Born in Calgary, Alberta and raised in Lethbridge, he was the son of broadcast executives Israel Switzer and Phyllis Switzer. He had his first job in broadcasting as a weekend switchboard operator for Citytv, and then worked as a cable installer for Maclean-Hunter, a director of television pilots and a research analyst for the Financial Post. He attained an MBA from the University of Western Ontario's Ivey Business School, before rejoining Citytv as director of programming in 1983. In that role, he also oversaw the launch and development of MuchMusic, the first of CHUM's forays into ownership and operation of cable channels.
In March 2000, he was named senior vice-president and general manager of the company, before being promoted to president and chief executive officer in 2002. He stepped down in 2007 after CHUM was acquired by CTVglobemedia. He then joined the board of directors of OutTV, and became one of the founding investors in Glassbox Television. In 2011, he was one of the founding partners in the new pay TV film service Hollywood Suite, and joined the board of directors of Shaftesbury Films.
He was named to the Order of Canada in December 2017. In January 2018, just before his death, the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television named him as a recipient of its Board of Directors Tribute award, alongside Margaret Atwood, to honour his work in and commitments to the Canadian broadcasting industry.
- "Veteran Canadian TV Programmer Jay Switzer Dies at 61". The Hollywood Reporter, January 29, 2018.
- "Jay Switzer (1956-)". Canadian Communications Foundation, 2004.
- "CHUM set to move in new direction?: New CEO Switzer faces numerous major challenges". National Post, December 2, 2002.
- "CHUM CEO Switzer to step down". The Globe and Mail, June 22, 2007.
- "THE BIZ: DEALS AND MOVES IN CANADIAN ARTS". The Globe and Mail, October 23, 2008.
- "GlassBOX Television Inc. Announces $5 million Series A Financing". Canada NewsWire, June 9, 2008.
- "Hollywood Suite to offer HD films on TV 'substantially cheaper' than Netflix: Hollywood Suite to offer HD movies on TV". Canadian Press, August 23, 2011.
- "Shaftesbury Appoints Industry Veteran Jay Switzer to its Board of Directors". Canada NewsWire, August 29, 2011.
- "Canadian Media Veteran Jay Switzer Dies at 61". Billboard. 2017-01-30. Retrieved 2017-01-29.
- "Jay Switzer named to Order of Canada". Playback, December 12, 2017.
- "Canadian Screen Awards: Peter Mansbridge, Karyn Pugliese, Margaret Atwood to be honoured". CBC News, October 30, 2017.