Skip to main content
salaries series

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The job: Radio show host

The role: Radio personalities, disc jockeys and talk show hosts entertain listening audiences with music, thought-provoking conversation and humour. But they are not all the same.

"As a disc jockey, you're facilitating the program and heightening the enjoyment of the music," said Jerry Agar, host of the Jerry Agar Show on Newstalk 1010 in Toronto. "As a talk show host, essentially I am the program. I bring on guests or phone calls and pieces of audio, but I'm basically producing a show like a musician or a comedian."

Mr. Agar explains that most radio hosts arrive hours before the broadcast begins to conduct research on topics that will be discussed during the show, edit audio clips and reach out to interviewees.

"I get together with the producer to discuss stories that are in the news that are possible stories we could talk about," he said. "Not everybody in our business has a producer – in the past I've produced my own show – but that has to do with market size and budget."

Mr. Agar adds that the research process never stops, as radio hosts often draw from their personal lives when considering topics of conversation.

"We're thinking about it all the time," he said. "So some of the prep is just living life."

Education: While there are broadcasting programs at the college and university level in Canada, getting an education in the field does not guarantee employment.

Mr. Agar said that instead, many radio hosts "wiggle our way into the business," often starting with low-paying on-air jobs in small markets.

"You've got to start out in a smaller market somewhere, and it's going to pay really badly," said Mr. Agar, who began his career in Dawson Bay, Man., in 1973 and worked in 13 markets, most of which were bigger than the last, before landing at his current position in Toronto.

Mr. Agar adds that many radio show hosts spend years learning from their mistakes and honing their skills in those smaller markets before seeking employment elsewhere.

Radio hosts can also launch their on-air careers by working other positions at the radio station in hopes of occasionally filling in for absent hosts, or simply having expertise in other fields.

Mr. Agar points to former radio show host and current mayor of Toronto, John Tory, who hosted the Live Drive with John Tory on Newstalk 1010, as an example of the latter.

"John Tory has an incredible résumé, and he was a talk show host, and that résumé, including being a lawyer and a CEO, brought a lot to the party," he said, adding that it's rare for a host to begin their career in a major market. "Every single host you talk to had a different path into the career."

Salary: The salary expectation of a radio show host can vary from a part-time position at minimum wage to million-dollar contracts, depending on the level of talent, the size of their employer and the size of the market in which they operate.

As the profiles of radio show hosts increase, they are able to negotiate a higher salary, but according to Mr. Agar, it's a slow and steady process, and many quit the industry before earning a high enough salary to live comfortably. "The people who eventually rise to the top, you could argue, are either naturally gifted or just won't quit," he said.

Mr. Agar predicts that only a small handful of Canadian radio show hosts earn seven-figure salaries, with few ever reaching six.

Job prospects: With broadcasters regularly leaving smaller stations for larger markets or a different career path, job prospects are plentiful for those willing to be flexible.

"The job prospects are fine if you have the desire and the stick-to-itiveness to put together a tape that might attract somebody, and you're willing to move anywhere," said Mr. Agar, adding that positions in major markets like Toronto and Vancouver are more competitive.

Challenges: Mr. Agar says that the instability of the industry is the most significant challenge for radio hosts, especially in smaller markets.

"You get in there and you're doing a heck of a job at playing rock 'n' roll, and then all of a sudden you come to work one day and they say, 'Starting Monday, we're going to be a country music station, and we don't think you'll fit into that,'" he said. "I've lost jobs at radio stations for any number of reasons that didn't necessarily have anything to do with me directly."

Why they do it: Radio show hosts enjoy expressing themselves and connecting with audiences. Live radio can also be especially exhilarating for those who enjoy working in a fast-paced environment where anything can happen.

"It's mentally stimulating and sometimes an exhilarating thing to do," Mr. Agar said. "I find it stimulating, and it's fun."

Misconceptions: Mr. Agar said that he is often confused for a disc jockey, but as a talk show host who rarely plays music on his program, he says that title is inaccurate.

"I don't play records," he said. "People sometimes refer to me as a DJ, which is technically incorrect."

Disclosure: The writer appears on Jerry Agar's show each Thursday at 11:45 a.m. to talk about the Salaries series, an appearance for which he does not get paid.

Give us the scoop: Are you a radio show host? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

Want to read more stories from our Salaries Series? Find more here.