By Grant Hansen
Tim Washburn never made it big.
The 54-year-old alumnus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has had a career full of numerous twists and turns – from small-town Nebraska radio to big-time marketing for NBC in Washington, D.C. – yet he never basked in the glow of the bright studio lights, gathered a nationwide following or got offered a major league radio contract.
It doesn’t matter. He’s happy with how it’s all played out.
Today, Washburn is the voice of the Ashland-Greenwood Bluejays through streaming platform Striv and his internet radio channel, Bluejay Broadcast Network. Washburn broadcasts over 50 events per year across all sports with his crew of commentators, all selected from the community. The Ashland native and his team are an integral part of a tight-knit Nebraska town.
Ask anyone who knows Washburn and they’ll immediately mention two qualities: positivity and energy. His spirit is non-stop and infectious. Ashland-Greenwood boys basketball coach Jacob Mohs describes him as someone you “want to be around.”
“He often calls before games or in evenings and just wants to chat about basketball or a little about the opponent,” Mohs said. “Along with that, there’s always other conversations about family or hanging out or anything like that.”
Mohs believes that what makes Washburn so good at radio is his energy. It’s why Mohs’ family in North Dakota will tune in at every opportunity: He just hooks people. That makes for a professional quality when the team is 0-20 as it was in 2016, or state champions for the first time in school history as in 2022.
“It’s been great to have stability and that someone you can talk to that has seen the ups and downs,” Mohs said.
Washburn’s positivity is also overflowing. It’s how he said he remains objective for each broadcast. It’s how he can work seamlessly with a constantly rotating cast of on-air partners. Celebrating the coach who puts in long hours for little pay or the high schooler who has too many athletic commitments for a summer job is a core part of his philosophy.
“Anytime you celebrate a kid and have that grandparent come up and say, ‘Oh my gosh, you have no idea what that meant to me when you said that about my grandson,’ that’s rewarding too,” Washburn said.
Washburn was around 12 when he was bitten by the broadcasting bug.
Like many future Nebraska sportscasters in the 1970s, he idolized Lyle Bremser, Kent Pavelka and Keith Jackson. Washburn had a toy called Mr. Microphone, which was a microphone attached to a plastic speaker via a long cord. Each Saturday, Washburn set up the speaker in the family living room and headed down to his brother’s room to call the Husker football game off the TV broadcast.
“Sometimes, the game would be done and I’d come out and the speaker had been moved all the way back in the hallway so they couldn’t hear me,” Washburn said. “Sometimes, they listened to me the entire game.”
Despite his early interest, Washburn initially majored in elementary education at UNL in 1986. But a childhood friend, Kelly Goss, persuaded him to change his major to broadcasting.
Washburn and the student station, KRNU, were a perfect fit. He and the other students called events for football, basketball, women’s basketball and even wrestling. Soon, he became the station’s sports director.
“It was just like a blank canvas,” he said. “We did everything.”
In 1991, Washburn graduated and accepted a position as the news director at KAWL in York. He worked three shifts per day and would announce games at night for the smaller area schools, such as Hampton and Geneva. A year later, a new opportunity came along when KAWL switched its news provider to NBC.
Through the transition, Washburn learned of a job opening in Washington D.C. So he paid for a plane ticket to the nation’s capital, interviewed and got the job. Washburn became a marketer for NBC and its talk-show hosts, such as Larry King.
“My job was to work the East Coast radio stations and try to get (King) on those stations,” he said.
Washburn was along for the ride throughout King’s career, from the disastrous daytime talk years competing with Rush Limbaugh to the launching of Ross Perot’s career and King’s move to CNN.
But eventually, it was time to return home. The student loan payments, vehicle bills, living expenses and pressure to support his family were piling up.
“D.C. was not a cheap city,” Washburn said. “So, I took a job in sales and came back to Nebraska.”
In 1993, Washburn worked in sales at Channel 10/11 in Lincoln before leaving the industry behind entirely to enter pharmaceuticals a year later. He returned to Ashland with his wife in 1997, and there his broadcasting talent remained dormant. Then in 2008, opportunity knocked once more when Washburn saw a need in the town.
“Ashland was situated between Omaha and Lincoln and got absolutely no press coverage,” he said. “There was no local radio station in the area outside of Omaha and Lincoln.”
Washburn decided to fill that void through a new medium called internet broadcasting. A few calls and some equipment later, the Bluejay Broadcast Network was born.
“When we moved back, that’s what really inspired me to try to do something locally because we just weren’t getting any coverage at all,” Washburn said. “This whole streaming concept was brand new, so I jumped in.”
In the first season, Washburn covered around 20 events but by the third year, he had recruited a team of announcers and streamed between 100 to 120 games. Today, his network has been incorporated directly with the high school as a part of the video streaming platform, Striv. Washburn’s broadcasts draw hundreds of viewers and his Twitter account has over 1,000 followers.
Striv has allowed Washburn to accept a new role: teacher. Students in the school’s broadcast class often get the opportunity to work with Washburn and his crew. Whether it is running a camera, taking down stats or even on-air work, there is always a way for students to get involved. While Washburn loves Striv now, he wasn’t totally sold on the idea in the beginning.
“I went from being very skeptical to absolutely loving it,” he said. “Now I know what it’s like to feel like a teacher because I was so proud of their development and growth.”
Ashland-Greenwood Principal Brad Jacobson said he is glad to have Washburn as a role model for a good example to his students.
“Kids listen to him,” Jacobson said. “They’ll pull their phones up and listen to some of those broadcasts. Just like people listen to podcasts, they’ll listen to those things.”
There are days when Washburn has thought perhaps he should have stayed in the industry longer and dealt with the tough financial times. Yet, he believes he has been blessed. He’s paid off his student loans, supported his family and through it all, broadcasting has been there. Mentor, husband, father, businessman and broadcaster. He’s done it all.
It seems he has made a big impact on a small stage.
“There are very few jobs out there in broadcasting that if I were really interested in today, I don’t know if it would be any more fun than what I get to do,” Washburn said. “And that’s the honest to goodness truth.”