Remembering Tommy Jett 1940-2018
Tommy Jett has died at the age of 77.
Local radio legend Tommy Jett has died at the age of 77. He had been frail in recent years due to illness, but still quite active. Until the end, he enjoyed being with his family, friends, and fans. Funeral arrangements will be announced later. Here is a story by David Carroll after Tommy's induction into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame:
On May 4, 2013, a silver-haired man with a ring on every finger stepped up to the podium at the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame banquet. The newly inducted deejay thanked his family, his listeners, his God, and his “close personal friends.” Thankfully, he didn’t name each of them because it would have taken all night. In a career now spanning 54 years, 75-year-old Tommy Jett has amassed a following like few others. Starting at WFLI (AM 1070) in Chattanooga, Tommy had provided the soundtrack to the Baby Boomer generation. In 2015 “TJ the DJ” celebrated the publication of his biography, an event he never thought he would see.
On April 18, 2012, the longtime diabetic lost consciousness while driving along a rural north Georgia road. His car went airborne, flipping a half-dozen times before landing in a ditch. Emergency workers spent the next four hours removing Tommy from the wreckage, using the “Jaws of Life.” Walker County Deputy Bruce Coker led the rescue effort. “I thought there was no way we could get him out alive,” Coker said later.
Yet within days, Tommy was holding court in his hospital room, recovering from neck surgery. He was determined to attend his annual Entertainers Reunion, scheduled in May. As Tommy said, “If I’m above ground, I’ll be there.” He made that date, and even emceed the Riverbend Festival in June. But he was looking more gaunt by the day, losing weight rapidly. The once robust rock-and-roller had lost his appetite.
It all came to a head in late June. His wife Charlene, who had tried mightily to get him to eat, called 911. He had lapsed into a coma. He was rushed to a Chattanooga hospital, and friends started spreading the word: this didn’t look good.
On Sunday, July 1st, the phone calls went out. “If you want to see Tommy Jett alive, you’d better hurry.” He was being kept alive on a respirator, and doctors told Charlene the bad news: “He will never get better.” That afternoon, she told friends she was beginning to accept the inevitable. By morning, family members were called in to say goodbye. Funeral arrangements were made, a church was chosen, pallbearers were notified.
What happened next has yet to be explained, scientifically anyway. Some longtime radio friends hatched an idea. Yes, Tommy was lying in a hospital bed, lifeless. But what did Tommy enjoy more than anything else? Being on the radio, playing the hits. So the radio guys got a boombox, loaded in some CD recordings of Tommy’s WFLI “Night Train” shows from the 1960s, and cranked it up at the head of Tommy’s bed. When one disc ran out, a new one was put in. Elvis, the Supremes, the Beatles, all introduced by Tommy’s familiar “Hey Now” greeting. Just as it had aired on transistor radios fifty years earlier.
Monday morning arrived, and to everyone’s surprise, doctors did not “pull the plug.” They told the family that Tommy had shown slight signs of improvement. Tommy was still in a deep sleep, as the music played on. “Come on and be my little good luck charm,” Elvis crooned. Tommy’s lively voice would interrupt between songs: “Nineteen minutes after midnight, you’re movin’ and grooving, with Super-Jett, your ever-lovin’ leader!”
The next day, Tommy began to move his fingers just a bit. By Wednesday, he was blinking his eyes. Later that day his eyes began following the movements of his grandchildren in the hospital room. Message received: Tommy wasn’t ready to “check out” just yet.
By Friday, five days after his pals came by to say goodbye, they witnessed what can only be described as a miracle. There was Tommy, now able to speak, laugh, and express his thanks. Did he hear the music during his deep sleep? No one, not even Tommy can be sure. But it certainly didn’t hurt. And if anyone wants to attach a little healing power to the sounds of rock and roll, so be it. His wife Charlene said, “When the #1 doctor, God stepped in and said it is not time yet, Tommy woke up. We give much credit to the doctors, but Tommy and I know the real reason he is here is God.”
Tommy can’t hide a smile when it’s suggested that maybe rock and roll had something to do with his amazing recovery. “There’s nothing like music,” he says. “It’s been a big part of my whole life.” As for me, I’m telling my family to keep some Tommy Jett CDs handy. If I’m ever the subject of those serious hospital conversations, crank up “TJ the DJ” for me. That’ll make me want to stick around a while longer too.