The realm of radio, especially in the heart of Memphis, echoed with a profound silence on May 3, 2022, as the news of Bobby O’Jay’s passing reverberated through the airwaves. Known as the King of Memphis radio, Bobby O’Jay, born Joe Louis Jones, was more than just a DJ; he was the voice that carried the rhythm of soul through a broadcasting medium, creating a resounding impact that lingered long after his voice signed off.
His entry into the radio world was not a whim but a well-orchestrated dive in 1972, at Montgomery, Alabama. By February 1983, he had nestled into his dream position, a tenure that would see him not just spin records, but also weave into the fabric of Memphis’ culture, a legacy steeped in soulful resonance. His candid discussions, often reflecting personal anecdotes and heartfelt concerns, drew listeners into a communal experience, making radio more than just a one-way communication channel.
O’Jay’s illustrious career was marked by notable milestones, including a nomination for the revered National Radio Hall of Fame. His tenure at America’s pioneering black radio station, WDIA, wasn’t merely a job; it was a platform to bridge communities, a space to celebrate and reflect the African-American narrative through sound and dialogue. Under his stewardship, WDIA not only received an induction into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2015 but continued to be a beacon of black heritage and cultural discourse.
His vocation brought him face to face with notable personalities like Muhammad Ali and Whitney Houston, yet his most cherished interviews were often with individuals whose stories resonated with the everyday lives of his listeners.
On that fateful day in May, the unexpected silence of Bobby O’Jay’s voice on the radio was not just a technical glitch but a permanent sign-off that left a city in mourning. The abrupt nature of his departure, while at work, was confirmed by fellow radio personality Bev Johnson, leaving not just a family, but a community grappling with the void.
Wanda Thomas, O’Jay’s niece, encapsulated the shock and sorrow succinctly, “We’re doing about as well as one might hope. We just listened to him this morning, you know, and he sounded perfectly fine. It’s a procedure.”
The enigma surrounding his cause of death remains, with no official disclosure. Yet, the tributes pouring in echoed a singular sentiment – the loss of a radio icon who was synonymous with Memphis’ auditory identity.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland took to Twitter, expressing a shared sentiment, “I know for many Memphians, including my wife, the day was not complete unless they tuned in to hear what Bobby had to say.”
Tennessee state lawmaker Antonio Parkinson reminisced, “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.”
Survived by his wife Sharon and six children, Bobby O’Jay’s legacy transcends the physical realm, resonating through the soulful tunes and heartfelt conversations that continue to echo through the heart of Memphis. His narrative is intertwined with the narrative of a city that found its rhythm and voice, through the airwaves curated by Bobby O’Jay.