Bobby O'Jay, an iconic DJ and influential voice on Memphis black radio, died due to unknown causes on May 3, at age 68, reported WREG Memphis. The country's first Black radio station, WDIA, hired O'Jay as an on-air personality in 1983, following his start in 1972 in Milwaukee. He would later serve as the station's program director and worked in radio for more than 40 years.
O'Jay, born in Batesville, Mississippi in 1953, was known as the "King of Memphis radio." He was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2021 and nominated for the National Radio Hall of Fame. iHeartMedia Memphis honored him in 2018. Before 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," he told TV outlet Fox 13/Memphis before being inducted. "God has truly blessed me to make a decent salary at all the radio stations I've worked even back in the '70s."
The big announcement shared by the Queen, Bev Johnson. ❤️ Congratulations to Bobby O’Jay on being inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. 🖤🖤🖤Posted by 1070 WDIA on Tuesday, April 27, 2021
According to Memphis Grammy-winning record producer and Royal Studios co-owner Boo Mitchell, musicians hoped O'Jay would play their music."Bobby was one who would always take your call and would always listen to your record, and if he believed in your record, whether you had a big label behind you or not, if Bobby believed in your record, he would play it," Mitchell told WREG Memphis. The Bar-Kays' founder and bassist James Alexander described O'Jay as a "make it or break it guy." "He would tell you the truth about your music," he said. "You may not like what he'd tell you about your music, but he was the guy who'd tell you the truth."
Chuck O'Bannon, Kudzukian Radio, and On-Air Personality told ABC 24, "Bobby cared about people. He cared about the artist's records he played. He broke a lot of records. He was highly respected by all of in the industry whether you were radio, television or whatever. He's going to be missed and I know a lot of us in the industry looked up to him. It's a tremendous loss because we're just going to miss hearing about Bobby OJ."
Wanda Thomas, O'Jay's niece, said the entire family is devastated. "We're doing as well as can be expected," Thomas told WREG. "We just listened to him this morning, you know, and he sounded like the picture of health. It's a process." Thomas said O'Jay was the youngest brother in a family of nine siblings."He was our 'I want to be just like him when I get grown.' He was our celebrity," Thomas said. "Our chain has definitely been broken. My fond memories is what's going to keep us, get us through this time."
As news of his passing spread, many well-wishers sent condolences to O'Jay's family and friends. In a tweet, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said, "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, 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
TN State Rep. Antonio Parkinson also said "We pray for the family and mourn the passing of radio icon Bobby O'Jay. This is not only a loss for us as a city in Memphis, but a loss to all of us in the black community nationally, those of us in black music and radio and those of us who saw him as a mentor. Bobby O'Jay is Black Radio history and has forged many spaces that others hadn't while creating opportunities for many of the success that we've seen in both radio and black music. His voice and opinions will truly be missed. "
We pray for the family and mourn the passing of radio icon Bobby O'jay. This is not only a loss for us as a city in Memphis, but a loss to all of us in the black community nationally, those of us in black music and radio and those of us who saw him as a mentor. Bobby O'jay (1/2)— State Representative Antonio Parkinson (@TNRepParkinson) May 3, 2022