Ralph Emery, a legendary country music broadcast personality and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has died. Nashville's Tennessean newspaper reports that Emery died in Nashville on Saturday morning (Jan. 15). He was 88 years old.

According to a statement from his family, the broadcasting legend "passed away peacefully" at Tristar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, surrounded by his loved ones.

"Ralph had a deep love for his family, his friends and his fans," the statement reads.

Born Walter Ralph Emery in the rural Nashville suburb of McEwen, Tenn, in 1933, Emery displayed an early affinity for radio. That led to him launching his career in radio with a stint at WTPR in Paris, Tenn. Emery made the career jump to Nashville's WSM in 1957.

He interviewed a Who's Who of country's biggest stars river the decades, and his relaxed, conversational style of speaking to artists helped differentiate him from other broadcasters and earned him the respect and trust of his interview subjects. Emery earned the unofficial title of the "Dean of Country Music Broadcasters" over the years, according to the Tennessean.

The radio icon made the leap to television by hosting The Ralph Emery Show on Nashville's WSMV beginning in 1972, giving viewers early introductions to rising stars including the Judds, who appeared on the show before they had a recording contract. He later hosted the national TV program Nashville Now, a Tonight Show-style country music talk show that enjoyed a long run on TNN from 1983 until 1993.

The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Emery in 2007.

"Ralph Emery's impact in expanding country music's audience is incalculable," Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young says in a statement (quote via WSMV). "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."

Emery's cause of death has not yet been revealed. The iconic broadcaster is survived by his wife, Joy Emery, as well as three sons, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are to be announced.

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