So you want to be on TV eh…
You want to be on the sidelines, at the rink, under the studio lights as millions watch you interview the Crosby’s, the Lebron’s, the Jeter’s? You want to call the Stanley Cup clinching game or read the highlights on Sportsnet as people are sitting down with their bowl of cereal each morning?
It’s probably the coolest job out there other than actually playing the games themselves. Sure, we all have our favourites. Ron MacLean, Jay Onrait, Bob Cole…These guys make it look pretty easy eh. You could do what they do…right?
Well, hold on just a second there.
Ron MacLean has been on your TV for 30 years making his poetic soliloquies linking life and hockey seem like second nature.
Jay Onrait is one of the few out there who can make you laugh while doing the highlights without you thinking twice that this guy isn’t a comedian.
Bob Cole…well, he’s just awesome. No one will ever call a game like him again…ever.
Let’s look at this from a practical sense. Making a living on TV as an on-air personality is probably just as hard to do as playing the game professionally. Making it look so easy is why these guys have been on TV for so long, making the kind of money they do. They are the best of the best. If you want to do the same thing, you’ll need to take a long hard look at yourself before you should try and follow in their footsteps.
While there is no standard, no cookie cutter approach to what it takes to make it in broadcasting, there are a few things that separate those who are doing this for a living and those who are just dreamers, hoping they have what it takes.
Be honest with yourself. Be your own biggest critic! Look in the mirror. Look at how how you are dressed. Look at how you carry yourself. When you are in front of the camera, do you have any presence? Would YOU want to watch YOURSELF everyday? Do you sound smooth and polished or does your voice evoke the sound of nails on a chalkboard when you’re reading highlights? Be objective. This is the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Really stop and think. What would an objective producer think of your work? Would you pay money for your services? Look at your work and compare how you look and sound to those already on TV. No one is saying you are going to be amazing right away, you haven’t been doing this for 20 years, but each one of these people on TV have raw talent. Do you? Trevor Pilling, Head of Programming for CBC Sports and former Executive Producer of Hockey Night in Canada says he looks for someone with “excellent performance skills and the confidence to pull it off in front of large audiences.” He says that “a deep knowledge and passion for sports is essential to be a great storyteller…..and that is what we do, tell stories and make connections with our audience” Does storytelling come second nature to you? Can you stay succinct, highly knowledgeable and entertaining all at the same time? The pros can.
Don’t Expect The World
This is a big one in my opinion and to those in the industry I’ve talked to. One of the worst things you can have is a sense of entitlement. You’re not going to get on Sportsnet or Hockey Night in Canada right out of school. Yes, there are a few exceptions (Hi, Kyle Bukauskas!), but it’s probably not going to happen. Build your resume on a local station. Simon Bennett who worked behind the scenes for years before landing on-air gigs on The Score, Global and 680 News says “Host openings, especially in the big city, are rare to those fresh out of school. It’s literally one in a million. No matter how amazing you were presenting that TARA award for your practicum, you probably won’t be hosting SN Central at age 23. Put in your time.” Julie Stewart-Binks who worked at FOX Sports 1 and now ESPN knows this all too well. She has ridden buses from town to town covering OHL games, working for free before leaving and taking a local sports job in Regina, Saskatchewan. “I’ve encountered lots of budding journalists who want to make it big in a big city, but turn up their noses to ever leaving and paying their dues in a small town. Sometimes it may feel as you’re going backwards, moving out to Dawson Creek or Lloydminister to take a job but it is without a doubt helping you reach your dreams.” In any other industry you don’t start out as CEO. In broadcasting, you won’t start out sitting next to Peter Mansbridge. Pay your dues and fight and claw your way up the ladder to the major market. Sportsnet’s Carly Agro says that you’ll need to “Be yourself. That’s the only thing that will ever and always set you apart.”
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The Right Attitude
Lyndsay Morrison, who has anchored on The Weather Network and now CTV News says “the right attitude is everything. Believe in yourself. If you feel that it is something you were meant to do, or something that you would be good at, never give up! Keep applying. Build the kind of relationships with people that make them want to help you. Work hard every single day.” CBC’s Trevor Pilling goes on to say “the best performers need a confidence and a swagger, however, if you are not a good team player you won’t last. The great on air people know that they need the team around them to be the best. Failing to respect the team, thinking you are above the rest, is a flaw that will ensure an on air person’s career aspirations will not be met.” You may be the nicest person on the planet, but be realistic. Don’t send out your demo reel to CBC right off the hop. Think of yourself as a hockey player trying to make it into the NHL. Unless you’re Sidney Crosby, you’re not starting out in the NHL. You might have to cut your teeth in the minors while you improve and gain experience. In our SMG Featured Profile on Jay Onrait, he said “My advice for people who want to get on-air is to head straight to their nearest Rogers or Shaw cable channel and get some experience! The sooner the better!” Start small, get really good and then send your stuff to the big boys.
Create Your Own Luck
Julie Stewart-Binks breaks it down. She says “Never turn down an opportunity. Nothing will be handed to you. Create your own luck. Be innovative and pitch stories, create ideas and be proactive. I grinded it out for years, sent 40 packages of demos across the country and never heard back from anyone. I applied for two jobs at small/medium sized markets in Canada that didn’t even give me an interview, then four months later I was hired by Fox Sports 1 to be on air across America. Keep your head up, it’ll happen if YOU make it happen.” Chantel McCabe who works at the Golf Channel created her own luck. “What worked for me is I was willing to learn anything. I ran the ticker at NESN just two years ago, and just chipped away, learning what was going on around me. Every semester but one, I had an internship somewhere, missed a lot of nights with friends to cover games. I never said no to a project because learning by doing really helps me.” Now she travels to golf events all over the world covering major events and talking with major players of the game. Don’t be complacent, get out there and keep your skills sharp and meet as many people in the industry as you can. These days you can create your own YouTube channel and build your own audience. No one has done that better than Leafs YouTuber Steve “Dangle” Glynn who can now regularly be seen on Sportsnet. He built a niche audience and by working at it everyday, has greatly improved his on-camera presence. He says you need to “create lots of content. You can’t do it professionally until you prove you can do it. You need a portfolio and following so that will put you in the best position.”
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That brings me to my next point. This industry is all about who you know and who knows you. That is one of the main reasons I started the Shold Media Group. If you want to be successful, you need to be connected. Get your name and face out there. Be ready to get rejected and ignored, but keep plugging away. Get out there on Twitter and YouTube. Build a website and create your own personal brand. Julie would tell you to “network your butt off. More than half of getting to where you want to go is about who you know. It’s a small industry, always treat people well, work hard and don’t complain. It is very difficult to make it.” That sentiment was echoed by Tyson Geick. You’ll know his face and his name. He’s been to every SMG networking event, written articles and been in our videos. This guy has done it all. He’s proactive! He’s worked rinkside at OHL and lacrosse games. He finished in the Top 4 of the MuchMusic VJ Search and has auditioned for SportsCentre and now he’s working for NLL TV. He knows “it’s all about who you know, which you have to accept. Sometimes talent alone isn’t enough to get you a position.” Even after being on national TV and auditioning for one of the biggest sports jobs in the country, he continues network and engages audiences on social media building his personal brand.
Let someone else watch your stuff and really be honest with you. Don’t get mad if they have criticism. Encourage it! Most likely, you’re not going to be perfect. If you were, you wouldn’t be reading this and you’d be on TV, making the big bucks already. Be open and demand the honest truth. Don’t ask your Mom or Dad to watch your reel. Ask someone already in the industry. Ask one of your trusted professors. Tell those who watch it to say every little thing they like and DIS-like about your work. It’s important to know what people who do the hiring or work in broadcasting really think about your work.
Never Give Up
This piece of advice is important. If you really looked long and hard at yourself and your work and still think you have what it takes…go for it! Tyson is still hopeful, he goes on to say that “in Canada, there are so many vying for so few spots in the industry. The way I see it, if you want it bad enough, you’ll endure the journey and find yourself a position.” Anchor/Reporter Sarah Davis said in her SMG Featured Profile that you need “work hard and know what you’re talking about. You have to put in your time to get where you want to be and that usually means lots of volunteering. In the end though, it’s all worth it!” Trevor Pilling has worked with a lot of great talent. He knows that “another essential is being willing to do the work, put in the time and effort required to study and learn the material…..and of course the willingness to travel, work weekends.” This is a big one. Like Chantel said earlier. You might miss out on a date with friends because you’re freezing your butt off in a rink in Oshawa. You might miss a birthday party because you’re working the bug in the back of a Rogers truck. You might work on Easter or on Christmas morning…but you’re making these sacrifices because you want it badly and you know the next guy would rather be at home than advancing their career. Journalist Lauren Pelley says that “If you’re passionate about journalism and have the skills to back it up, you’ll land on your feet. Don’t give up on doing what you love even if you hit roadblocks along the way.” In the end, this career is one of attrition. Who can out last the other person? Who is willing to work the hardest and get better at what they do everyday. Do you have the drive to make that happen?
Making it big on TV is hard. There is no question about it. If you play your cards right and leave your attitude and sense of entitlement at the door you might have a shot. Be honest with yourself and your own talent. Watch your own work and if you think you have what it takes, go for it! If you really take a good hard look at yourself and don’t think you have what it takes to be on TV…that’s ok too! I always dreamed of being the next Bob Cole or hosting Hockey Night in Canada, but now I work in production behind the scenes and love it. I got to go to the Stanley Cup Finals, I’ve been to the NHL Draft, the Winter Classic. I get to watch hockey for a living! If you want to be on TV, you’re going to have to want it more and make even more sacrifices than your classmates or the others putting their time in at Rogers. I have imparted some of the most important wisdom I can think of if you want to make it as an on-air person. Take it to heart and really look inside yourself…do you have what it takes? I hope you do. Good luck!
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