By Amit Shilton
For most of us, watching sports is a way to relax, have fun, and cheer on the home team.
For Jay Onrait, it’s all in a day’s work. Onrait, a 1998 Radio and Television Arts graduate, is the late-night host of SportsCentre, a nationally broadcast sports news show on TSN. “I won’t lie to you, it’s a pretty good gig,” Onrait said.
“I go in, I watch sports, I go on air for an hour and talk about sports, and I go home.” A night owl by trade, Onrait routinely wakes up in the early afternoon after taping the live show at 2 a.m. “I even like the hours. I’m a night person, I wouldn’t want to be a 9-5 kind of guy,” Onrait said.
Kicking back at the Imperial Pub, just steps away from the Ryerson campus, Onrait polished off a pint while reminiscing on his time as a student and his early aspirations of becoming a sportscaster. “By the time I got (to Ryerson) I was like, ‘All right I’m going to be a sportscaster on TSN and this is just a means to make that happen’,” he said. After spending two years at the University of Alberta, Onrait moved to Toronto to study at RTA.
It wasn’t long before Onrait found his place in Toronto, a city he now calls home. “The concept of going to school in Toronto or being a journalist was totally foreign,” Onrait said. “I remember getting here and it was just like, ‘Oh yeah, this is where I’m supposed to be.’ It was instant.” Earning credits during his two years at the University of Alberta allowed Onrait to not only focus on his program, but also start working part time as an intern at TSN in his second year.
“I think I was an all right student. I think I did pretty well,” Onrait said. “I ended up spending more time in TSN in my third and fourth years than I did at Ryerson.” Once a graduate, Onrait worked as a sports director in Saskatoon and a morning show host in Winnipeg. Soon he was back in the TSN newsroom, headlining with a new wave of sportscasters. “I think we all realize that we’re pretty lucky to have the jobs we have so maybe we should just shut up and enjoy it,” Onrait said.
At TSN, Onrait joined a network filled with Ryerson graduates including veterans Michael Landsberg, Bob McKenzie and Dave Randorf. “There’s a healthy Ryerson contingent,” Onrait said. “I think that half the people working at that network must be Ryerson grads. “(Ryerson) taught me quite a bit, but I think the thing it does more is steer you in the right direction as opposed to giving you the answers,” Onrait said. “But really what I think the school does best is open doors for you to meet people that might advance what you’re doing.” He also had some advice to pass on to budding students who look to follow in his footsteps.
“If you admire someone, call them up and take them out for coffee. Maybe they’ll have an internship for you.” Onrait’s wit and addictive humour have helped make him a fan favourite on the show, earning him the opportunity to cover the 2006 NBA Finals. “It’s supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be work,” Onrait said.
“Otherwise we would have all gone and become accountants.”