Emmy Award Winning Director: JD DelVecchio, ’79

“15 seconds to air.”

“Stand by all cameras.”

“Stand by video tape.”

“Stand by slo mo.”

“Stand by to roll video tape in five.”

“And roll tape!”

“Five, four, three, two, one.”

“Take tape!”

When John “JD” DelVecchio was growing up in Syracuse those were the words that inspired him. They were commands being given by a television sports director to his crew. When viewers tuned in to Monday Night Football in the 1960s and 70s, the beginning of every telecast included those words coupled with a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a broadcast production truck. “I remember being 10 years old watching that and thinking it was the coolest thing,” said DelVecchio. “I decided I wanted to become a ‘TV guy.’” Today DelVecchio is one of the best “TV guys” in the business. He’s an Emmy award winning director who has overseen coverage of some of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Vincent Spadafora, '73
Vincent “Vinny” Spadafora, ’73

During DelVecchio’s senior year at Syracuse’s Corcoran High School he applied to several colleges. When he visited OCC and was given a tour by a professor in the Radio & TV major, he knew it was the perfect fit for him. “Vinny Spadafora took me around and showed me I could get my hands on the equipment and begin learning right away. I was pulled in immediately.”

DelVecchio started taking classes at OCC in the fall of 1977 and knew he had made the right choice. “I loved it there. Vinny Spadafora and (professors) Cathy Hawkins and Robert Gaurnier were very honest and open and really great teachers. They related to us and it made a big difference.”

The hands-on experience promised during his visit turned out to be true. “The first week in radio classes we were learning how to edit tape and mixing turntables. Instead of spending our first year in a book we were working. Getting involved right away really hooked us.”

DelVecchio stayed busy outside of class as well. “I got involved in the college radio station, calling play-by-play of basketball games.” He would also shadow Spadafora who often broadcast high school basketball games on the radio. “We loved to go with him, watch him set up, work with him and learn from him.” DelVecchio also found opportunities working on telecasts of a local minor league football team, the Syracuse Aces.

DelVecchio graduated from OCC in 1979 and transferred to SUNY Fredonia where he would earn a bachelor’s degree two years later. DelVecchio returned to Syracuse, spent a year working in production at WTVH TV in Syracuse, then moved to New York City for a position with the brand new Satellite News Channel. That job would evaporate when CNN bought out Satellite News Channel after only one year in business.

As quickly as one door closed, another opened which would provide a lifetime of memories. DelVecchio was hired at NBC Television as an audio engineer. “I remember my first day there they put 10 of us on a subway and sent us to Brooklyn where we had to set up a stage for a show Bill Cosby was going to do. I remember running cables through rafters and doing whatever needed to be done.” The stage they built turned into the home of one of television’s most popular situation comedies, “The Cosby Show.” DelVecchio worked on some of the first episodes.

DelVecchio was also a part of Saturday Night Live throughout the 1984-85 season. The show had just lost its biggest cast member, Eddie Murphy, at the end of the previous season. Murphy would return several times to guest host. Regular cast members that season included Jim Belushi, Billy Crystal, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Christopher Guest and Martin Short. During his time at NBC he also worked on the Today Show and the David Letterman Show.

DelVecchio (left) with golf legends Jack Nicklaus (center) and Lee Trevino (right).
DelVecchio (left) with golf legends Jack Nicklaus (center) and Lee Trevino (right).

In 1985 DelVecchio got his foot in the door in the world of sports and has been there ever since. He was hired by a company now known as PGA (Professional Golf Association) Tour Productions as a videotape editor. “I always loved golf dating back to when I was on the Corcoran High School golf team.  I didn’t set out with the goal of being in golf but when I got the opportunity I loved it.”

DelVecchio has been a director for ESPN and ABC’s golf coverage since the early 1990s. His first live lead directing opportunity came in 1994 when Tiger Woods won his first U.S. Amateur Championship at the Tournament Players Club in Ponte Vedra, Florida. DelVecchio also directs more than 20 events annually for NBC and the Golf Channel including the NCAA Golf Championships, the Solheim Cup and various major championships. “The structure of how golf is done can be very challenging. At any moment, you can have 30 golfers taking shots. It’s a challenge to capture everything that’s going on all at once and I enjoy it.” DelVecchio’s next high-profile challenge will come in July when he is the lead director at the British Open in St. Andrews.

While directing college football telecasts DelVecchio (left) worked with former Miami quarterback Gino Toretta (center) and former Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson (right).
While directing college football telecasts DelVecchio (left) worked with former Miami quarterback Gino Toretta (center) and former Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson (right).

While golf has been the constant on his resume for the last 30 years he’s also directed coverage of several other sports. DelVecchio won an Emmy Award for his work at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. He’s also been a regular on the college football scene, directing numerous primetime games on ABC and bowl games. DelVecchio owns the distinction of broadcasting the two longest games in college football history, the longest of which lasted seven overtimes. “It was amazing and ultimately very tiring. In the moment, the adrenaline gets you through it.”

With the growth of cable and the exponential increase in the number of channels, longer work days have become part of the job. “When I started doing golf we’d be on for two hours. Now with the cable networks we are on for eight or nine hours. You get breaks within that time but it’s a long day. The excitement of the moments and the adrenaline that kicks in really carries you through. It’s as close to being on a team as we experience.”

Working long hours and traveling constantly with two children (daughter Jessica and son Alex) and his wife, Kathleen can be challenging. DelVecchio stays connected and involved in their sports at home and continues to manage Alex’s Travel Ice Hockey teams. Father and son also bond an old fashioned way. “We collect sports trading cards just like I did when I was a kid. It’s something we talk about regularly and it has really kept the fan in me alive.”

Throughout his decades in an ever-changing industry DelVecchio has lived by basic principles which are as relevant today as they were when he was hired for his first job in 1981:

  • Make the best of every opportunity every time you get one. The opportunities to be judged and move up are few and far between.
  • The broadcasting industry is a very small world. The person working for you this week may be your boss two years down the road.

Discussions about career growth and advice for future students inevitably bring DelVecchio back to his time at OCC. “We had a very close group when I was there and many of us still stay in touch to this day and are working in the industry. We are very fortunate to have had such a talented group.” As for DelVecchio’s own success it all comes back to Spadafora whom he met when he visited OCC. “I give Vinny a lot of credit for where I wound up. He was a good friend. I miss him.”

Spadafora passed away in a car accident in March 2013. OCC’s Foundation has set up a scholarship in his honor.

Envisioning A Career – Tony Melfi, ’89

Tony Melfi, '89 (left) in scenic Whistler, British Columbia, Canada shooting an X Games feature in January 2015. With him is two-time gold medalist snowboarder Max Parrot planning his next trick.
Tony Melfi, ’89 (left) in scenic Whistler, British Columbia, Canada shooting an X Games feature in January 2015. With him is two-time gold medalist snowboarder Max Parrot planning his next trick.

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.”

RESIZED Tony Melfi in PolandWhen 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.”

Melfi (holding camera) and business partner Evan Hathaway (left wearing plaid shirt) plan a shot while shooting a commercial for Reebok CrossFit.
Melfi (holding camera) and business partner Evan Hathaway (left, wearing plaid shirt) plan a shot while shooting a commercial for Reebok CrossFit.

“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.”