Bobby O'Jay checks out the advanced control board in the new WDIA studio. (Photo: Courtesy of Mark Stansbury)

Tuesday morning, just before 9 a.m. when the phone lines are open, WDIA Program Director Bobby O’Jay fell unconscious during his show. He suffered a fatal massive heart attack.

Only minutes after midnight, early Wednesday morning, O’Jay’s colleague, author, and award-winning photographer, Mark Stansbury, confirmed that the official cause of death had been ruled as a “massive heart attack.”

Listeners on Tuesday morning, May 3, were expecting to hear O’Jay return after announcing that the phone lines were open. Instead, music continued to play during the time when O’Jay engages callers in discussions on current events or some relevant issue.

Listeners said the morning’s topic focused on the revocation of a college scholarship after a student set to graduate posted online a photo of her brandishing guns.

Shockwaves of sadness and disbelief flooded social media as the news of O’Jay’s death quickly spread.

Stansbury credited O’Jay with the insight to permit a live, gospel music program on Sunday.

“Had it not been for Bobby, I would not have been able to bless my WDIA listeners with good, old gospel music for over 30 years,” said Stansbury.

Bobby O’Jay presents the prestigious Mic Award to WDIA gospel music on-air personality Mark Stansbury in 2008 at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Westwood. (Photo courtesy of Mark Stansbury)

“When Bobby first came to WDIA, he pulled my music the first two Sundays. He came by the next Sunday and said, ‘I grew up listening to you. You know your audience better than I do. Go ahead and do your thing.’”

O’Jay’s desire to be connected to WDIA links him to an experience picking cotton in Batesville, Mississippi. While taking a break, his cousin, WLOK’s popular, on-air host, Melvin “A-Cookin’ Jones, dropped by for a visit. O’Jay, 12 at the time, decided he wanted to work in radio. 

“Melvin planted the seed” of his desire to be a “disc jockey,” as radio, on-air, personalities were called decades ago. 

Bobby O’Jay (Photo courtesy of Mark Stansbury)

O’Jay had one of the most recognizable radio voices in the Mid-South. He was celebrating his 50th year on the radio this year.

He came to historic WDIA, America’s first African-American radio station, in 1983, as the new program director. O’Jay said he envisioned “taking the radio station to where it is today,” during a 2021 interview on his induction into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. 

Social media tributes are plentiful.

O’Jay’s last post on Facebook is a scenic, peaceful shot of a placid, blue-green lake stretching into the distance under a sunless sky of blue and white clouds. Green trees line a concrete walkway, alongside the lake. O’Jay writes: “Saturday morning walking at beautiful Shelby Farms in Memphis.”

After O’Jay posted the photo, Ted Johnson commented: “Bobby, it looks so relaxing. You good to go, many more years.”

O’Jay replied, “Thanks, my friend.” 

That exchange was Saturday, April 30.

Tuesday, in the early afternoon, Mamie Wright broke the news to Johnson, posting:

“Ted Johnson, he passed this morning.”

More than 100 people commented on the photo.

Patricia Parker posted: “This picture spoke volumes to me. God is so real. It looks as if he’s walking right into heaven, and he died doing what he loved.” 

 There is one thing that should comfort everyone, according to Stansbury.

“Out of everything bad comes some good,” said Stansbury. “Bobby is gone, but we all know that he is with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And for that, I tell the Lord, ‘Thank You.’”

Cooley’s Mortuary in Batesville has charge of final arrangements.