Canadian Media Veteran Jay Switzer Dies at 61

Courtesy Photo
Jay Switzer

Canadian media giant Jay Switzer, a former CHUM CEO who helped launch the country’s first national music video channel MuchMusic in 1984 and most recently co-founded classic movie platform Hollywood Suite, died today (Jan. 29) in Toronto of brain cancer, his family by his side. He was 61. 

In December, the Calgary-born, Toronto-based broadcasting legend was presented the insignia of Member of the Order of Canada in a private ceremony in Toronto. It is the country’s second highest honor awarded to a citizen. 

David Kines, Hollywood Suite co-founder and president, and former executive at Much MTV Group, said in a statement: “On behalf of the staff, directors and investors of Hollywood Suite, we want to express our most heartfelt condolences to Jay’s wife, Ellen Dubin, and the Switzer family.”

Kines had worked with Switzer since 1984, when he was an editor at The New Music on CITY-TV and Switzer was general manager of CITY-TV. “Jay was a supportive and encouraging leader whose commitment and belief in the mission and people of Hollywood Suite never faltered, despite the many headwinds facing the broadcast business,” he added. “His certainty in our success will be sorely missed by both myself and the staff and our industry.”

Both Switzer’s parents, Israel (Sruki) and Phyllis, were pioneers in the Canadian TV industry. Phyllis co-founded Toronto television station CITY-TV in 1972 and she asked her then 13-year-old son to attend a CRTC hearing in Trois Rivières, Quebec, and bring back a report for her regulatory newsletter. At 16, his first full-time job was on the station's switchboard. 

In 1978, CHUM Limited acquired CITY-TV and after Switzer obtained his MBA at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, he returned to the station to work full-time as program manager for CITY-TV and MuchMusic, and worked closely with Moses Znaimer on both companies’ domestic and foreign programming, including MuchMusic, Bravo!, FashionTelevision and many other CHUM channels. In 1983, he wrote the original MuchMusic CRTC application.

From 1988 to 1995, he served as manager and director of CITY-TV, MuchMusic and CHUM TV, then VP of programming at CHUM TV until 2000. That year, he was made senior vice president and general manager for all television and related services at CHUM's Toronto operation, and by year’s end, president of CHUM Television.

In 2001, he was integral to the deal that brought CKVU Vancouver into the CHUM fold, and in November 2002 was promoted to president and CEO of CHUM Limited. When CHUM founder Allan Waters stepped down in 2002, Switzer became CEO. 

Prior to its sale in 2006 to CTVglobemedia, CHUM Limited was one of Canada’s leading media companies and content providers, whose assets included 34 radio stations, 23 national specialty (cable) networks, and 12 local conventional television stations. The company had over 3,000 employees at the time, and annual revenues exceeding C$620 million ($502 million). The following June, Switzer left CHUM. 

In 2010. the CRTC approved Switzer’s applications for four new Category 2 HD speciality movie channels. He was given 36 months to achieve sufficient cable and satellite company commitments to carry the channels and get them operational. They launched on Nov. 23, 2011 under Hollywood Suite, with Switzer as chairman. 

Besides the Order of Canada appointment, Switzer received the Friend of Women in Film and Television (Toronto) Award (1994), the Queen’s Jubilee Medal (2002), and the Human Relations Award (2005) from the Canadian Centre for Diversity. 

He was an active board member for the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Banff Television Festival, the National Association of Television Program Executives, and the Toronto Film Board. He served as Chair of the board of GlassBOX Television from 2009-2011, and most recently served on the boards of: OUTtv; Shaftesbury Films Inc.; and Comweb Corporation. He was also a long-time supporter of Ryerson University, serving on the Advisory Board for the Faculty of Radio and Television Arts since 2012.

Funeral service details will be available here. A public Celebration of Life will take place in the spring. Details will be announced at a later date.

Donations in Switzer’s memory may be made to The Canadian Film Centre (or call 416-445-1446, x227) or to The Phyllis Switzer Memorial fund at Ryerson University (or call 416-979-5000, x6516).