In this interview, the hilarious media presenter, content creator and event host Joseph Onaolapo, popularly known as Jay On-Air, takes us through his journey from being owed by radio stations and starting a thrift store to turning his natural abilities and passions into multiple streams of income.
Have you always wanted to be a social media celebrity?
I don’t think I set out, in my mind, to be a social media celebrity. I just wanted to work in radio. I studied Mass Communication in school, so the idea was to have a radio job in Lagos. But life happens to you — you get a job and you don’t get paid, you work in cities you don’t expect to work in, and, eventually, you dabble into stuff you didn’t think you would dabble into. And somehow, the trajectory of your life changes.
Working at a job without pay? When was this?
Oh my gosh, I have stories! I worked at many jobs where I wasn’t being paid.
As a radio host?
Yes, as a radio host. I worked in two radio stations — one was in Lagos, and the other was in Benin City — where I wasn’t paid. They would owe me for months. Outside of that, I thought I should leave radio broadcasting for a while and do other things. And I was still getting owed! I’ve had a very weird experience when it comes to working in media.
There was a time I had to involve a lawyer in a case where I was being owed by an employer — about ₦100k or so. It was so hard. It still affects my thinking about money today. I’m not going to send any deliverable to a brand without any financial commitment or a signed contract.
At the time you were being owed, how were you getting by?
It was so hard. By the end of 2019 leading into 2020, I had the idea for a thrift store, and a friend took me to Katangwa market to shop for stuff. I just decided, there and then, that I was going to start selling thrift items, mostly shorts and shirts. Buying and selling thrift items now became the constant source of income in my life at the time.
So you were still working at a radio station while running the thrift store?
Yes. I started the thrift store while I was working at a radio station. Then I quit my job. So it was my only source of income for the longest time.
How was it starting a business?
It wasn’t my first time. In secondary school, I would have non-boarders buy me pork, and I’d resell it in school. I became a UTME tutorial teacher after taking the exams. So I’ve done a lot of stuff.
That’s a lot of experience with handling money. Is there anything about your childhood that informed your approach to money?
I had weird experiences with money in my childhood. You know we all had a naughty phase when we were younger. My own naughty phase was really bad. I used to steal.
You used to steal? From whom?
My mom was a contractor, so there’d always be money in her bags. Nigeria was better, then, than it is right now. I would bring some of our neighbours’ children over to the house and buy them drinks and sweets with the money.
Eventually, I was caught. What my mom did, though, to curb that behaviour, was that she started entrusting me with some of her money. I became my mom’s bag; I used to save and keep the money for her. When you’re the one whose responsibility it is to ensure the money is safe, you can’t really steal it.
How did that process of saving money for your mom work?
She would give me some of the money and tell me that when she returns I needed to give it to her as it was. Sometimes, she would forget and keep the money with me for a long time. To show that I’d changed, I would let her know that the money she gave me was still with me. Then she’d add some more to it and ask that I continue saving it for her.
So how did you get into making skits?
I was depressed, sad and in the middle of lockdown. It was also a few months after I quit my job. My thrift store was already taking off, and then, I had to halt because of compulsory lockdown. It felt like the universe wanted me to die of hunger at the time.
So I joined TikTok to make myself happier. I realised I loved lipsyncing, so I started making videos where I lipsynced popular sounds like everyone else. People found some of them funny. Then I had ideas to switch to original content. I started with the secondary school content, and people lived for it.
From 400 followers, I woke up the next day to 3,000 followers. I felt like I was Beyoncé, that I had made it in life. That made me realise that people loved my lipsync videos, but they also wanted to see my personal content. That’s how I started.
How soon did it become a source of income?
In 2020, not so much. I also did it because it made me happy. I wasn’t thinking about money until a secondary school friend that sells phones in Abuja reached out to me to ask me to promote her brand for ₦20k. I was shocked, but I responded as though I’d been charging for promotions all along. I made the video for them, and they liked it. That was the only income I got in 2020 from content creation. But I was grateful because I didn’t set out to do that.
2021 was different; I worked with Coldstone, I worked with Leadway, and I worked with Fan Ice. Even though it wasn’t a lot of money, it was something, and it was also a sign that content creation could be profitable for me, even though I wasn’t getting as many projects as I wanted. In 2022, people knew me more, and it has been the most profitable year since I started creating content.
Congratulations on that
Thank you so much.
So, how many streams of income do you have now?
I am a Master of Ceremonies (MC), I work on radio, and I create content on social media. I still look forward to getting back into business. I’ve been getting a lot of DMs asking for my merch line; I’m definitely exploring that aspect as a source of income, especially as we’re about to hit 100k followers on Instagram.
That’s huge! You mentioned having a full-time job, how did that come about?
A friend reached out, after seeing my video online, to ask if I was still interested in being on radio. The company asked for my demo, and they liked it. I got employed after an audition.
Are there any things that have changed regarding your perspective on money since you got a stable job?
What has changed is that I’m no longer broke [chuckles]. It just feels great being able to do the things that I’m able to do right now. I’m in a place where I want to buy a car, so I’m saving more money than I ever have using PiggyVest.
Perfect segue. In 2019, you tweeted about wanting to sign up on PiggyVest and seeing how it goes. What was going through your mind then?
Everybody else wouldn’t stop talking about it. So I wanted, more than anything else, to also join that community of people online who had PiggyVest accounts.
Which one of the features on the app has been most useful for you in your savings journey?
Safelock is the best feature for me because there are days one is tempted to withdraw from that account for personal use, but you can’t do that until your withdrawal date. So, Safelock works for me. Then there’s Flex — a friend recently told me about it, and I’ve been exploring. So I mostly use Safelock and Flex.
Do you have any structure for saving and investing, especially since you have a goal to buy a car soon?
There’s no structure around how I save or invest. When I get paid, I send a large chunk into my savings. When I see investment opportunities that I find attractive, I just sign up for them.
Is there any money goal in the past that you enjoyed saving towards?
I remember saving for Waje’s concert in 2020, before the lockdowns. I was running my thrift store at the time. The regular ticket was ₦10,000, and I saved towards the VIP ticket because I wanted to enjoy myself.
Asa’s concert happened this year — that was my first time seeing her live. The good thing is that I didn’t have to save to pay for her concert. I saw the announcement and paid for it immediately. It’s mindblowing to me, now, that I don’t have to save to go to a concert.
That’s great. What is your money hack?
My money hack is understanding that I don’t have to prove to people that I have money. I spend my money knowing that tomorrow, I’ll still have money in my account to do other things.
I’m not saying I don’t splurge on things or enjoy myself; I do, but I ensure I’m doing it on my own terms. Not because of people. For the longest time, my major form of transport was buses. And this is because I didn’t have the financial capacity to take private cabs every now and again. There’s no point proving to people that you have money.
What’s your advice for people who want to work in radio?
Improve yourself and listen to a lot of radio. Follow a lot of radio pages and presenters, so you can see what’s out there. I feel like actively being in the space you want to work in helps you.