Ross awarded Canada’s highest honour

John Ross, Iroquois resident and Ross Video founder, has been named to the Order of Canada for his contributions as a technology innovator, developing products at the forefront of broadcast engineering.

The Governor General of Canada, David Johnston made the announcement December 30.

“I was stunned when the Governor General’s office called me about four weeks ago to inform me of the honour,” said Ross.

Ross called the honour of being named to the Order of Canada, “The big deal.” 

“It is a humbling experience. Getting that phone call certainly gives you quite a collage of different feelings. In the end, it’s nice to have friends and to be appreciated,” said Ross.

Throughout his life, and career, Ross has continuously challenged himself to do things that others were not doing. “If you are determined enough, you can accomplish a lot,” he said.

By challenging himself, Ross’ resulting innovations have time after time advanced the technology involved in broadcast engineering.

“The thing the recipients of the Order of Canada have in common is that we have done something that brings about improvements that affect people,” said Ross, who takes great pride in being recognized in that way.

In 1974, John Ross founded Ross Video, based out of Iroquois, the small town to which he chose to relocate in order that he could enjoy less stressful, country-living. He retired from the company in 2005, handing it over to his son David who now serves as President, CEO and Chairman of the Board.

Ross Video designs, manufactures and supports a wide range of innovative products for use in video production applications. 

Ross products are installed in over 100 countries around the world, where they are used daily by top broadcasters, production companies, sports stadiums, government agencies and houses of worship. 

John Ross even personally designed circuit boards for NASA in use in the International Space Station.

The Order of Canada is the highest civilian honour a Canadian citizen can receive. Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the centerpiece of Canada’s Honours System and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. 

Over the last 45 years, more than 5,000 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order. 

Ninety-one new appointments were announced on December 30. There are three levels of the Order of Canada; Companions, Officers and Members. 

Two Companions were among the latest appointees, 33 Officers, including Ross, and 56 Members.


A lifetime fascination with electronics, broadcasting

Through a little bit of good fortune, a lot of good timing, but mostly through hard work and determination, Iroquois resident and Ross Video founder John Ross has been able to accomplish much.

“My fascination with engineering began with an electronics book I discovered at the age eight,” said Ross. “By the time I was 12 years old, I was designing small transmitters. This led to my first job at age fourteen at CKY-FM in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where I became the transmitter operator for the summer.”

In January 1954, the CBC hired Ross to be part of the initial staff of CBWT. At where he was the youngest member of the pioneering “start-up” crew of the first TV Station between Toronto and Vancouver.

“I was intrigued by the visual electronic effects used on the Jackie Gleason Show play on Kinescope Film recordings,” continued Ross. “Because there was a lot of waiting time at the CBC, I sketched waveforms and circuits that might be used to created wipe patterns. Eventually I thought it was time to test my theories, so at home in my bedroom workshop, I built a crude Special Effect Amplifier and took it to work. One of the production staff saw it, and it was connected up in Studio 41 and used on the suppertime program “Spotlight” that evening. Later on I was allowed to design and build a better special effects system – provided it was on my own time. After all, I was paid to operate the equipment – not invent it!”

During his employment at the CBC, Ross designed a transistorized wireless microphone adapter to be worn on a belt, and the first colour TV in Canada to receive colour pictures from Canadian Transmitter (CBWT in 1956). 

After completing his university education in Engineering, John went on to design what is described as the first solid-state TV production switcher and he was awarded a chroma key patent that led to the use of the green screen. 

“All subsequent chroma keying patents have been built on my fundamental patent,” explained Ross. “Of my many patents, this is a favourite as you only have one chance to be a pioneer of something new. If you don’t think of it first and actually do it, eventually someone else will.”

Ross also obtained a contract for the development of the first automated solid-state Master Control Switcher, which was the first broadcast equipment to show text on a screen, plus co-designed and built the first successful all-electronic tape editing system in the world. 

In spite of many “first-time ever” technical successes, stress was taking its toll on Ross’ health. That’s when he discovered his passion of flying and took some good advice to start his own company – Ross Video.

“Working every waking hour without an other staff had paid off. I had launched a company, was sole owner and had recovered my health,” said Ross. The new, revolutionary switcher he had built sold well. With the future looking bright, Ross realized he could live anywhere provided there was good transportation available.

“In September 1974 I moved the company from my home in Montreal to Iroquois, Ontario. This was a strategic business decision as well as a chance for me to enjoy less stressful country living,” explained Ross. In his experience, Ross had learned that American customers hate dealing with trans-border paperwork but do require a rapid response on repairs and shipping. 

“Ogdensburg, NY is only 15 minutes away and this allows us to serve the Americans as if there was no border.  This has turned out to be a key advantage for Ross Video,” he explained.

“Iroquois also fit my financial capability. I just did not have enough money to locate in Toronto or any other larger location. The move was accelerated by a pilot friend, George Jackson,  who lived In Iroquois and was very determined to help his community by creating employment. However, there was no industrial park and no suitable home for my family. He solved both – a small vacant shopping center store could be rented for $100 per month (not the $1,100 as in Ottawa for industrial space) and he would sell me his dream home that he had designed and personally built. Any down payment was OK, he’d hold the mortgage. Then he moved his family into a small mobile home in a field so we could come.  Such unbelievable generosity! Thus, we were able to make a humble start in Iroquois with three employees. We still have 4,500 square feet of space in the shopping center and now do robotic camera assembly there.” 

Now, Ross Video has about 450 employees world-wide. “Iroquois turned out to have been an excellent choice,” said Ross. “We have access to wonderful assembly people who are proud to work in high-tech but can bring up their families in the country.  Our new manufacturing plant has a capacity of $260 million in shipments per year, most of which is exported. If you ask anyone in rural areas what they need, it is jobs – clean, well-paid jobs. We are that rare employer in a type of industry that is usually located in a city, but which we have found is actually more efficient if located in the country.”

Over the years, Ross Video has produced several generations of switchers and many types of supporting products. Current products are acknowledged as being world leaders for capability, quality and especially good value. The switchers are everywhere. The 2010 Vancouver Olympics switchers were all Ross, as were the CTV facilities at the 2012 London Olympics, the ABC news with Diane Sawyer, and many others. Eighty per cent of all North American stadiums with large screens use Ross Video production products.  “Our graphics systems are used for the Grammy’s, Oscars, etcetera,” said Ross. 

“I’ve had a nice long run in our industry and a lot of fun designing equipment, working with wonderful people and building a company owned only by the Ross family and employees. Why, I have even designed equipment for NASA.  43 circuit boards, personally designed in my Florida bedroom, are in use in the International Space Station.”

“I retired from everyday work at Ross Video after I turned 71, six years ago. However, I continue to be a Director on the Board of Ross and I own John Ross Technologies Inc. in Ottawa.  

“My son, David, is the current President of Ross Video and is even more passionate about inventing and promoting new products than I was. Under David’s leadership – and the fantastic team he has assembled – Ross has grown considerably in the last six years. That I should have so capable a son is perhaps my greatest legacy.  I am immensely proud of David,” said Ross.

“Occasionally, I still shake my head in some disbelief and find it awesome that all of this has arisen from my early chance employment at CKY, the humble beginnings at CBWT and especially the help from a host of very kind people.”

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