IROQUOIS, ONTARIO, CANADA -- John
Ross founder of Ross Video, has been awarded the Order of Canada, the highest
civilian honor in the nation. Ross was named an Officer of the Order, which
“recognizes a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in
service to Canada or to humanity at large,” according to the Governor General
a nice acknowledgement to receive!,” Ross said in an email shared by his son,
David. “It’s amazing to be in the same category as Lloyd Robertson, Bob
McDonald and many others who are so well known to the public.”
Thirty-three such awards were given out this year. Ross, pictured at right holding a card he designed for the International Space Station, was the sole recipient
recognized for achievements in engineering. Previous winners include Michael J.
Fox, Celine Dion, KD Lang, disabled athlete Terry Fox, Leonard Cohen, Wayne
Gretzky, Lorne Michaels, and, according to Ross, “all the members of Rush.” He
will likely receive the award at a ceremony in Ottawa in June.
Ross’s fascination with engineering began with an electronics book he
discovered at age eight. By the time he was 12 years old, he as designing small
transmitters, he said.
His professional career started at age 14 at CKY-FM in Winnipeg, Manitoba,
where he became the transmitter operator for the summer.
“I lived alone at the
transmitter site way out in the country on Dawson Rd., a few days at a time,
woke up at 5:30 a.m., did level checks with the city studio before sign-on,
turned on the huge room-filling transmitter one stage at a time, adjusted for 5
kW output and did other things as necessary. This I thoroughly enjoyed and did
well,” he said. “As a result I became the youngest known operator of a
commercial radio station transmitter in Canada.”
At age 15, Ross said he made a “150 watt transmitter on the broadcast band that
could be clearly heard all over Winnipeg. At the time, CJOB, the most popular station, only has 250 watts! Eventually, being afraid of being caught for
illegal broadcasting, I obtained my amateur radio license (VE4EJ), converted
the transmitter to short-wave and enjoyed communicating by Morse code with
other operators in Europe and elsewhere,” he said.
In 1956, while still in high school, Ross built a functioning TV receiver using surplus parts and a
green radar tube (pictured in an article from the Winnipeg Free Press, at left). He was able to pick up the closest station 450 miles a way
for a few seconds per hour, he said.
The CBC had picked him up in 1954.
“I became the youngest member of the pioneering ‘start-up’ crew of the first TV
station between Toronto and Vancouver. I had a wonderful job and thought I was
in heaven,” he said.
During coffee breaks there, Ross built a crude special effects amplifier that
intrigued a producer, who implemented it on a program called “Spotlight,” much
to the chief engineer’s chagrin.
“We don’t have any equipment
that does wipes. Where the hell did those effects come from? They’re unapproved
and illegal,” Ross recalled CBC Regional Engineer Roy Cahoon saying. Cahoon
later softened and allowed Ross to build a second version on his own time. That
device was the first precursor to the Ross switcher, he said.
“It was demonstrated during ‘Spotlight’ when I was interviewed by Warren Davis,”
Ross said. “I was terrified to be in front of the camera for the first time and
nervously whipped through many irrelevant wipe patterns.”
Ross’s design would become the first electronic effects system to be employed
by the CBC. He went on to design a transistorized wireless mic adaptor, and the
first color TV to decode color images from a Canadian transmitter. As
successful as his designs were, they were not what he was hired to create at
the CBC, Ross said. A kindly manager at the CBC encouraged him to go to night
school and finish his high school education, and to enter a university
engineering program where he learned how to “calculate circuits instead of
designing by trial and error.”
He would go on to design what he described as the first solid-state TV
production switcher, and later a solid-state master control switcher. He also
was awarded a chroma key patent that led to the use of the green screen, and
developed an all-electronic tape editing system.
Ross founded Ross Video in his home in Montreal in 1974. Despite his remarkable
engineering career up to that point, Ross had no savings, so he sold a 1943
derelict Army aircraft that he had restored for $3,500. With another $3,500
from the bank, he developed a prototype switcher, and eventually located the
company where it remains today, in Iroquois.
Ross Video now has 450 employees, and equipment deployments around the world.
Ross retired from the company in 2005, handing it over to his son, David, who
now serves as president, CEO and chairman of the board.