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COM Students Who Built Urban Knights Radio Graduate

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The founding core students of Urban Knights Radio. (L–R) Lorena King, Elizabeth Sweeney, UKR General Manager & COM instructor Matty Staudt, Kevin Rosenbaum, Casey Franco and Torina Giannetto. Photo courtesy of Matty Staudt.

In just a few years, Academy of Art University’s Urban Knights Radio has grown from a little box in a room that no one knew about into a full-fledged station with an eclectic mix of shows and thousands of listeners. When School of Multimedia Communications instructor Matty Staudt joined the Academy to expand its radio program, he envisioned training students how to build and run a real station. With the help of a core group of freshman students who worked with him from the earliest days of the project, he achieved that goal. Staudt couldn’t be prouder of the five students who graduated last month and the legacy they’ve left the Academy: Casey Franco, Torina Giannetto, Lorena King, Kevin Rosenbaum and Elizabeth Sweeney. 

“Radio is now the cool spot where people want to be, because these students worked hard to create that kind of culture,” said Staudt. “Even after they completed around to produce shows and content. They didn’t have to do that—the classes were electives. They wanted to. This was their station and they cared about it. I helped launch it and mentored them, but the students ran Urban Knights Radio, which was always my goal.”

When they started their journey, the station had 12 listeners per month. Today, Urban Knights Radio has some 250,000 listeners per month and is one of a handful of college stations featured on iHeartRadio. According to Staudt, the students built the station from the ground up. They had to learn how to use new equipment even he didn’t completely understand, create a brand for the station, develop content and grow an audience. They also came up with a logo and the station’s tagline: “The Sound of Artists.” 

“Over the years, the students consistently came up with so many activities and ideas to promote the station and attract listeners,” explained Staudt. “They threw a kick-off party with a couple of bands and had a Halloween party with skateboarders and live music. They also started Tuesday Tunes, an event where musicians come into the studio to perform, which people really look forward to. Doing Tuesday Tunes taught them how to book bands and to make sure they always had a plan B in case a band cancelled at the last minute.”

Franco, who plans to work in sound design, wore many different hats during his time at Urban Knights Radio. He served as both operations manager and program manager while at the station. His responsibilities included building and maintaining the website, fixing computer problems, getting the station’s live stream up and running, and creating podcasts. 

“As program director, I worked with other students to figure out what kind of station we wanted to be,” he said. “I really enjoyed watching the rotating cast of students come through the door and seeing lots of different takes on the industry. You might have a die-hard indie show playing back-to-back with a heavy metal show and you’d get to talk to the hosts of each one.”

He also learned the importance of strong audio storytelling. “When you’re speaking a story, you can’t really salvage a bad narrative. Knowing that helps me when I’m making videos and podcasts.”

Giannetto started out hosting an alternative music show, CMJ Mixtape, and eventually took over managing Urban Knights Radio’s social media platforms. “Our Facebook page only had around 200 likes and now it has a couple thousand,” she remarked.

She added that as a multimedia communications major, she appreciated getting exposure to radio in addition to television and producing. “I had no interest in radio before, but now I have a passion for it and could see myself doing something in the industry,” said Giannetto.

Although he’s excited for the new opportunities awaiting his students, sending them off into the world has been an emotional experience for Staudt. “They mean so much to me, “ he said. “My family knows who they are because I talk about them all the time. They’re my first freshman class to graduate, and they’re all very special to me.”