Ralph Emery, who became known as the dean of country music broadcasters over more than a half-century in both radio and television, passed away from complications after a stroke suffered in late 2021 at the Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville on Saturday morning, January 15, 2022. He was 88 years old and had been hospitalized for a week.
Born on March 10, 1933, in McEwen, Tennessee, Walter Ralph Emery worked as an usher in a downtown Nashville movie theater and as a Kroger stock boy as a teenager, saving money to attend the Tennessee School of Broadcasting under the instruction of Nashville radio legend John Richbourg.
In 1951, on Richbourg’s recommendation, he got his first radio job at tiny WTPR in Paris, Tennessee, where his first assignment was a 15-minute newscast. He worked briefly at the station, for $39.50 a week, before moving back to Nashville, where he signed on at WNAH and then at tiny WAGG in nearby Franklin, Tennessee.
Two years later Emery got his first full-time job in radio, joining the staff of pioneering Nashville radio station WSIX, while Emery’s first television experience came in 1954 at WSIX-TV. Then in 1956 he worked very briefly at a radio station in Louisiana (WLCS in Baton Rouge).
Eventually in November 1957, when he was 24 years old, he took over the graveyard shift at Nashville’s WSM.
Perhaps best known as the host of the nightly Nashville Network television live prime-time, talk-variety show, Nashville Now, from 1983 to 1993, Emery’s career also included stints on:
- WSM-TV’s Opry Almanac beginning in 1963 – his first local television show.
- The afternoon show, Sixteenth Avenue, from 1966-1969
- The early morning Ralph Emery Show from 1972-1991
- The syndicated television music series Pop Goes the Country from 1974-1980
- Nashville Alive on the cable superstation WTBS from 1981-1982
- Ralph Emery LIVE on RFD-TV, a satellite and cable television channel devoted to rural American culture (re-named Ralph Emery’s Memories) from 2007-2015.
His conversational interviewing style earned him the sobriquet “the Johnny Carson of Country music.”
He became an announcer on the Grand Ole Opry — one of his favorite radio broadcasts as a child — in 1961, continuing in the role until 1964.
All of this made Emery an influential figure in the birth of modern country music and beyond.
Nevertheless, he was receptive to having bluegrass artists on his shows. John McEuen, Emmylou Harris, and Keith Whitley, albeit as a country music performer, all featured frequently.
In 1984 making his debut on Nashville Now, Whitley did his famous Lester Flatt impersonation …..
…and again a few year’s later.
In 1985, on The Ralph Emery Show, the Bluegrass Cardinals – Don Parmley, David Parmley, Larry Stephenson, Dale Perry and Mike Hartgrove – performed Ridin’ On The L & N …..
Other guests from the 1980s included The Bluegrass Album Band – Tony Rice, J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson, Bobby Hicks, Jerry Douglas and Mark Schatz – Age from The Bluegrass Album. Vol. 4……
Always welcome was the Father of Bluegrass Music. In this instance Bill Monroe talks about his Bean Blossom festival, his long career that included the early influence of his uncle Pendleton Vandiver ….
Bill Monroe, Dale Morris, Blake Williams, Tater Tate and Wayne Lewis – with the seasonal favourite, Christmas Time’s A’ Coming…
…and Bill Monroe, Tater Tate, Blake Williams, Tom Ewing and Billy Rose on I’m On My Way Back To The Old Home.
Another guest was Ralph Stanley with his Clinch Mountain Boys (1990) Ralph Stanley, Jack Cooke, Curly Ray Cline, Sammy Adkins, Ernie Thacker and Ralph Stanley II – I’ll Answer The Call …..
… and doing Way Down Deep.
Also, Jimmy Martin claimed that Emery got him on WSM after he moved from Wheeling, West Virginia.
Although he admitted that he wasn’t much of a singer, Emery had very significant chart success in 1961 with his recording of Hello Fool, his adaptation of Faron Young’s big hit song Hello Walls. In 1988 he released an album of Songs for Children of all Ages (Ralph & Red Records LP-1001) recorded with his Muppet-like ‘co-host’ Shotgun Red.
Ralph Emery was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1989, the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007, and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2010.
R.I.P. Ralph Emery.