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TV pioneer a Central School grad
Ross created an empire after learning in Transcona
An innovative Central School graduate went on to become one of the biggest names in television production.
Some of the first steps toward creating the global empire, he said, began in an attic at 111 Whittier Ave. E.
John Ross, who now lives in Iroquois, Ont. (located southeast of Ottawa near the U.S. border), is the founder of Ross Video, which creates equipment for live broadcasts ranging from television production switchers, control systems, graphics systems, and robotic camera systems.
Ross moved to Transcona in 1946 from Moncton, N.B., where he had already begun tinkering with electronics.
"In New Brunswick, when I was in Grade 3, I found an electronics textbook. I couldn’t understand any of it, but that just made me determined to be able to understand it," recalled Ross in a phone interview from Iroquois. "By the time I moved to Transcona, I was busy building electronic projects from radios, old radios that people had kindly given to me."
Ross, who turns 78 on Sept. 29, moved to Winnipeg after his father didn’t return to the family after the Second World War. His mother, Esther, was a substitute teacher at Central before getting a full-time job at Wayoata School, and Ross recalled some lean years where the family had little to eat and he had just one pair of pants.
He said he wasn’t particularly interested in the work assigned to him at Central School, but since his teachers knew he had other pursuits on the go, they allowed him to explore his own education.
"They would chastise me, but in very kindly ways," said Ross, who was named to the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston in May 2013. "They knew I was achieving in other areas."
That included some on-the-job training at a young age — after meeting a neighbour who worked for CKY radio, the then 14-year-old Ross got a job working at the Dawson Road transmitter when the station was changing its frequency from 1280 to 580. He’s considered to be the youngest person to have worked as a commercial radio transmitter operator in Canada.
"When the job was all done after a couple of weeks, the chief engineer said ‘You know the transmitter quite well, why don’t you stay on for the rest of the summer?’" Ross recalled, noting he lived at the transmitter site, which had a kitchen and a bedroom. "For three days at a time, I was responsible for making sure it stayed on-air."
Ross also made money by fixing radios, and designed the first public address system at East End Community Centre — the proceeds of which he used to buy his graduation suit.
Ross also showed the first colour television pictures from a Canadian transmitter in the country. At the time, CBC converted American feeds, like NBC broadcasts, to black-and-white. However, Ross built a receiver to convert them back to colour 10 years before colour television officially debuted in the country, earning the recognition of the Winnipeg Free Press.
"I had to invent something to undo the damage that had been done by CBC," Ross said. "I outsmarted them and I recovered it all."
He even once showed a New Year’s Eve broadcast featuring Perry Como to some friends, including now-wife Diane, the daughter of former Transcona mayor and provincial NDP leader Russ Paulley.
After working for television stations in Winnipeg and for a company designing television equipment in Montreal, Ross founded Ross Video Ltd. in 1974. The company is the second-largest in its field, with major American networks and several North American stadiums using the company’s equipment. As well, the company designed a video decoder for the International Space Station. The decoder was launched with a Japanese experiment module in 2008.
He said growing up working with electronics in Transcona helped prepare him to invent what broadcasters would be looking for.
"I knew what to make for the next generation," Ross said. "You don’t give them stuff they don’t need that they have to pay for. You give them something they’re very willing to buy."
His siblings, Gordon and Anne, still live in Manitoba.
Ross is planning to return to Winnipeg for the school’s centennial on Sept. 28. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at École Centrale, the name by which the school is now known after switching to French immersion education.
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