Walter Ralph Emery (born March 10, 1933; McEwen, Tennessee) is a country music disc jockey and television host from Nashville, Tennessee. He gained national fame hosting the syndicated television music series, Pop! Goes the Country, from 1974 to 1980 and the nightly Nashville Network television program, Nashville Now, from 1983 to 1993. Emery can currently be seen hosting the weekly program, Ralph Emery Live, on RFD-TV, a satellite and cable television channel devoted to rural American culture.
Emery first earned fame as the late-night disc jockey on Nashville's WSM. Due to the clear-channel broadcasting range of the station at night, Emery's country music show could be heard over most of the Eastern and Central U.S.-- and by many overnight long-haul truck drivers, who were often fans of country music. The all-night show was a mecca for country music stars of all kinds, many of whom were personal friends of Emery. One in particular was singer and movie star, and Nashville resident, Tex Ritter. Ritter actually co-hosted the show with Emery for a while. Many well-known stars, most notably Marty Robbins, would often drop in unannounced.
Emery also gave national exposure to many up-and-coming and previously unknown country music singers, for which these singers often owed their careers. Emery later wrote several best-selling books chronicling his memories of the many Nashville singers and musicians that appeared on his various radio and TV shows. The second of Emery's three wives was Opry star Skeeter Davis.
Emery is credited for developing the gab of NASCAR driver (and Middle Tennessean) Darrell Waltrip, who was a frequent guest on his late-night radio show during his early days racing in Nashville. That eventually led to substitute gigs on WSM and Nashville Now.
Emery attained his greatest popularity on Nashville Now, with his rich voice and easy affability with guests making the show a national phenomenon. He would converse with a wide range of country music stars from all eras, and also used a Muppet-like 'co-host,' "Shotgun Red," during several seasons.
From the mid-1960s until the early 1990s (except for several years in the 1960s when hosted by country singer Bobby Lord and a two-year period between 1970 and 1972), Emery also hosted a weekday morning show on WSM television (now WSMV), which, until the early 1980s, was a sister property of WSM radio. The program, which featured an in-studio band of local session musicians and aspiring singers (among them a teenaged Lorrie Morgan, daughter of Emery's longtime friend, Grand Ole Opry star George Morgan) along with news and weather updates and in-studio live commercials, became the highest-rated local morning television program in the U.S. for some years in the 1970s and 1980s. His eye and ear for talent was inclusive in breaking color barriers and started the careers of younger African-American singers such as Joyce Cobb; she was included as a part of his studio band in the early 1970s. Emery also hosted a late-afternoon program on WSM-TV in the late 1960s, Sixteenth Avenue South (named for one of the streets on Nashville's famed Music Row of recording studios), with the same format. Because of the morning show's popularity and demands on his time, Emery ended his long run on the overnight shift on WSM radio in 1972; Hairl Hensley replaced him and went on to a thirty-year career with the station. Beginning in 1971, Emery hosted The Ralph Emery Show on radio. It was a weekly, syndicated show that aired daily on country stations in five parts Mondays through Fridays. Each week Emery would profile a guest star, while playing the hot country hits of the week. It was distributed by "Show Biz Inc." and lasted until sometime in the 1980s.
The song Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man details a moderately unpleasant on-air exchange between Emery and Roger McGuinn, the lead singer of the 1960s rock group The Byrds, concerning their 1968 appearance at The Grand Ole Opry. In that performance, the Byrds attempted unsuccessfully to convince traditional country music fans that their developing country rock sound was a legitimate part of the tradition. They were met with jeers and catcalls, in what may be interpreted as a sign of the increasing animosity at the time between rural or working-class (mostly Southern) whites (represented by Opry attendees and Emery's listeners) and young devotees of the counterculture (represented by the Byrds, with their long hair and "hippie" attire). Years later, though, there would be some reconciliation and even convergence of the opposing lifestyles in the "Outlaw" movement, popularized by the likes of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
Legendary songwriter Mickey Newbury remembered Ralph Emery on his 1979 album, The Sailor, in the song The Night You Wrote That Song.
In 2001, Emery attempted a television comeback on Nashville Fox affiliate WZTV, but only spent seven days on the air before being sidelined first by continuing coverage of the September 11 attacks and then an illness. Substitute host Charlie Chase, a former WSM disc jockey in his own right, took over Tennessee Mornings permanently. In October 2005, Emery launched The Nashville Show, a free weekly webcast with Shotgun Red as co-host.
Emery was among the 2007 inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2010 he was ultimately inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, with the latter induction being replayed on Emery's current television program, Ralph Emery Live.
He then returned to television on the RFD-TV cable network in mid-2007, conducting interviews with the show Ralph Emery Live. The show continues to air live every Monday evening at 7:00 PM Eastern, with new episodes set to commence in spring 2011.