November 26, 2022

Bobby O’Jay, radio personality on Memphis’ WDIA—the country’s first Black radio station—has died at the age of 68. His cause of death is currently unknown.

Born in Batesville, Mississippi on August 8, 1953, O’Jay began his dream career as radio host in 1972 in Milwaukee. He had a brief on-air stint in Montgomery, Alabama, but returned to Milwaukee prior to landing the hosting gig at WDIA in 1983. He also served as program director during his tenure and interviewed countless Black music and culture legends, including Whitney Houston and Muhammad Ali, as well as David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations.

Last year, he was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame after being honored by the Living Legends Foundation in 2000 and iHeartMedia Memphis in 2018. O’Jay was also a National Radio Hall of Fame nominee. WDIA was inducted in 2013. Ahead of his induction in Tennessee, he shared with local outlet Fox13 Memphis, “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.”

Reflecting on O’Jay’s passing, Chuck O’Bannon, Kudzukian Radio and on-air personality, told local outlet 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.”

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson added in a statement, “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 also reflected on O’Jay’s life and legacy on Twitter. “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,” he wrote.

VIBE sends our deepest condolences to the O’Jay family and those affected by this tragic loss.

Watch Bobby O’Jay reflect on his early days at WDIA below.

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