Blues DJ Big E retires after nine years on the KHOL airwaves

Emerson fell in love with the genre as a teenager in the 1960s and has been a musical ambassador ever since.
Robert Emerson, DJ Big E, sitting with a statute of Little Milton outside the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis.

After nine years on the KHOL airwaves, dedicated blues DJ Big E (Robert Emerson) retired at the end of 2023. His Wednesday evening blues show, “Blues with a Feeling” was a station staple since 2014. 

“When I make a commitment, I make a commitment,” Emerson declared. 

He drove over the pass each week from Driggs and diligently planned his playlists each week, burning songs onto a CD in advance of his show. Emerson kept in touch with his listeners and fans through weekly emails as well. 

“I’ve been putting playlists together since 1975. Now I’ve got hundreds,” explained Emerson (74). 

He has become an unofficial ambassador for the genre – promoters and labels regularly send him new albums to check out. In turn he shared his music on the airwaves, and with friends near and far. 

“Most of it was people from my past…from Durango, Colorado to Joshua Tree, all these different places where folks that I knew or went to school with, particularly in college, that are still around. So I’d send that out the day before my show and folks would listen to me. I solicited the people to listen to the blues music.”

Growing up in the 1960s in Sacramento, home of Tower Records, Emerson’s  first album was “Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys. But at 16 his musical universe changed forever. 

“When my brother came home from college and lit up our family room with all this blues music, that was it. I’d really never heard that kind of music before,” recounted Emerson. 

In 2016 he made a pilgrimage to the “Blues Highway” traveling from New Orleans through the Mississippi Delta and up to Memphis to see the birthplace of some of his favorite musicians. In 2019 he taught a six week class on the origin and history of blues music through Central Wyoming College.  

“For both me and my wife, music has always been that number one kind of focus. And so, we’ll just keep doing it.”

Listen above for an interview with Emerson as he reflects on his tenure.

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About Emily Cohen

Emily has served as executive director of KHOL since June 2019. She has a background in ecological design and urban planning and has worked as a teacher on the US-Mexico border in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, as a policy wonk in Washington, DC and as a land use planner in Wyoming. She enjoys getting away from the operations side of radio to produce original stories about arts and culture in Jackson.

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