Change is typically the only constant in the radio business. Disk jockeys go from city to city like a carnival, while stations endlessly shift formats, and listeners flip stations. The Memphis airwaves contain two more constants, though. This October, WDIA AM-1070 will celebrate 60 years on the air in the same format. The Goodwill Station's program director, Bobby O'Jay, is behind WDIA's high ratings, and Bobby O'Jay the deejay is behind the mic on the city's top-rated morning drive-time program. This year marks his 25th anniversary in that dual role.
The Batesville, Mississippi, native spent a nomadic decade on the air in Montgomery, Alabama, Milwaukee, Houston, Dallas, and Chicago before starting his dream job in February 1983. According to the latest quarterly Arbitron ratings, WDIA ranks second overall in the million-listener Memphis market, an amazing feat for an AM channel, while O'Jay's Fun Morning Show ranks first in its crucial time slot. >>>
How did you get into radio?
I had a cousin who was in radio back in '67 and '68 in Chattanooga. One hot summer day he came down to Batesville in a brand new 1967 Mustang. He had a lady with him, and he bragged to us about what he did for a living. At that point I thought, "This might not be a bad career choice."
How did you get your first broadcasting job?
I lied. I sent out all these audition tapes of fake air checks with made-up call letters like WXYZ. Everybody told me that I needed experience, so I decided I'd send tapes to small markets. I faked this tape with the call letters of a real radio station in Milwaukee, WNOV. I got a call from a station in Montgomery, Alabama, and told them I was a weekend guy. They asked when I could get there, and I hopped on a Greyhound bus on a Friday, and was on the air Monday. I had never been on the air in my life, and they put me on in afternoon drive time. I opened the mic, and I must have been talking a hundred miles an hour.
What did your first day at 'DIA feel like, having grown up listening to the station?
I wrote a 60-second script and had [veteran deejay] A.C. Williams read it. It said that I was from Mississippi and had been on the air in Dallas and Chicago, but that it's my dream to work at WDIA. It ran all weekend long with A.C.'s voice saying "WDIA is going to make this young man's dreams come true." Can you see that? Genius, wasn't it? I got on the air Monday morning, everybody welcomed me, and it's been great ever since.
How do you draw listeners as a deejay?
I talk about my prior life — my drug abuse, how I behaved in my first marriage, and I talk about my new wife and how she runs the family. People know me. Then on top of that, we talk about things people can relate to. The people that we have on the air understand that the best way to attract people is to share something in common. We allow callers to say whatever they want to say.
You've drawn criticism for talking too much about sex. How do you react?
I'm going to keep on doing it. A guy who's in a bad relationship is not going to be a good worker, or a good neighbor. The people who aren't having sex, the boring people who want to talk about politics all the time — I could care less what they say, they don't matter.
What kind of hate mail do you get?
People cuss me out sometimes. They criticize my grammar, which is not that bad.
Is it unusual to be both program director and on the air?
It is, because guys get a big head. Program directors think that because they wear a necktie to work, they don't need to be on the air. I want to be as close to the product as possible, and the best way to do that is to be on the air. And I think I'm pretty good on the air. It wouldn't have made any sense to me as a program director to take me off the air. I have to be on the radio — I'm addicted to it. M