Social media was flooded with tributes and condolences Tuesday (May 3) as Mid-South fans, faithful friends and listeners learned that Tennessee Radio Hall of Famer, popular DJ and WDIA Program Director Bobby O’Jay died at work early Tuesday morning.
Colleague and popular radio personality Bev Johnson confirmed that O’Jay died suddenly while at work. He was 68.
O’Jay’s popular on-air morning show usually opens the talk show phone lines at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, O’Jay voice did not come back on to open phone lines. Instead, music was being played.
No official cause of death has been verified.
Kevin Klein, iHeartMedia Market president, also released a statement confirming O’Jay’s death, offering emotional expressions of loss on behalf of the iHeartMedia family.
Tennessee state Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis, 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.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland tweeted, “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.”
O’Jay is a Memphis radio legend who was celebrating 50 years in the radio industry this year. He was born in Batesville, Mississippi, in August of 1953.
Very seldom did O’Jay give media interviews, but he did July when he was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.
As with many children who came from Mississippi, O’Jay recalled picking cotton on a blistering, summer’s day. O’Jay, who was 12 at time, and was taking a break from the grueling work when his cousin, who many remember as WLOK Radio Station’s Melvin “A-Cookin’” Jones, came to visit.
O’Jay heard Jones talking about his job and made up his mind that day about pursuing a career in radio as a “disc jockey.”
O’Jay often said he was “born to do radio.”
O’Jay was proud of the fact that he never worked at anything but radio. He started his career at 18 in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, radio market. A better opportunity took him to Montgomery, Alabama, but then went back to Milwaukee. He came to WDIA in 1983, and the rest is Memphis radio history.
As program director, he hired two other on-air personalities, who are still working: Bev Johnson and Mike Evans.
O’Jay often shared his life on-air with his late wife, Sharon. Listeners heard about all the significant moments in the couple’s life. Many grieved in 2017 with the devastating loss of Sharon after 30 years of marriage to O’Jay.
O’Jay said he delighted in sharing life with Sharon with listeners so that they knew her as well as they knew him. O’Jay found love again and remarried. His wife, Kim, also is an important part of his present broadcasts.
O’Jay talked about growing up listening to WDIA as a kid.