broadcasting in New York, McClatchy Newspapers and Broadcasting in Sacramento, Calif., and
finally led him to Lee Enterprises in Davenport, Iowa, as vice president of broadcasting, vice president of strategic planning and a member of the board of directors. He spent 11 years there and retired at the age of 55.
“I started as a guy who pushed cameras around, and ended up as a guy who was running the whole show on stations from Virginia to Hawaii,” Belkin said. “I was on planes from Monday to Friday, getting home just in time to take a Shabbas nap.”
While out scouting for new markets, Belkin helped Lee Enterprises purchase Tucson’s KGUN Channel 9 — and discovered where he wanted to retire. He moved his family to Tucson in August 1989.
In 1996, Belkin entered into another venture. He and his business partner became lease holders of the observation deck of the World Trade Center in New York. “It was an absolutely outstanding business. I had worked in New York on and off throughout my career. It was wonderful to fly in to New York, look down and see the Twin Towers and know that I had a part in that. To have the opportunity to manage that facility was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Belkin said.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the phone rang at 6 a.m. at Belkin’s home in Tucson. It was a friend from New York, telling him to turn on CNN. He watched the live broadcast in disbelief as an airplane crashed into Building Two, home of the observation deck. “It was a terrible, terrible experience. We lost employees and friends. This was a very bad time in my life,” Belkin remembered.
“I’m old enough to remember when Roosevelt died, when Kennedy was assassinated, and the explosion of the atomic bomb. As vivid as those are in my memory, the attack on the World Trade Center will always be part of my life, always part of my memory.”
Belkin has been very involved in the Tucson Jewish community. Shortly after moving here, he and Sherry joined Temple Emanu-El and the Tucson Jewish Community Center. With his management expertise, he quickly found himself in one leadership role after another. He has chaired the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, Tucson Hebrew Academy, Arizona Jewish Post and the JCC. He has also served on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, which honored the Belkins at its first “As the Tree Grows” luncheon in 2006.
“The fun of being in Tucson is to be involved, volunteer and give of yourself. That’s the game. We need active people, creative people.” Belkin sad.
In their latest effort, the Belkins are co-chairing Super Sunday on Jan. 26, 2014 for the Federation. “We’ve been involved for over 20 years and this is one of the greatest honors we’ve had,” Belkin said. “We’re very excited to welcome strangers and friends alike, to get in front and motivate people. With all of the effort that everyone puts forth, this is the most important fundraising activity to engage in for 2014.” He sees this as an opportunity to assure donors that their contributions are meaningful and that they are making a positive difference. And he intends to “break all records” by bringing in as many people as possible to contribute their time, as well as their money.
In his spare time, Belkin plays golf, dabbles in photography and visits his children and five grandchildren, who range from an eight year old to a sophomore at the University of Texas. He has a son, Josh, in Phoenix, and two daughters, Rebecca in Austin and Melissa, who lives in Tucson and has worked in the JCC’s early childhood education program. The whole family was together for his 80th birthday in June.
“I have had such a wonderful life and I have a wonderful family. I am one of the most fortunate men in the world.” Well said, Captain Six.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a local writer and editor. She can be reached at [email protected].