When the World Poker Tour premiered on the Travel Channel five years ago, essentially launching the poker craze, James Ashurst found himself in the middle of the action, standing in the glamorous Bellagio in Las Vegas surrounded by the best poker players in the world.
“To be part of the WPT launch team and to work inside the rail with the world’s best poker players was an amazing experience,” the 1995 RU graduate said. “Most people don’t get to do that.”
As vice president of communications for the Travel Channel, Ashurst rarely has a dull day at the office. There are moments there’s the time he had a 16-course meal at Cut Restaurant in Beverly Hills with Travel Channel show host Andrew Zimmern when Ashurst leaves his Washington D.C.-area office and travels to exotic show locations. But for the most part, his travel schedule is restricted to New York, Los Angeles and a few other cities.
“I do travel a lot, but unfortunately not too often to the locations we feature on our air,” Ashurst said. “As much as I’d like to travel to Southeast Asia with Anthony Bourdain eating exotic regional cuisine, I mostly travel for business and eat disappointing room service fare.”
At the Travel Channel, Ashurst is the primary spokesman for the media company and manages the company’s industry and internal communications. He also is involved in media outreach for the network’s shows, brand, Website and mobile service.
His five-person communications team oversees on-air talent relations and works with media at numerous production locales.
“Most days my job doesn’t feel like work,” he said. “I’m so lucky to work with such a talented group of people and to be able to promote our on-air personalities and our shows. And it’s great to get out and meet people who truly love our product.”
Ashurst’s love for his job makes his long daily commute tolerable. He and his wife, Leigh, endure what often amounts to a 90-minute one-way drive from their home in Virginia to his office in Chevy Chase, Md, which is a block away from the Maryland-Washington D.C. border. Leigh works a few miles away at Discovery Communications, where the two first met.
Ashurst jokes that he is one of the few people who live in the D.C. area who actually grew up there. His childhood home is Annandale, and it was there that he discovered his knack for effective communication.
“I had not planned to go to college when I got out of high school,” Ashurst said. “I was working for a company and someone there told me I had a natural ability for communicating the company’s message. That’s when I began researching ways I could put those skills to use.”
That’s also when Ashurst discovered RU’s communication program.
“I visited Radford University, and it just felt right,” he said. “I was so excited when I was accepted.”
Ashurst particularly fell in love with the small class sizes at RU, and the individual attention he received from instructors.
“One reason I chose Radford University was the small class sizes which enabled interaction between students and professors,” he said. “Dr. Vince Hazleton was one of my favorite professors. He pushed me and other students beyond our comfort levels. Looking back, I can see how the instruction I received at RU shapes my career on a daily basis.”