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Behind-The-Scenes Talent

Three Academy School of Communications & Media Technologies graduates join instructor Matty Staudt at iHeartMedia

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(L–R) Academy of Art University School of Communications & Media Technolgies alumni Casey Franco, Zayana de Awis and Ricardo Ayar. Photo by Kirsten Coachman.

When Matty Staudt invites you to take a tour of iHeartMedia, you don’t say no to the opportunity. In a similar vein, Staudt received a different kind of offer, one he also couldn’t turn down but that required a shift in schedule and responsibilities. 

Earlier this year, iHeartMedia, a leading media company with the largest audience reach in the United States, put an offer on the table where he would be in charge of the seven stations it owns and operates in the San Francisco Bay Area, including spearheading its podcasting initiative. Of course, he said yes.

He said he’s basically “in charge of everything that happens that’s not on air” including social media, video, working with activations and promotions, plus handling event coverage.

Accepting the offer required Staudt to go from being a full-time instructor at the School of Communications & Media Technologies (COM), at the Academy of Art University, to part-time. Staudt said his students mean a lot to him—“I’m the sap that cries at every Spring Show,”—especially the ones he works with at UrbanKnightsRadio.com. 

So, when the opening presented itself, Staudt hand-picked qualified Academy graduates to join him at his new gig. 

“When I got here, it was top of mind for me about what we needed to grow our department,” he explained. “Digital is one of the things that is constantly growing in radio and I don’t think there is a job [besides iHeartMedia] where they use everything they learned in the COM department.” 

Staudt first brought Casey Franco (who graduated in 2016) on board, then when a video producer was transferred down to Los Angeles, Franco convinced Staudt to hire Zayana de Awis (also Class of 2016) and Ricardo Ayar (Class of 2017) to help produce digital content. This includes blogging, scheduling social media posts, editing videos and creating graphics, assisting with podcasts and whatever extra duties need their attention. 

“[Transitioning from the Academy to iHeartMedia] was pretty seamless, because it felt like everything we were doing at school,” said Ayer. “I didn’t even think we were going to be doing all the things [we learned at school] in one job. I never thought I’d be doing social media, but I was literally doing that on my first day.” 

“The Academy is so hands-on, it was like, ‘Oh, I remember how to do this,’” he emphasized.

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Zayana de Awis (left) works alongside a colleague in the control room during the day’s in-studio interview shoots. Photo by Kirsten Coachman.

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Casey Franco operates a jib during the in-studio interview shoots. Photo by Kirsten Coachman.

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Ricardo Ayar operates one of the cameras during the in-studio interview shoots. Photo by Kirsten Coachman.

On the day of our visit, the three graduates are assisting in the station’s VIP Lounge. An MMA fighter—Roy “Big Country” Nelson—is in the studio to conduct interviews with two separate radio station hosts to promote his Sept. 23 fight in San Jose. 

Franco (alongside another producer) is running the shoot, directing Ayar and others to their cameras; he assigns de Awis to the control room to oversee the livestream and then situates himself onto the main camera jib crane. The main lights dim, everyone goes silent and Franco’s partner producer uses her fingers to count and signal when to start. Then, rolling.

“I always liked the technical atmosphere and I thought instead of being a writer, I’d rather be the one behind the camera and seeing the idea through instead of just incepting the idea,” Franco said.

For today’s shoot, it’s just Nelson, the hosts, crew and yours truly, though normally, these types of events include an invite-only audience. The operation is smooth and seamless (save for a slight flub over almost forgetting to promote a giveaway), but both interviews are completed within 30 minutes—just another day at the studio for these guys. 

When asked why he hired Franco, de Awis and Ayar specifically, Staudt said he saw all three of them treat school like work. “I know I don’t have to look over my shoulder,” he explained. Based on how he saw them at school, Staudt knew they had the right work ethic necessary for iHeartMedia. “All the guys that work here treated class like work,” he said.

“From the minute Casey got here, he just kicked ass and immediately made a difference,” he shared. “When I told [iHeartMedia] I’m bringing in two more people [from the Academy], everyone was excited.”

Even going from being their instructor to being their manager, de Awis said their relationship with Staudt was just as seamless as their school-to-work transition. 

“He’s still an instructor [to us] in that he’s teaching us in the professional setting whereas he was teaching us what the professional setting would be like,” she added.

She underlined the importance of building a good rapport with her Academy instructors, not just to be able to ask for help, but as a bridge into the professional world. Creating a network is equally as important as sharpening a skillset, and the glue that holds those two together to make up an deal professional is just good, old-fashioned hard work.

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(L–R) Academy of Art University School of Communications & Media Technolgies alumni Casey Franco, Zayana de Awis and Ricardo Ayar. Photo by Kirsten Coachman.

“It was easier for us to find a job because we worked so hard in school,” she said. “This industry is especially unforgiving and I think the biggest thing is don’t be lazy and don’t make excuses. The grind is tough but it’s worth it when you get to a place where you really feel you get to expand your creativity.” 

Staudt hiring his Academy students is a full circle story on how the university grants students opportunities to become creative professionals in any field of their choosing. Working side-by-side with industry professionals, students such as Franco, de Awis and Ayar learned hands-on skills and were able to implement them in real-world settings until they were afforded the chance to do it for a real company. And their instructor just so happened to work for one of the biggest media companies in the country. 

“[The Academy] really does a good job of preparing them for this kind of job,” he said, beaming. “There’s nowhere I can find people that know how to do everything these guys know how to do and do it well. It’s really so cool to see.”