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Never Say No

Alumna’s passion shatters glass ceiling in broadcast technology

Tish Graham in the newsroom

(ABC/Ed Herrera) © 2019 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Ichabod - Fall 2019

“I once drove a live truck through a forest fire in the mountains of Central California to get video back in time for the 11 o’clock news.”

That may have been a risky situation, but Tish Graham (Nelson), ba ’80, is never one to shy away from a challenge. In fact, Graham believes her motto of “never saying no” is what got her to where she is today – serving as ABC Owned Television Stations vice president of broadcast technology in Los Angeles, California. But it almost didn’t turn out that way.

Graham graduated high school in Clay Center, Kansas, and came to Washburn University with plans of attending Washburn University School of Law after graduation. She didn't realize it at the time, but her plans changed when she took a TV production class as an elective her sophomore year. Her teacher, KTWU producer Bill Shaffer, and the class made such an impression that she chose to major in mass media – a decision that changed the course of her career.

“I became fascinated with broadcast television,” Graham said. “Bill was my mentor from day one, and he was the one who told me to ‘Never say no.’ When someone asks you do to something, say yes and figure it out.”

Shaffer helped Graham get an internship at KTWU, and eventually she took a paid, part-time job. After graduation, she took a position at the local NBC station.

“I just have to laugh. Back then, all the commercials were on two-inch tape. We had commercial breaks that were four to six commercials long, but we only had three tape machines. I worked overnight making a stack wheel – where I would edit together all the commercials for the next day,” Graham said. “That’s about as low of a position as you can get at a TV station on the technology side.”

As technology advanced, Graham has always worked to stay on top of the latest trends, taking on new challenges along the way. In 1986, she moved to Fresno, California, to join the ABC Owned Television Stations group. She worked at four of the company’s eight stations around the country. Her curiosity about technology took her from being a master control operator to a newscast technical director to an IT manager – and eventually to heading a station’s entire technology department.

“Many years ago, when I was asked to be an IT manager, I didn’t have any IT management experience, but I had computers at home. So I said, ‘Sure. I can do that. I'll figure it out,’” Graham said. “That's where I started to understand the importance of computer technology in a TV station.”

Not once did Graham let the mostly male-dominated industry slow her down. In 2015, Graham was named ABC Owned Television Stations vice president of broadcast technology – breaking a glass ceiling of becoming the first woman to lead technology for a television station group.

“There are still not enough women in this field,” Graham said. “It is great to see young woman and girls are getting more involved in STEM programs. The technology side of the media and entertainment industry is an exciting place to build a rewarding career.”

In 2017, Graham received a Broadcasting and Cable Technology Leadership Award. This spring, she received TVNewsCheck’s 2019 Women in Technology Leadership Award. Both are well-known, prestigious awards in the media and entertainment industry.

“I am humbled and overwhelmed to be recognized and acknowledged by my colleagues and other leaders across the industry,” Graham said. “I just keep doing what I love to do, and it goes back to I never say no.”

Although women haven’t traditionally gravitated toward this career path, Shaffer isn’t at all surprised Graham has consistently excelled.

“I think Tish is where she’s at because she’s made herself available, proven she can do the job and once she gets into the middle of things, she gets it all accomplished,” Shaffer said.

When looking back at highlights of her career, Graham said there are plenty of big moments like successfully launching major systems, building two TV stations, or even miking up jazz legend Duke Ellington. But for Graham, the moments when something isn’t good are when she feels the strongest obligation to do her best.

“When a television station has to go wall to wall to communicate to our communities during a hurricane or a tornado or some type of disaster, it’s our job to make sure all the systems and technology are working to bring that information to viewers to make sure they're safe and secure,” Graham said. “Making sure our viewers know they can turn to us whenever and wherever they need and we’re there for them – at the end of the day, that's what all of this is about.”

Graham resides in Pasadena, California, with her husband Rodney Graham.

Ichabod Magazine 2019 fall cover, Ichabod Plaza statue at sunset

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2019-20 fall edition online and look for it in mailboxes in October.

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