Tony Melfi came to OCC with out-of-this-world dreams. “When I was 12 years old I decided I wanted to be an astronomer and the first professional still photographer on the moon.” Melfi never made it to the moon, but his experience at OCC helped him climb to the top of his profession as a videographer.
Melfi graduated from Syracuse’s Henninger High School in 1987 and enrolled at OCC. He started taking astronomy courses but figured out quickly his childhood dream was never going to happen. “About the same time I realized I wasn’t good at math I heard about a major where I could be a photographer shooting video.”
Melfi switched to the Radio and TV major and was impressed with how quickly the hands-on learning started. “I remember day one at OCC we were turning on cameras and shooting in the studio. Day two we were editing reel-to-reel voiceovers we had done ourselves. Day three we were editing video. At a lot of four-year schools you aren’t doing any of that before your junior year.”
As time went on Melfi noticed a unique sense of camaraderie within the Radio and TV major. “It never mattered what grade you were in. We all had the same professors and were always working on the same things, just on different levels. We all worked together, helped each other and had a great time.”
Outside class Melfi was getting real-world experience helping cover Syracuse University sports for the cable television organization “SUper Sports.” He was doing a little bit of everything: shooting and editing video, keeping statistics during games and even some on-air work.
Melfi’s excellence inside and outside of class earned him high honors when he graduated in 1989. He was awarded the Radio and TV department’s Curriculum Honors Award.
Melfi transferred to SUNY Fredonia where he would earn a degree in Broadcast Journalism two years later. After graduating he worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and gain valuable experience. He continued working for “SUper Sports,” interned with a sports talk show at WHEN Radio, interned at WIXT TV (Channel 9) where he shot and edited video of high school sports events and wrote scripts to match the video, and also had a job at the old Community General Hospital so he could have health insurance coverage.
Melfi got his first big break when he was hired to be a news videographer with WUTR TV in Utica. It’s also when he started to see the true value of his OCC education. “Our professors, people like Tony Vadala and Vinny Spadafora, had worked in the business. When I got to WUTR I found out everything our professors told us was true because they had done it. Maybe the technology had changed, but the fundamentals of doing things was the same. Everything went as they said they would go.”
Melfi also learned his OCC education gave him a distinct advantage over his co-workers. “I worked with a lot of kids from other colleges and their learning seemed to be much more theory based. They were very lost compared to OCC graduates. What we learned carried right over into the workplace automatically.”
Six months after starting at WUTR he received an offer for a similar position at WTVH TV in Syracuse that was too good to pass up. “I remember walking through the newsroom for my interview and seeing (longtime news anchor) Ron Curtis and so many other faces I had watched growing up. I was very nervous.” Melfi aced the interview, had a resume tape which showed he had the ability, was offered a job and accepted it.
Melfi flourished at WTVH. “There were so many people of all different levels of experience there who really cared about the product and helped each other. It was a great environment.” Melfi learned from everyone he worked with including a fellow newcomer he was often paired with, a young reporter named David Muir. Today Muir is the anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight.
Melfi spent four-and-a-half years working at WTVH. His strong work ethic coupled with his growing skills earned him a videographer position at ESPN. “When I left WTVH I thanked everyone there who I worked with. I told them that without this station and these people I never would have gotten to ESPN.”
When Melfi arrived at ESPN in 1997 he hit the ground running and never stopped. “I spent 20 days on the road covering the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and Finals. I thought, ‘Wow… this is pretty cool!’” Melfi was a road warrior, spending about 180 days a year living out of his suitcase. He covered Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Finals and NCAA Basketball Final Fours. “My favorite was baseball spring training. For many years I went to Florida every year and traveled everywhere working with legendary baseball reporter Peter Gammons. I also spent several spring trainings in Arizona working with Tim Kurkjian. Both were great to work with. They both love baseball and it would really come through in the work they did.”
Melfi spent nine years at ESPN. In his later years he got married and had a son. He knew starting a family meant he couldn’t spend as much time on the road anymore. Melfi and a co-worker at ESPN, a producer named Evan Hathaway, made the decision to go out on their own and start a production company, “13 Productions.” They are freelancers who produce commercials and shoot sports features. “We do everything we did before but now we work together and for each other. I shoot video. We both edit and package everything up for the client.”
“13 Productions” is now in its tenth year. Melfi has cut his travel back to about 60 days a year. When he’s not at work his life is non-stop at home. Melfi and his wife Regina have three children: 10-year-old Luca, 8-year-old Ronan, and 4-year-old Nina.
Melfi’s professional excellence has earned him two Sports Emmy Awards. During his more than 20 years in the business he’s worked with people of all ages and all levels of ability. Along the way he’s gathered valuable advice for today’s students:
- Just because you graduate with a degree doesn’t guarantee you anything. You have to knock on doors. You have to ask people to give you a chance. When you get that chance you have to nail it.
- Behind you there are probably a thousand people who can do what you do and half of them can do it better. You need to push your way in and show what you can do right away. Show you are willing to learn. Prove you can do it day after day after day.
- You have to be able to communicate with people. You have to bring ideas and execute them as promised. Technology changes but those things stay the same. They are as important today as when I was starting out in the business.
“I tell my sons I barely remember my 20s and it’s true. I spent the whole decade working. In the end I wouldn’t change anything. I’m pleased with how everything turned out. I’m glad I went to OCC. It’s where I figured out what I wanted to do. It’s the best decision I ever made.”