Famed Nashville Radio, TV Host Known as “Johnny Carson of Country Music,” Ralph Emery Dies, 88

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Videos by American Songwriter

Often called the “Johnny Carson” and “Dick Clark” of country music, Nashville radio, and TV host Ralph Emery died on Jan. 14. He was 88.

No cause of death was shared for the Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, who died at the Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville.

In 2007, Emery was inducted into the Hall of Fame for his contribution to country music broadcasting throughout a career spanning nearly 60 years, following a previous honor in 1989 when he became a member of the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame.

“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. ”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 March 10, 1933, in McEwen, Tennessee, Emery had an unhappy childhood with an alcoholic father and mother, who struggled with mental issues, according to his biography, and later found his escape in radio, which he called his “surrogate family,” after attending broadcasting school.

“I had a terrible, terrible time with my self-image,” said Emery in a 1991 interview, who started his career at the age of 24 as a late-night radio DJ on the country music station WSM in 1957 through 1972, while transitioning into television in the 1960s. ”I really enjoyed radio. And talking to a microphone, I didn’t have to look at anybody.”

Throughout his career, Emery was best known for his music talk show Nashville Now, which aired from 1983 through 1993 on cable television. Prior to Nashville Now, which was the premier show for country music at the time, Emery previously had several jobs on TV, hosting Opry Almanac in 1963, Sixteenth Avenue from 1966 to 1969, The Ralph Emery Show, 1972 to ’91, Pop Goes the Country, from 1974 through 1980, and Nashville Alive, 1981 to 1982.

Emery continued to work well into the mid-2010s, hosting Ralph Emery Live in 2007, which ran through 2015, and writing several memoirs. In 2021, Emery released the 46-CD, two-DVD box set Emery’s Memories, a collection of his interviews throughout the years. 

“Ralph Emery was often better known than the stars he introduced to larger and larger audiences over the years as country music’s foremost ambassador,” said Sarah Trahern, CEO, Country Music Association, in a statement. “Our format had no better voice over the years than Ralph, who treated country music and its stars – many of whom went on to become his friend – with the kind of dignity and respect they deserved for decades.”

Trahern added, “As a Country Music Hall of Famer, he will be remembered among so many of the artists he supported throughout his career. On a personal note, I worked with Ralph for many years, and I always looked forward to his lively stories when we sat down for lunch. My thoughts are with his family today.”

Emery is survived by his wife Joy Emery, three sons, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Photo: Country Music Hall of Fame

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