‘Jeopardy!’ Legend Alex Trebek Went to Work in Television to Pay Off College Loans

by John Jamison

Late “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek was a natural broadcaster. But the former summer announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation fell into his profession out of necessity more than anything else. His college tuition was cheap by today’s standards, but he needed to pay the bills somehow. And when he was given an opportunity, he never looked back.

In the early 1960s, Alex Trebek was a student at the University of Ottawa. As a member of the debate team, he had a natural inclination toward public speaking. And one summer, he turned that talent into a way to pay his tuition.

In a 2015 interview with Howard Stern, the longtime “Jeopardy!” host recalled his humble beginnings in the industry.

“I got into it because I needed a job to help to pay for my tuition at University and tuition was a whopping $500 a year,” Trebek said. “I had no money.”

Having no money has a way of motivating people. And even though Trebek started at the CBC in a seasonal position, he quickly demonstrated his value.

“I auditioned for a summer announcer job, and they hired me. And then they had two openings that opened up in February on their permanent staff and they offered me one of them,” he continued in the interview. I said ‘I’ll take it if I can finish my college’ and they said ‘okay.’ So I’d go to school in the morning, nine til noon. And then I’d work the 4:00-12:00 shift.”

The ‘Jeopardy!’ Host Was a Jack of All Trades When it Came to TV

Before he became the host of “Music Hop” in the mid-1960s, Alex Trebek did every job he could possibly do at the Canadian Broadcasting Company. The CBC website quotes Trebek from 1964 publicity files.

“I went to school in the mornings and worked at nights. I did everything, at one time replacing every announcer in every possible job,” Trebek said.

They say that the best way to learn an industry is to hold every job. And as an announcer at the CBC, Trebek did everything from regular newscasting, to sports coverage, to hosting a quiz show that foreshadowed his eventual role on “Jeopardy!”

In 1963, Alex Trebek became the host of “Reach for the Top.” It was a trivia game show that featured high schoolers. Trebek, not much older than the contestants themselves, can be seen in a snippet from his time on the show.

The video is linked below.

The base of broadcasting knowledge he picked up in his early days served Trebek well in his career going forward. And the experience also allowed him to finish college.