MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis radio WDIA DJ Bobby O’Jay died at age 68 Tuesday morning.

Radio host Bev Johnson confirmed to WREG that O’Jay passed away while he was at work. When O’Jay would open the phone line at 9 a.m., the radio station was only playing music.

O’Jay’s cause of death is currently unknown.

WREG was first to speak with O’Jay’s niece, Wanda Thomas, who said the family is in shock.

“We’re doing as well as can be expected,” Thomas said. “We just listened to him this morning, you know, and he sounded like the picture of health. It’s a process.”

O’Jay was born in Batesville, Mississippi in 1953 and got his first start in the radio business in Montgomery, Alabama before joining WDIA in Memphis in 1983.

Thomas said O’Jay came from a family of nine brothers and sisters with O’Jay being the youngest brother.

“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.”

In 2018, WDIA said in a press release:

“The stations program director and on-air personality Bobby O’Jay is the man behind all the success as being the city’s top-rated morning drive program.”

O’Jay, who was known as the “King of Memphis radio,” was also inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2021 and nominated for the National Radio Hall of Fame. He was also honored by iHeartMedia Memphis in 2018.

Mayor Jim Strickland said in a tweet:

“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.

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.

Memphis-Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray also said in a tweet:

“A CHANGE CHAMPION in the 901 and a voice for our community, Bobby O’Jay was a pioneer and @WDIAMemphis talk-radio icon in the Mid-South. Our thoughts are with his @iHeartRadio colleagues, family, and friends.”

Memphis Grammy-winning record producer and Royal Studios co-owner Boo Mitchell says musicians hope 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 said.

Bar-Kays founder and bass player James Alexander called O’Jay 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.”

WREG will update when more information becomes available.