Brian Williams Media Award Recipients

Brian Williams Media Award Recipients (11)

The Brian Williams Media Award is presented annually to a person in the Ontario sports media who has distinguished themselves in their life's work and career.

Gordon CraigToronto’s Gordon Craig got his start in television in Winnipeg when he opted to join CBC rather than continue his university studies. It wasn’t long before he was moved to Toronto and into the TV sports department, where he soon began to produce curling shows under a variety of titles.

One of Canada’s proudest moments came in 1976, when Montreal hosted the Olympic Summer Games. As executive producer of CBC’s coverage, Craig joined the fight to finally convince senior management that CBC must go wall-to-wall with Olympic programming, breaking only for news. This revolutionary move was to become the standard for all future Olympic coverage. It also planted the seed that grew into a visionary idea. Why not develop a 24-hour sports television service for Canada? After all, specialty television had just launched in the United States and was gaining some traction.

In the early 1980s, Craig left CBC to pursue his dream. All he needed to do was find a company with a love of sports, deep pockets and convince them that in a country one-tenth the size of the U.S. with a relatively miniscule number of cabled homes, his idea would work. It was Peter Widdrington, then Chairman and CEO of Labatt Brewing Company, who gave him the chance.

On September 1, 1984, TSN was born. Television sports coverage was immediately revolutionized in this country. First as a pay service and later moving to basic cable, TSN rapidly grew and became the anchor for the growth of cable in Canada. In 1988, TSN received international acclaim as the first cable specialty service to carry the Olympic games, with 115 hours of coverage from Calgary.

Harnarayan SinghFor many in the province of Ontario, the sound of Jerry Howarth’s voice means Toronto Blue Jays baseball and a warm summer day.

The York, Pa. native was raised in San Francisco. Howarth began his broadcast career in 1974 with the Tacoma Twins of the Pacific Coast League. The Blue Jays stalwart joined the club in 1981. He broadcasted an estimated 7,500 professional baseball games in his career.

Howarth called Toronto's back-to-back World Series victories in 1992 and 1993 with the late Tom Cheek.

Howarth used a steady, warm, conversational style throughout his long career. Perhaps he is best known for his “There She Goes!” home run call.

Starting at spring training each year, Howarth kept notes in a thick spiral notebook that he kept close at hand throughout the season. His preparation was meticulous. Howarth scored each game using a shorthand all his own.

A man of routine, he would provide consistent refrains while on the air. Howarth weaved stories from his decades in the sport through the broadcast. He often used trademark lines like “He scorrrrres” or “The Blue Jays are in flight” as he called the action.

In 2012, Howarth was awarded the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's Jack Graney Award.

Howarth coached high school basketball for 20 years at Etobicoke Collegiate Institute. He is also known for his active support and fundraising efforts on behalf of the Special Olympics.

Howarth, who became a Canadian citizen in 1994, lives in Toronto with his wife Mary. They have two sons, Joe and Ben.

Harnarayan SinghWhen Harnarayan Singh was a four-year-old living in Brooks, Alberta, he told his parents he wanted to be a hockey broadcaster, like Ron MacLean on Hockey Night in Canada.

Growing up, Singh, would be doing his own commentary of the NHL games, and his family would have to tell him to turn the volume down so they could actually hear what was going on with the television.

Singh, of course, imagined calling games in English, like all the announcers on his television dial. He couldn’t have possibly predicted the future: that he’d one day become the ground-breaking voice of Canadian Sikhs, sharing hockey with a far-reaching community of Punjabi-speaking fans across the country.

In 2008, CBC offered Singh a chance to call a Penguins-Red Wings Stanley Cup game in Punjabi, Canada’s third most-spoken language, after English and French. The concept was well-received, and the network eventually evolved into a weekly broadcast.

Singh calls games every Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi as well as the Stanley Cup Playoffs, alongside a rotating cast of analysts. In 2016, his exuberant call of Penguins center Nick Bonino’s game-winning goal in Game 1 of the Finals went viral, opening him up to new audiences.

Singh, an unlikely face in hockey media, has become a success story who's living the Canadian dream.

Howard Starkman Born in Toronto in 1945, Howard Starkman has spent four decades as an executive with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was initially hired as director of public relations on July 4, 1976 and he served in that capacity until 1998. In that role, he was in charge of media relations, broadcasting, travel and team publications. He was also responsible for the club’s “Name the team” contest prior to the inaugural season that resulted in the Blue Jays name.

Starkman also played key behind-the-scenes roles in the Blue Jays’ first games at Exhibition Stadium and the SkyDome and in their playoff and World Series appearances through 1993. He also doubled as a public relations official for Major League Baseball for 15 World Series and 10 All-Star games. For his efforts, he was presented with the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Robert O. Fishel Award in 1995, an honour that’s bestowed annually for excellence in public relations. Six years later, he was honoured with a 25-year service award from Major League Baseball.

In 1999, Starkman was elevated to vice-president of media relations with the Blue Jays, before transitioning to vice-president, special projects from 2002 to 2014. Widely respected by his colleagues and the media, Starkman has twice (1980, 1996) been honoured with the Good Guy Award by the Toronto chapter of baseball writers and in 2012, he received the President’s Award from Sports Media Canada for his career accomplishments.

In 2014, the Blue Jays established the Howard Starkman Award and named Starkman the first recipient. This award is handed out annually to the Blue Jays Employee of the Year “who best exemplifies the values of integrity, innovation, accountability, team work and a passion for winning.”

Bob ElliottBob Elliott (born September 10, 1949 in Kingston, Ontario) is a Canadian sports columnist who has covered baseball in Canada since the 1978 Home Opener for the Montreal Expos, when he was employed by the Ottawa Citizen. He covered the Expos until 1987, when he moved to Toronto, Ontario and has covered the Toronto Blue Jays since then. As of 2016, he is a columnist for the Toronto Sun.

He was written three books, including Hard Ball about George Bell, in 1990; The Ultimate Blue Jays Trivia Book, in 1993; and The Northern Game: Baseball The Canadian Way, in 2005. Elliott is also the mind behind the Canadian Baseball Network website, which tracks all active Canadian baseball players.

Elliott was awarded the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's Jack Graney Award on December 17, 2010. His grandfather, Chaucer Elliott, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. On December 6, 2011, he was named recipient of the 2012 J. G. Taylor Spink Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. On February 4, 2015, Elliott was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Roy MacGregor was born in the small village of Whitney, Ontario in 1948. Prior to joining the Globe and Mail in 2002, he worked for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean’s magazine, the Toronto Star and Canadian Magazine. Roy has won numerous awards for his journalism, including the National Newspaper Award, several National Magazine Awards and twice the ACTRA Award as the best television drama writer in the country.

MacGregor has covered both sports and politics in his journalism career, having spent 14 years on Parliament Hill prior to covering the Ottawa Senators and the National Hockey League for several years in the 1990s.

He is also the author of some 37 books.

When MacGregor was named an Officer in the Order of Canada in 2005, the citation read: “One of our most gifted storytellers, Roy MacGregor is renowned for evoking the subtle nuances of our Canadian identity in his columns and books.”

MacGregor lives in Kanata, Ontario with his wife and four children.

Tom CheekFrom opening day in 1977 until his 2004 retirement, Tom Cheek was the "Voice of the Toronto Blue Jays". Over those 27 years, Cheek called 4,306 consecutive games. Game 6 of the 1993 World Series brought Cheek's iconic moment with his "Touch 'em all, Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life."

Brian Williams, whom Canadian have welcomed into their homes all these many Olympics, is obviously honoured that the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame’s media award has been named for him.

He is doubly honoured, though, that the first recipient is his long-time friend and mentor, the truly legendary Bill Stephenson.

"That seriously means everything to me," said Williams from some airport out west. "So much of what I have, so much of what’s come my way, is due to the opportunities Bill Stephenson gave me."

We asked Williams if anything came to mind in terms of, say, words of wisdom he’d ever received from Stephenson. Williams immediately came up with a couple of examples.

He recalled, for instance, once using the word "we" in referring to some team in some game report. Stephenson took him aside.

"Bill told me, ‘You’re a journalist. You’re not part of the team. There always has to be that separation between you and the athlete.’"

Another time, another report … "I guess I said something like, ‘I think such and such just happened,’" said Williams. And Stephenson took him aside.

"Bill said, ‘Look, it either happened or it didn’t. Always be secure, always be sure. You’re the expert.’"

Which was pretty much the way Stephenson always handled it, very possibly since taking his first radio gig in 1948 at CJAV in Port Alberni, B.C. From there, it was a quick hop to sports director at Vancouver’s CKWX where he wound up play-by-play man for the B.C. Lions, among many others.

In 1960, the Saskatchewan-born Stephenson took his warm, soothing baritone to Toronto’s CFRB, where he settled in for over four decades, early on as the voice of the Argonauts, not to mention sports director. He went on to patrol the sidelines for CTV’s football coverage for some 15 years and, before long, his voice had become synonymous with the CFL football.

There’d be plenty of Stanley Cups and many world hockey championships, too. But it was as sports director that Stephenson pulled off some true pioneering, establishing the country’s first radio sports department and elevating the genre from the mere reporting of scores to substantial programming in its own right.

He was named to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1988 and to the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame in 2006. And, along the way, he advised young reports like Brian Williams and Dave Hodge about using "we" in their reporting.

No doubt Dave Hodge will have a few words to say about Brian Williams and Bill Stephenson this afternoon. This trio goes way back – with the accent on "way."

Williams, of course, for whom this Ontario Sports Hall of Fame's media award is named, is the guy who sets up in your living room every Olympics.

A year ago, he was delighted when the first recipient turned out to be Stephenson, his old friend and mentor. Today, he's doubly tickled that Hodge, another old friend and mentor, is aboard to complete the circle.

Stephenson, turns out, had hired both for his pioneering sports department at Toronto's CFRB – Williams in 1973; Hodge, five years earlier. Hodge and Williams each wound up in the other's wedding party in '74 and the families remain close to this day.

"One of my closest friends and a great professional," Williams was saying of Hodge a week or so back.

"He was never a cheerleader ... was always able to separate himself from the event. And, while he's a great broadcaster, I'm not sure people realize what a great writer he is, too. He's always had this great respect for the written word."

A big fan of Sunday morning TV, Hodge is now doing exactly that with TSN's The Reporters with Dave Hodge. Actually, Oct. 7 will mark the program's 10th anniversary. He appreciates the casualness inherent in the concept.

"It's probably as enjoyable as anything I've ever done," said Hodge. Which is saying an awful, awful lot. Hodge, Montreal-born has basically been a Toronto guy since age 10, although started out in Chatham – as a sportswriter in 1965, then the following year, as sports director for Chatham's radio CFCO.

CFRB came calling in 1968 and he was plugged in there through '86, managing radio play-by-play for the Toronto Argonauts (1974-80) as well as TV play-by-play for the first-season Buffalo Sabres in 1970-71.

His face became familiar coast-to-coast when he turned up as host for the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada in 1972 – a gig that lasted until the night of March 14, 1987, and his historically indignant flip of a pen.

No hard feelings there Hodge assured. But also no regrets. Post-CBC, he spent some five years in Vancouver as, among other things, sports director at CKNW radio and play-by-play voice for the CFL network. He did play-by-play for the Minnesota North Stars in 1991, then moved to TSN in '92. Summing things up nicely in 2006 was a lifetime achievement award from Sports Media Canada. "He was never afraid to take a stand," said Williams. "He's had a great career because he's done it all with integrity."

Ralph Mellanby was born in Hamilton Ontario on August 22nd 1934, but his father’s new job as editor of the Windsor Star took the family to Essex County, where Ralph went to Essex District High School. He then went to Wayne State in Detroit, where he took one semester a year while playing professional baseball. At Wayne, Ralph was working on a degree in communications, and worked part-time as a prop boy at CKLW-TV in Windsor. He graduated from Wayne in 1958 with a B.A. in Communications, by which time he had worked his way up at CKLW to stagehand, cameraman and then floor manager.

In 1960, he moved on to WGN Chicago as a sports production assistant, and had his first opportunity to direct football and baseball. At this time, new television licences were being granted in Canada. Bud Hayward, President of newly-licensed CFCF-TV in Montreal, received a call in late 1960 from an ad agency friend in Chicago, telling him he should think about hiring a talented young Canadian producer who was making a name for himself in the Windy City. When CFCF-TV went on the air in January 1961, Ralph Mellanby was on staff, hired to direct not only CFL Football, but anything else thrown at him. In 1963, CTV began broadcasting Wednesday night NHL hockey games, and Ralph was assigned to direct both Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs games.

In 1966, CTV’s Montreal Production Supervisor Pip Wedge asked Ralph to take over direction of B.A. Musical Showcase, a musical variety program with a game show component. While still a sports producer at heart, Ralph found he enjoyed working with musical and performing talent, and directing scripted productions. It was this experience of ‘showbiz’ that made Ralph a logical candidate when Hockey Night in Canada exec Frank Selke Jr. was looking for.

The combination of Ralph’s sports experience and his newly acquired flair for show business enabled him to bring many creative ideas to Canada’s television hockey coverage and fully justified CSN’s confidence in him. In 1968, after two years on CSN’s staff, Ralph negotiated a new non-exclusive ten-year contract to continue work on hockey for CSN, while being able to do other things that did not interfere with his hockey responsibilities. Ralph remained involved with Hockey Night in Canada for twenty years. Thirteen of the key on-air and production personnel he hired during that time were subsequently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ralph’s sports expertise earned him extensive involvement in Olympic Games coverage, starting with his direction of hockey at all the Winter Olympics from 1976 in Innsbruck to Lillehammer in 1994. In 1985 he was hired by CTV to start work on preparations for CTV’s Host Broadcaster role in the production of the Winter Games in Calgary in 1988. In 1989 he formed his own company, Ralph Mellanby Associates, to handle several sports productions for CTV. He was senior producer at the Barcelona Summer Games in 1992 and the Director of Venue Production in Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics there. He also worked for Turner Broadcasting and ABC as co-Host Broadcaster for the 1991 Pan-American Games in Havana, Cuba in 1991.

Ralph won five Emmy Awards, all for various Olympic Games productions, including his much-lauded coverage of the Miracle on Ice, when the USA won a Gold Medal at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980. He also won two Kennedy Awards, an Ohio State Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Media Canada. Ralph’s other major sports credits include involvement in the production of fifteen Canadian Open Golf Championships and multiple LPGA events, 12 Canadian Open Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships, scores of CFL series, playoff and Grey Cup games, and the production of the first Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays baseball games. He was also VP Television for the Canadian Football League for two years, 1989-90.