Ed Spray’s legacy in the world of television includes dozens of industry awards, the programming of five CBS television stations and the creation of three cable networks. It culminates in his tenure as president of Scripps Networks, home of HGTV and the Food Network. But it begins in IU’s Radio-Television Building.
Spray left his hometown of Seymour, Indiana, to major in radio and television with a minor in journalism at IU. He served as president of Sigma Delta Chi Journalism Society, vice president of his fraternity Kappa Delta Rho and member of the IU Student Foundation. He also earned spare change by shooting film of campus activities for Indianapolis TV stations. Upon graduating in 1963, he married Donna Cornwell, a fellow IU student pursuing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in elementary education.
As he worked toward his master’s degree in communications at IU, Spray served as a part-time producer/director for IU Radio and Television Services. He graduated in 1969 and landed his first job as a film editor at WISH-TV Indianapolis, eventually moving on to WMAQ-TV Chicago, an NBC-owned television station. There, Spray gradually rose to producer/director and won five Chicago Emmy Awards during his next nine years of work.
Spray left WMAQ but stayed in Chicago, taking a job as director of broadcasting at CBS-owned station WBBM-TV. There, he led one of the most prolific and celebrated programming operations in commercial television, earning nearly all of the industry’s most iconic and coveted awards, including two national Emmys, two Peabodys, several DuPont Columbia Awards, Edward R. Murrow documentary awards and more than 75 local Emmys.
In 1986, Spray transferred to Los Angeles CBS-owned station KCBS, where he served as station manager. He was eventually promoted to a CBS corporate vice president position, which put him in charge of developing national programming for the CBS Television Stations group.
Spray left Los Angeles six years later, in 1992, opting to transition to higher education full-time. He taught as an associate professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Communications.
In 1994, he was hired by the E.W. Scripps Company to launch a home and garden cable television network, better known now as HGTV. He co-founded the network and was initially responsible for producing, scheduling and promoting HGTV content. Two years later, the company acquired the Food Network and assigned Spray to lead the relaunch of the network with the new highly successful format it uses today. In 1999, the company started its third network — DIY — and established Scripps Networks, naming Spray president. In his time as president, the company launched a fourth network — now called the Cooking Channel, launched HGTV Canada and acquired two more existing cable networks.
Spray retired in 2005 and was named a distinguished professor of journalism and communications at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where he taught for four years. He was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2012, the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honored him with membership in the Chicago Silver Circle, an award that recognized his outstanding contributions to Chicago television.