WDIA Memphis mainstay Bobby O’Jay passed away of unknown causes on Tuesday (May 3). He was 68.
Before joining WDIA — the country’s first Black radio station — as an air personality in 1983, O’Jay launched his radio career in 1972 in Milwaukee. A segue to an on-air gig in Montgomery, Alabama, was followed by a return to Milwaukee prior to landing at WDIA, where he also served as program director, During the course of his estimable tenure at the station, O’Jay interviewed a who’s who in Black music and culture, including Whitney Houston, Muhammad Ali and Temptations members David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks.
Johnnie Walker, founder/CEO of the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music and Entertainment, Inc. (NABFEME), knew O’Jay during her career ascension from radio station PD to senior vp, promotion at Def Jam Recordings. She remembers her longtime friend as a visionary, teacher and game changer.
“Bobby and I were always on opposite sides of the desk. Competing against him in radio taught me programming; trying to get a record played at his station taught me the real meaning of perseverance, tenacity and how to be a record exec. What remained constant was his kooky smile and the genuine respect we had for each other. When I returned to Memphis as the city’s music commissioner, the acknowledgment and respect he showed me were priceless. Condolences to his family, colleagues and all who loved him. The radio and music industries have lost a resilient pioneer and true legend.”
Born in Batesville, Mississippi in 1953, O’Jay was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2021. Honored by the Living Legends Foundation in 2000 and iHeartMedia Memphis in 2018, he was also a National Radio Hall of Fame nominee.
Talking to TV outlet Fox 13/Memphis prior to his induction, O’Jay said of his 49-year career, “I’ve never had this job and that job. I’ve always had just the radio job. God has truly blessed me to make a decent salary at all the radio stations I’ve worked even back in the ‘70s.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said in a tweet, “I’m very sorry to learn about the passing of Bobby O’Jay. I know for many Memphians, including my wife, the day was not complete unless they tuned in to hear what Bobby had to say. I always enjoyed being with Bobby on his show or otherwise. My wife Melyne and I offer condolences to his family, to his radio family at iHeart and his loyal fans. I know his legacy will continue through WDIA.”
I’m very sorry to learn about the passing of Bobby O’Jay. I know for many Memphians, including my wife, the day was not complete unless they tuned in to hear what Bobby had to say. I always enjoyed being with Bobby on his show or otherwise. pic.twitter.com/DoZ0sl9QNg
— Mayor Jim Strickland (@MayorMemphis) May 3, 2022