Ralph Emery's best-seller -- How his autobiography made it to No. 2 on the ''New York Times'' nonfiction list

Seems like country music’s riding tall in the saddle everywhere, even on the New York Times best-seller list. In November, Macmillan printed 50,000 copies of Memories: The Autobiography of Ralph Emery, expecting the recollections of the Nashville disc jockey, TV talk-show host, and star maker to be a regional hit in the South and Southwest. By mid-January, there were 275,000 copies in print and no sign of the demand letting up. This week, the memoir, cowritten with Tom Carter, is No. 2 on the New York Times nonfiction list.

”Frankly, I’m a little flabbergasted,” says Emery, 58. ”I didn’t think anybody would be interested in reading about me.” But it turns out that Emery’s life is as absorbing as the tales he tells about Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Jimmy Dean: a humiliating childhood as the son of the town drunk, an amphetamine problem in the ’60s and ’70s, three divorces from two women by age 31 (incg a regrettable marriage to Grand Ole Opry star Skeeter Davis), and a candid admission that he falsified radio station playlists to help Davis’ career. Even though country music has garnered a lot of new fans in recent years and Emery has been a much-respected figure in the field for four decades — the book’s jacket copy accurately claims that he ”is to country music what Dick Clark is to rock ‘n’ roll” — a lot of Memories’ success is probably due to careful marketing.

The book’s sales have been augmented by TV commercials featuring Cash, Dean, Barbara Mandrell, and Randy Travis that include an 800 number for phone orders. Those commercials ran solely on cable’s The Nashville Network. TNN — where Emery is the host of the nightly Nashville Now, a downhome version of The Tonight Show — reaches 53.7 million homes.

Emery sees the book’s sales as proof that the popularity of country music $ has long been underestimated. ”One of my crusades is to show that the people who follow this music aren’t rednecks and white trash and poorly educated, and that the performers aren’t simply hicks who sing through their nose, as the Eastern media seem to think. This is the second year in a row, after Barbara (Mandrell)’s book, that a country-music biography has hit the best-seller list. Maybe we’re finally opening a marketplace.”