This week in our career-advice column, we find out how to turn a teenage obsession with video into a career as a jet-setting media personality.
Name: Jason Agnew
Job Title: Television and radio host
In 30 seconds or less, tell me what you do all day at work.
It depends if it’s a writing day, a travel day, or a shooting day. Some of my days are spent writing for my Sunday Morning Trivia show on NewsTalk 1010. Along with that, I also write the questions and dialogue for my traveling game show, Door to Door. So, on average, I’m writing over 100 trivia questions per week. When I’m in production, though, I’m in planes, hotels, and in the back of a van waiting to jump out and run up to someone’s door to knock and hope they invite me in so they can win some money. And then there are those weeks that I’m booked out to host and voice my YTV and Nickelodeon show SPLATALOT, which means time on a green screen or in a voice-over booth.
Oh, and every Sunday I know that I’m up and on the air at 9 a.m. for the three-hour trivia show, and then I get a bit of time to relax and catch up on watching wrestling and MMA before hitting the air at 11 p.m. that night on TSN Radio as the host of The LAW: Live Audio Wrestling, which I’ve been doing for 13 years now. I’m sorry, that wasn’t 30 seconds!
How did you first become interested in working in television and radio?
My mom’s best friend got re-married when I was 13, and she bought a video camera and gave it to me and said, “Go run around and film some funny stuff at the wedding.” I thought it was the coolest thing in the world! I bought one shortly after and, in high school, turned any possible assignment into making some sort of video. Once I found out that there was a university program for this stuff, it was full speed ahead to get into Ryerson’s Radio and Television Arts program, and I never looked back.
What was your first big break as a live or on-air host?
In my final year at Ryerson, one of my teachers sent out a posting about a show looking for two male hosts for a “guy-geared” music and sports show called BangTV. I had never really auditioned for anything before, but decided to give it a shot, and I got it! I was the music and comedy guy on the show and got to interview a whole bunch of big names in the music industry such as Bif Naked, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Our Lady Peace, and, unfortunately, even Avril Lavigne. I was promoted to producer of that show and then also hosted and produced a second show called Teens Dating, which was exactly as it sounds: a train wreck!
How did you start your relationship with BITE television?
After finishing BangTV, I started sending around my demo reel, and a gentleman named Jeffrey Elliott saw it and really liked my work. We kept in touch as I worked as a producer for a couple of years. When the BITE TV network was about to launch, he offered me the job of the first-ever producer and on-air host of the channel. I’ve been there ever since.
In both Door to Door and The Conventioneers, you have to approach strangers on camera. How do you get people you don’t know to talk to you?
It’s as simple as “Hey can I chat with you for my TV show?” If the person says “no thanks,” I go to the next person. I refuse to coax people into being on camera because, ultimately, if they’re uncomfortable, it will show during the interview and doesn’t make for good TV. I love bumping into people that want to be on TV and are excited about it—they always make for the best interviews and contestants.
Hosting both shows must involve a lot of travel. What are you coping methods for always being on the go?
I don’t love to travel, but I love to travel for work. I’m the type of person who rarely takes time off because, in my life, I feel like my vocation is my vacation. The travel is great, it’s always an adventure, I travel with amazing crew-members for both shows, and I get to see the most bizarre and cool places. How else would I have ever ended up in Roswell, New Mexico if not for The Conventioneers attending The UFO Convention, or in Metropolis, Illinois for The Superman Celebration?
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a position as a host in television or radio?
I would say that just being a “host” is not enough. I’m sure people have done it but, even after more than a decade of doing this, I could not survive financially on just being a host, which is why I also write and produce shows as well. I think going to school for it is a good idea, but along with that you should start working or interning while you’re in school. You’ll get more hands-on experience in the workplace than you will in the classroom, even if it is a practical school.
What are your favourite and least favourite aspects of what you do?
My favourite thing is just getting out there and doing it: making TV and hosting radio. It’s the actual execution—the performance aspect of it is still very much a rush for me. My least favorite part is dealing with the restrictions of the Canadian media industry. You can make the best show in the world but, if no one knows about it, then what does it matter? I find it to be quite the struggle. This is why I was so excited about the fact Marble Media was able to get SPLATALOT on YTV in Canada and on Nickelodeon in the United States. Kids love it and now it’s on a huge network, and it’s very exciting!