Chris McKinney ’27 steps up to intern at the iHeart Radio Music Awards

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Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024

Chris McKinney has worked a summer job for the same lighting rental company that employs his dad.

But shadowing behind the scenes at the recent iHeart Radio Music Awards — PCA&D’s first Live Experience Design & Production major to be awarded the opportunity — raised his interest in the industry to a whole new level. He also is the first LiveX student to have the chance to intern on a live broadcast awards show. 

McKinney, a Foundation Year student, recently returned from Los Angeles, where he spent days and nights in the Dolby Theatre working as an intern on this year’s awards show production. His experience was made possible through the unique partnership PCA&D has with the Academy of Live Technology at Rock Lititz, a partnership that prepares art and design students for jobs in this growing industry. 

It was, said ALT at Rock Lititz Program Director Sharon Huizinga, a great opportunity to work with lighting designer Allen Branton and lighting directors Felix Peralta, Kevin Lawson, and Jason Uchita, “giving (McKinney) a view into broadcast production, lighting design, lighting programming, and the ultra fast-paced delivery required by a live events show.”

There are, Huizinga added, “many opportunities for students to shadow/intern on live events, but the cost of travel and accommodation falls to the student or school to cover which can make the opportunities inaccessible.” An industry engagement fund, generously supported by Ryan Aviation, “provides the means for students to take advantage of opportunities like this without incurring travel and accommodation costs themselves.”

‘Long days … and nights’

McKinney, who was chosen for the experience after submitting a letter of interest to PCA&D LiveX Department Chair Alexandra Leonhart, said his typical day for the three days leading up to the live show, and show day itself, were 12-plus hours long. During that time, he said, he would watch what the full team of 25 to 30 professionals was up to, and ask questions. 

“It was interesting, when doing an awards show, how much you need to take in the opinions and needs of the performers’ teams,” McKinney noted. Still, he did have some time to himself, and took advantage of it to explore the neighborhood around the Dolby Theatre’s hotel/venue space. 

“I was surprised — I’ve never been a ‘big city’ person but, now that I’ve been there for (learning about the industry), I’m liking it more,” McKinney said. 


Huizinga said she had several goals in having McKinney participate as a lighting intern with Branton and his lighting team. First, to “provide a window into what the fast-paced and high-expectation workflows, environment, language are at that level of production. Interns were given “a headset and multi-camera monitor behind the lighting desks to be able to follow the entire process in real time.” Secondly, said Huizinga, a goal was to “give an insight into live broadcast generally and lighting for camera specifically from all angles (design, programming, technical execution).” A third goal was to “create an opportunity for networking and mentorship — both with these working professionals and with other students from other institutions.”

“When starting out, it’s really helpful to have a look at where you are heading and what is possible,” Huizinga added. “We are a live industry. Being in person for a process like this will expand ideas, plant seeds, spark interests, and calibrate reality in unexpected ways that are not possible without being there.”

McKinney agreed that being on the scene for the iHeart Radio event not only provided insight, but valuable connections as well. 

“Oh, I’d definitely recommend (opportunities) like this,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to put my foot more in the door and learn more about the industry.”

Photos: Courtesy Chris McKinney. Top photo: Felix Peralta, Nate Miller, Kevin Lawson, Chris McKinney. 

Behind the scenes prepping for the iHeart Radio awards at the Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Chris McKinney.