NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ralph Emery, who became known as the dean of country music broadcasters over more than a half-century in both radio and television, died Saturday, his family said. He was 88.
Emery passed away peacefully of natural causes, surrounded by family, at Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, his son, Michael, told The Associated Press. He had been hospitalized for a week.
Beginning his career at small radio stations and then moving into television as well, Emery was probably best known for his work on the Nashville Network cable channel. From 1983 to 1993, he was host of the channel’s live talk-variety show “Nashville Now,” earning the title “the Johnny Carson of cable television” for his interviewing style. From 2007 to 2015, Emery hosted a weekly program on RFD-TV, a satellite and cable TV channel.
He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
“Ralph Emery’s impact in expanding country music’s audience is incalculable,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, in a statement Saturday. “On radio and on television, he allowed fans to get to know the people behind the songs. Ralph was more a grand conversationalist than a calculated interviewer, and it was his conversations that revealed the humor and humanity of Tom T. Hall, Barbara Mandrell, Tex Ritter, Marty Robbins and many more. Above all, he believed in music and in the people who make it.”
Born on March 10, 1933 in McEwen, Tennessee, Emery attended broadcasting school in Nashville and got his first radio job at WTPR in Paris, Tennessee. He later worked at radio stations in Louisiana and the Nashville area before signing on in 1957 at Nashville's WSM, the station that carries the Grand Ole Opry, until 1972.
His autobiography, “Memories," came out in 1991, followed by “More Memories” in 1993 and “The View From Nashville: On the Record with Country Music's Greatest Stars” in 1998.
Emery hosted “Pop Goes the Country,” a syndicated TV show, from 1974 through 1980. From 1981 to 1983, he was host of “Nashville Alive,” on cable station WTBS.
On the talk-variety show “Nashville Now," Emery sat at a desk, interviewing country music stars and others, much like Carson chatted with celebrities on NBC’s “Tonight” show.
Emery also briefly had his own recording career in the early 1960s. “I’m not a singer and that was one of the major problems,” he confessed in a 1990 interview.
“Ralph had a deep love for his family, his friends and his fans,” a family statement said, adding that Emery leaves behind his wife, Joy Emery, three sons, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.
Emery’s death was first reported by The Tennessean.