Ralph Mellanby is an innovative broadcast professional who was the executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada for 19 years. The father of the former NHL player Scott Mellanby, he covered 13 Olympic Games.
Mellanby was born in Hamilton on August 22, 1934. His family moved to Windsor with in 1945 and eventually settled on a farm in Essex.
Mellanby attended Sandwich Collegiate, where he played Junior football and basketball, before enrolling at Essex High School. There, he played football, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. Led by Coach Roy Battagello, Mellanby’s Essex basketball team won the 1954 All-Ontario Senior “A” title.
Outside of school, Mellanby was a fine athlete in his youth. A shortstop, he played Senior and Junior baseball for Essex in the County League, winning several titles. He also played for Chatham Lodi Recaps in the Mic Mac League, eventually earning a place on the St. Louis Cardinals’ Minor League Class “C” affiliate in Cedar Rapids Iowa. He played in Indiana, Illiniois, and Iowa leagues with that club.
Back in Windsor, Mellanby played football and basketball for the Windsor AKO Juniors and basketball with Riverside United Church, with which he won three titles. He also played for the Essex Merchants, which won the 1959 Ontario Intermediate “C” Championship by defeating Toronto Metro Police, thereby capturing the first OABA title in Essex’s history.
Mellanby is here honoured for his broadcasting career, which started during his days at Wayne State University. There, Mellanby secured a Bachelor of Arts in Communications while working at CKLW in Windsor. (For the record, he played softball for CKLW alongside Gord Haidy and Dick Hames.)
After university, Mellanby took a job at Detroit’s WXYZ-TV, where he worked on the “Soupy Sales” show. He eventually moved on to work at CFCF-TV in Montreal, WGN-TV in Chicago, and WOR-TV in New York. Mellanby’s impressive resume won him a job with the CBC as Executive Producer of Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC). He continued in the role for 19 years (from 1966 to ’85), producing what was then Canada’s number-one television series.
Mellanby brought 20 major innovations to HNIC during his time with the show. He was the first producer to use original music to introduce a sports show (in 1965), and the first to put cameras behind benches (’65) and behind nets (’66). Under Mellanby, HNIC broadcast the first sports event in Canada in colour (’67). It was the first program to employ slow-motion replay (’69), use aerial shots of arenas (’70), and transfer between games via satellite (sometime in the ’70s). In 1975, HNIC became Canada’s first program use computer animation in an opening sequence. In the next decade, Mellanby’s show became the first to use radio-frequency wireless microphones for on ice interviews during the 1980 Stanley Cup Final. It was also the first to use point-of-view cameras over the goal nets to confirm or deny goals (1982), the first to employ cameras in nets, and the first to use robotic cameras – in the penalty box, in dressing rooms, and over the glass (all ’88). Mellanby also produced the “Peter Puck” children’s series for NBC in the 1970s.
Mellanby was responsible for host broadcaster operation of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. At the time, the broadcast was acknowledged worldwide as the finest Winter Olympics television production in history. Mellanby produced or directed the hockey tournament at every Winter Olympics from Innsbruck (1976) to Lillehammer (1994). He has worked 13 Olympics in some capacity, including both summer and winter Games.
Over the course of his three decades in the communications industry, Mellanby’s name became synonymous with quality and innovative television production. Mellanby introduced Canada to some of hockey’s most entertaining and talented broadcast personalities, including Dave Hodge, Bob Cole, Howie Meeker, and Don Cherry. Mellanby, whose background includes news, drama, documentaries, and entertainment production, has worked at some point with almost every major North American network, including ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, Hughes, Turner, CTV, CBC, TVO, TSN, Global, and Radio-CBC.
Mellanby also achieved several “firsts” while covering international competitions. At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, he was the first producer to employ cameras on rails (for ski jumps and downhill skiing), the first to use an overhead robotic camera (for figure skating), and the first to place miniature cameras on athletes’ bodies. At the 1991 Goodwill Games in Seattle, he was the first to use helmet cameras on referees.
Mellanby has won five Emmys, including a memorable 1980 award for directing ABC’s “Miracle on Ice” telecast in Lake Placid. He is the only Canadian to do so. He is also the only Canadian to win two Kennedy Awards and an Ohio State Award. He has been honoured with a Canadian Film and Television Medal and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Media Canada.
In 1991, Mellanby was the first English-language producer to hire Celine Dion (for the Andy Williams Christmas Show). He worked with several great entertainers over the years, including Paul Anka, Petula Clark, Tom Jones, the Four Lads, Anne Murray, Nat “King” Cole, and Louis Armstrong.
Mellanby had several business ventures. He was Vice President of MacLaren Advertising from 1969 to ’77. Mellanby Robertson Productions Inc., where he was Chairman, worked out of Atlanta and Toronto. The company produced the Royal Canadian Air Farce and the annual Governor-General’s Performing Arts Awards broadcast. He also established Ralph Mellanby Associations (RMA), an Atlanta personal service and TV consulting firm, and was joint owner of Nabisco Brands Hockey Legends Inc., which produced Bobby Orr and the Hockey Legends. Mellanby was Vice-President of Association International De La Presse Sportive, Canada (A.I.P.S.).
Mellanby is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Sports Media Canada Hall of Fame, and Canadian Film and Television Association Hall of Fame. He was Canada’s Broadcaster-of-the-Year in 1990 and received an Honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Windsor in 1991.
Scott Mellanby, Ralph’s son, played 1,431 National Hockey League games with five teams between 1986 and 2007.
At the time of his induction, Ralph Mellanby resided in Atlanta, Georgia.