Friday, April 1, 2016

From Grossmont College to the Big Apple

Chris Cuilao
From making sure “The Tonight Show” cameras are properly set up for filming a performance by Adele to arranging the sound for a Coldplay concert on “The Today Show,” Chris Cuilao is taking a bite out of the Big Apple as a result of the audiovisual skills he learned at Grossmont College’s Media Communications Department. 

“Grossmont College and the Media Communications Department allowed me to test my skills, focus on my future and find a new career,” said Cuilao, 33, who works as an audio and camera technician on “The Today Show” but who also moonlights on “The Tonight Show.” “Before I enrolled in the program, I really didn’t know much about what I’m doing now.” 

The Grossmont College Media Communications Department enjoys a statewide and national reputation for excellence in preparing students with the skills to succeed in journalism and audio/visual production. It’s also home to Grossmont College’s award-winning student news media, including Griffin Radio and The Summit news magazine.

“We’re second to none,” said Evan Wirig, who chairs the Media Communications Department. “We’re staffed by professors who are working in the industry, who bring real-world experience to the classroom, and I think that’s what sets us apart from other programs.” 

Cuilao, who grew up in New York and New Jersey, enrolled at Grossmont College in 2008 after his family moved to San Diego. Before heading out West, he had interned at a couple studios in New York, including Island Def Jam, but wanted to learn more about television and film production.  

“The Grossmont program came highly recommended,” said Cuilao, who worked with Griffin Radio before finding an internship with KUSI in San Diego.  

While at Grossmont College, Cuilao won two national production awards from the Broadcast Education Association. Upon earning his associate degree in media communications in 2011, he  was quickly hired by the San Diego station, primarily as an audio technician for “Good Morning San Diego.” Duties included setting up the miniature microphones on the anchors, arranging the background music leading into different news segments, and communicating with reporters out on assignment.  

Today Show host Hoda Ktob, Chris Cuilao, Today Show host
Al Roker
After two years with KUSI, he landed at job at “The Today Show.” He’s been working as an audio and camera technician for the show since January of 2014.  

“It’s definitely not like your regular job,” Cuilao said.  

Take, for example, the hours. Cuilao’s workday typically starts a little after 3 a.m., following a half-hour commute to Rockefeller Center from his home in New Jersey. But during the summer concert series on the program, he arrives at 1 a.m. to set up the outdoor sound system.  

“The hours definitely take a toll on my social life,” he said. 

There are perks, such as mingling with the rich and famous. He has worked with guests ranging from actors Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and Keanu Reeves to Secretary of State John Kerry and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  

“You don’t really think about it,” Cuilao said. “You look at the schedule and you’ll notice that Keanu Reeves is coming, but you have a job to do and you have to stay on task and get your job done.  

Wirig said Cuilao’s success is not an aberration.  

“We’ve had a lot of success with a lot of our students finding work right out of Grossmont College in television, in radio, in film, in gaming,” Wirig said. “They’re working in these industries because of the skills they learned through the Media Communications Department.”