Melvin Ryder, 86, the founder and chairman of the board of the Army Times Publishing Co., died Friday at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had a heart ailment.

The company's publications include the Army Times, the Navy Times, the Air Force Times, the Federal Times, which is for civilian government employes; Military Market, a monthly trade magazine for military exchange and commissary personnel, and The Times Magazine. The three armed forces publications and the Federal Times now have a combined weekly circulation of 385,000 copies.

In 1971, Mr. Ryder bought the Alexandria Journal. This became the nucleus for Journal Newspapers Inc., which publishes twice-weekly community newspapers serving Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery and Price George's counties. The five editions of the Journal have a circulation of 118,000.

The man who started these publications spent most of his life in the newspaper business. But he also was a homesteader in Montana in 1916, a real estate man in Florida in the boom and subsequent bust of the 1920s, and an advertising man in New York. He moved to Washington in 1933 and began his publishing enterprises with Happy Days, a newspaper for members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that provided jobs for about 3 million young men between 1933 and 1942.

The name of the paper was taken from the title of the theme song for Franklin D. Roosevelt's first presidential campaign.

Mr. Ryder was born in Cadiz Junction, Ohio, and he grew up in Steubenville, Ohio. He began his newspaper career on The Milk Record, a trade publication. He attended Ohio State Agricultural College, now Ohio State University, and worked on the Ohio State Lantern, the school newspaper. He helped convert it from a weekly to a daily.

After his graduation in 1915, Mr. Ryder studied law briefly and then moved to Chicago, where he worked for agricultural publications. A year later, he went to Montana to try his hand at homesteading.

He enlisted in the Army as the United States was being drawn into World War I and was sent to France as a member of the staff of Stars & Stripes. Among his colleagues on the paper were Harold Ross, later the editor of The New Yorker; Steve Early, President Roosevelt's press secretary; Grantland Rice, sportswriter, and Franklin P. Adams, a newspaper columnist and poet.

After the war, Mr. Ryder joined Willard Kiplinger, a classmate at Ohio State, in founding what became the Kiplinger Newsletter. He then went to Florida, where he was in the real estate business.His next stop was New York, where he became a partner in an advertising agency.

The first edition of the Army Times was published on Aug 17, 1940. The company which Mr. Ryder founded to publish it now describes itself as the largest nongovernment military newspaper publishing company in the world. Mr. Ryder remained president of the firm until 1970, when he resigned that position. He remained chairman of the board until his death.

Survivors include his wife, Florence, of the home in Washington; three daughters, Susan Skaggs, of West Chester, Pa., and Mary Jane Belber and Molly Ryder, both of Washington; two stepsons, William F. and Richard C. Donnelly, and a stepdaughter, Sister Ann Donnelly, all of Washington, and 16 grandchildren. CAPTION: Picture, MELVIN RYDER