Former Cap Cities/ABC Exec Dan Burke Dies at 82

Helped engineer biggest media takeover of the 1980s

Daniel B. Burke, one of the prime movers behind Capital Cities’ $3.5 billion acquisition of ABC in 1986, died Wednesday at his home in Rye, N.Y. He was 82.

In a statement released this morning, Burke’s family said the cause of death was complications from diabetes.

Burke began his career in television in 1961, when Cap Cities’ vice president Thomas Murphy hired him to run WTEN-TV in Albany, N.Y.  Thus began a 30-year partnership between the two executives, a period in which Cap Cities grew from a small station manager to one of the largest and most respected media companies in the world.

After a stint in Detroit, where he oversaw operations at the radio station WJR-AM/FM, Burke moved to Cap Cities’ corporate headquarters in New York. Following the purchase of ABC, Burke was named president and chief operations officer of Cap Cities/ABC, Inc. In June 1990, he was elevated to president and CEO, a position he held until his retirement in February 1994.

Before stepping down from his post, Burke helped negotiate the sale of Cap Cities/ABC to the Walt Disney Co.

So renowned was the reputation of the Murphy/Burke battery that Cap Cities board member Warren Buffett once said that having the two execs at the helm was “like having Ruth and Gehrig in the same lineup.” 

While Murphy was the public face of Cap Cities/ABC, Burke kept the operation humming from behind the scenes. “Dan was a brilliant executive and my business partner for 33 years. He was also a friend whose intelligence and integrity greatly inspired those around him,” Murphy said. “Dan shaped the culture of the company, with an emphasis on accountability, directness, irreverence, and community service. He was serious and committed, with a wicked sense of humor that made every day more fun. The world is a better place for all he contributed.” 

A lifelong baseball fan, Burke in the years prior to his retirement brought minor league baseball to his home state (Maine), working closely with Portland city officials to establish the Florida Marlins’ AA affiliate, Portland Sea Dogs. The Sea Dogs became the Red Sox affiliate in 2003; three years later, the team won its first Eastern League championship.

Burke actively supported numerous philanthropic efforts including the Maine Family Literacy Initiative, Cities in Schools, The National Urban League, and The Partnership for a Drug Free America. 

A passionate advocate for the advancement of minorities in the media business, Burke helped establish the Foundation for Minority Interests in Media and in 1984 received the Ida B. Wells Award, an honor presented by the National Association of Black Journalists to executives who’ve made a significant difference in the hiring and promotion of underrepresented minorities.

He is survived by Harriet “Bunny” Burke, his wife of 54 years, and their four children: Steve Burke of Philadelphia, Pa. (the CEO of NBCUniversal); Frank Burke of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Sally McNamara of Wellesley, Mass.; and Bill Burke of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Dan Burke is remembered by his 14 grandchildren.

A visitation service will be held at the Graham Funeral Home, 1036 Post Road in Rye, N.Y., on Sunday, Oct. 30 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The funeral service will take place at St. Martha Church, 30 Portland Road, Kennebunk, Maine, on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, the Burke family asks that donations be made to Maine Medical Center, The Partnership for a Drug Free America, and the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center.