James Petulla did not start out to be an educator. Back in the mid-80s, after working for a few months with the Columbia School of Broadcasting in his capacity as a San Jose radio DJ, he realized that CSB was not doing their students any favors. As Petulla stated, “They were ripping off their students. The textbooks were ancient, the equipment outdated, and their teachers out of touch.”
James presented a mentor/apprentice concept of education to the Columbia School of Broadcasting because he knew it would work to prepare students for a career in broadcasting. His plan was rejected as being unworkable and logistically unsound. Undeterred, James decided to start his own business, offering mentoring services to radio broadcasting students in the San Jose area.
Fast forward 30 years and James Petulla is the CEO of Radio Recording Film Connection which offers mentor apprenticeships in radio broadcasting, music recording and film directing and producing. Industry veterans have flocked to the concept, allowing the company to have professional mentors in all 50 states.
Along the way, James Petulla has never lost sight of his original premise: the mentor/apprentice model of education is fundamentally a better approach to education if the desired result upon graduation is to have a career. “Students are not only learning the ropes from working industry professionals, they are doing so in their mentor’s place of business—a recording studio, a radio station, a film production company—so they are constantly being exposed to how business gets done in the real world. You simply can’t duplicate this environment on a school campus. Additionally, because student apprentices work on their mentor’s projects they are interacting with clients, producers, directors, DJs and other industry professionals and this allows them to network within the industry. Essentially, our programs place our students inside the music, film and radio industries which is a huge advantage.”
There’s another fundamental difference in the approach of Radio Recording Film Connection, as defined by James Petulla, and other trade schools and colleges. “Most schools are driven by how many of their students graduate—that’s their end game. At Radio Recording Film Connection, our goal is to get as many of our graduates employment as possible. Right now we’re approaching 80% success rate in this goal—almost 80% of our graduates find meaningful employment within the industry within six months of graduation.”
This is more than just lip service. Radio Recording Film Connection has a dedicated Job Placement department that starts working with the student from their first lesson up until a year after they graduate. Their duties include unlimited free tutoring, help with resumes and interviews, as well as matching students with job openings as they come up. The results speak for themselves.
Another fact that James Petulla is particularly proud of is the low tuition charged by Radio Recording Film Connection. “What good does it do the student to graduate from a trade school with $30,000 to $100,000 in permanent student debt obligations? Debts kill dreams. We work very hard to keep our tuition low—almost all of our programs are priced at less than $10,000.”
When asked to reflect on his journey, Petulla responds, “If you asked me 30 years ago where I’d be today I probably would have said I see myself being a successful disc jockey like a Howard Stern. Today, I’m grateful for the path I ended up taking. I’m privileged to be a part of a process where we are helping future Howard Sterns reach their potential.”