Nobody loved a good laugh more than Luther Masingill. Since he passed away, I’ve received many nice responses from his fans. People love the photos, the videos, and stories about Chattanooga’s legendary radio man. Here’s a video I forgot about, until someone requested it. It’s from our annual radio deejay reunion, and this clip is from December 2013. Luther’s presence was a highlight of the annual event, and we always gave him a standing ovation. We didn’t know this would be Luther’s last visit with us, but we sent him out with a smile.
Take a minute to listen to a funny, true story told by former WFLI morning DJ Dale Anthony. For many years, he competed with the great finder of lost animals. Sometimes, listeners would get confused, and call the wrong station. Then, this happened. (Thanks to my friend Ben Cagle for sharing) Just click and watch. Luther’s reaction at the end is priceless:
Bryan College soccer player Gustavo Angel Tomayo is pretty good at hoops too: watch Monday night’s halftime promotion. He has to make a lay-up, a free throw, a 3-pointer and a half-court shot, all within 30 seconds. If he’s successful, he wins $10,000 in tuition money. What happened? Watch!
OK Go is the American rock band with a sense of humor, and an eye for great music videos. Somehow, they manage to top themselves year after year. Take a 5-minute fun break with your friends, and watch this amazing video, shot continuously with a drone camera and no edits. It features the guys on motorized scooter chairs, hundreds of perfectly choreographed dancers, colorful umbrellas, and an incredible view of Tokyo at the end. I’ve said enough, just watch! As the song says, “I Won’t Let You Down.”
So much has already been said about our radio friend Luther Masingill, who died Monday at the age of 92. But I’ve been holding something back. As a broadcaster, you try to keep it together. So I’ve been going about my business, writing and reporting on Luther’s life and career. I’ve done stories for my own newscasts, and have been interviewed by various reporters, locally and nationally. I was privileged to speak at the Celebration of Luther’s Life at Engel Stadium. So yes, I’ve said plenty of words about my “old pal.” But, I never got to tell him goodbye.
It’s just now beginning to sink in. I checked my calendar for next week. For Monday, I had written a note a few weeks ago: “Call Luther,” to see if you would go with me next Friday to speak to the Brainerd Kiwanis Club. I’ll have to do this one on my own. It won’t be the same.
We sure had fun together! I’ve made about 130 speeches during the past couple of years about Chattanooga radio and TV, and I sang your praises every time. Often, you were with me, and people were so happy when I brought a special guest: The Longest Running Broadcaster in the History of the World! You got a standing ovation every time.
I’m glad we shared some long car rides. I learned so much about you without any crowds around. Once, I knew you weren’t feeling well, so we talked about life and death. You asked about my parents, who you met decades ago. I told you about my Dad’s “Celebration of Life,” and how we honored his memory with humor and upbeat stories. You told me, “Yeah, that’s what I’d like too…”
I remembered that when I got the sad phone call about you early Monday from your radio station. I’d heard you were ailing. I knew something was unusual when I called Friday night to remind you about a radio gathering the next day. You didn’t answer your cell, and there was no answer at your home. I figured you were busy, and I’d probably see you on Saturday anyway. After all, you were always there. I had visited you in the hospital in years past, and you always bounced back. Why should this time be any different? But I didn’t see you on Saturday, and we all hoped for the best.
Then came Monday. It was the day I knew would come. Or maybe I really didn’t. You’ll laugh when I tell you this, but here you are, a 92-year-old man who has been seriously ill a few times in the past couple of years, and I was totally unprepared when I heard the news. All my “Luther memorabilia” was scattered everywhere, and all those taped interviews we did were all over the place. You spoiled me, old pal!
Let me tell you about the first lesson you taught me: you didn’t even know you did it. One morning early in my radio career, I was having a bad day. Some of the equipment wasn’t working properly, and I was in a bad mood. Evidently, it was affecting my on-air performance. My boss at the time (your former boss Jerry Lingerfelt) came in and asked me what was wrong. I started complaining about the equipment, figuring he would understand why I was grouchy. He said, “Have you ever heard Luther sound angry?” I answered honestly, “No he always sounds the same to me.” “Right,” Jerry said. “He always sounds cheerful. Do you think his equipment works perfectly every day?” “Uh, no,” I said sheepishly. “Right,” Jerry said. “Think about that for a while.” I never forgot that. Lesson learned.
Then not long ago, I was asked to bring you to an event at which you would be honored. I knew it wasn’t exactly your cup of tea, but you agreed to go. I picked you up at your house, and we drove to the event. As soon as we walked in, you gave me that look: “David, what did you get me into?” The music was loud, and the room was crowded. You greeted your fans, we made it to our table, and after about five minutes you leaned in, smiled, and said, “When are we leaving?” I managed to rush things up, and as we started to leave, the skies opened up with a heavy downpour. I said, “Are you sure you want to leave now?” You said, “It’s just a little rain, let’s go!” So we did. But you had brightened the day of everyone inside: they got to see Luther.
I’m sure you heard my tribute to you at Engel Stadium. It was at least ten minutes too long (I tried to keep it short, I really did), but there was so much to say. One of my sweet co-workers, Sarah Anne Rook told me the next day, “I never got to meet Luther, but after listening to you, I feel like I knew him.” That made me feel good, because that was my goal.
I know, I’m getting long-winded again. I just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you. I saw your name on my phone contact list, and I will never delete it. Why should I? Just seeing “Luther” on my phone makes me smile. Even though you’ve moved outside my coverage area, I can still hear your voice. I noticed that I had not erased a 2012 voice mail message from you. I played it back just to see why I had saved it.
You finished the message by saying, “Thanks David. I love you. You’re a good guy.”
I wonder if I’ve ever left a message for anyone that was so meaningful, it was never erased. I don’t think I have. I’m still learning from you, old pal. Now go have some laughs with your friends, hug all those dogs you found, and play some Sinatra records.
Thanks for reading: here are two additional videos for you. First, a 3-minute highlight reel of an interview I did with Luther on the eve of his 70th anniversary at WDEF, on December 17, 2010. He talks about his Royal typewriter, his relationship with his listeners, how many dogs he had found, and even sings a little. It’s Luther at his best. Watch:
And my friend Ben Cagle has produced a beautiful video, set to the music of a Luther favorite: “If I Can Help Somebody.” This includes scenes from Luther’s funeral procession on Friday, October 24. Thank you Ben.
It didn’t take long for word of Luther Masingill’s death to spread throughout his beloved hometown on Monday. Within 24 hours, the King of Morning Radio was memorialized on every media outlet, in every restaurant, and every living room. He was that well-known, and that well-loved.
In recent years, as Luther won numerous awards and honors for his 73-year broadcasting career, and his countless acts of kindness, our local household name went nationwide. News outlets from CBS to Al Jazeera (no kidding) visited his humble studio on South Broad Street and beamed his life story on their networks. After a few years of prodding the Associated Press and other major news services also profiled our world-record-holding announcer.
(Our Celebration of Luther’s Life, which was held Thursday October 23 at Engel Stadium, can be seen in its entirety here. I have posted my own tribute from the celebration in two parts on YouTube:
At least two major national outlets have saluted Luther’s incredible life and career. Listeners of NPR’s popular “All Things Considered” heard this interview Wednesday night.
On Monday, Sirius XM host Phlash Phelps repeated his interview with Luther on his 92nd birthday last March. Phlash is Sirius XM’s amazing morning host on Channel 6, and he has long been one of Luther’s biggest fans. He too, is a radio “lifer,” and appreciates Luther’s unprecedented longevity record more than most.
Wednesday, Phlash asked me to be on his show, to talk about Luther’s life, and to invite folks to the Celebration on Thursday. I’m always honored to share Luther’s story, and I want to thank Phlash for letting me show some love to Luther to a sizable audience among Sirius XM’s 27 million subscribers.
Here’s a YouTube version of the interview, including some classic Luther photos, and it ends with one of those great songs that Luther loved to play on the radio. Please share with Luther fans, near and far:
On October 20, 2014, we lost Luther Masingill, at the age of 92. He will no longer speak into the WDEF microphone, attempting to find some lost dogs. He was on the same time, same station since 1940. When you see a list of records that will never be broken (like Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak), Luther’s longevity should rank at the very top. That’s why Sirius XM’s Phlash Phelps devoted a portion of his show earlier this year to Luther, just before his 92nd birthday. This interview, which you can hear below, was heard by a big chunk of satellite radio’s 26 million listeners nationwide:
Take it from me, or anyone else who’s ever worked on radio or television. An announcing career, to put it kindly, is not one where many folks get a gold watch for 25 years of continuous service. Deejays come and go, and frequently come again. Chattanooga, being a mid-sized city, has long been considered a stepping stone to Nashville, Atlanta, or even network fame. You rarely start in Chattanooga (you hone your skills in smaller towns like South Pittsburg, Dalton, or Fort Payne), and you sure don’t finish here. Generally, if you haven’t hit the big time by the time you’re middle-aged, you start selling real estate, you get a job at the post office, or start your own business. You can’t be a Chattanooga radio announcer forever. Unless….you’re Luther.
Let’s put this in perspective. When Luther uttered his first words on WDEF, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his second term. Some veterans of the Civil War were still alive. There was no such thing as cake mix, an electric blanket or an atomic bomb. Hitler ruled Germany, and Churchill was Britain’s Prime Minister. Gasoline was 18 cents a gallon, and it cost three pennies to mail a letter.
Each year, I attend a reunion of local radio deejays, past and present. Sometimes we ask them to name the stations for which they’ve worked, which can be a lengthy chore for some. Last year, when it was Luther’s turn, I fed him a straight line. “Luther,” I said, “you’ve done radio for more than seventy years. How many stations have you worked for?” With impeccable timing, he paused, started looking at his fingers as if to begin counting, looked up and said simply, “One,” to great laughter of course.
A few years ago, I asked him the question people often ask me. When I’ve touted Luther to out-of-towners, or to newcomers to Chattanooga, they’ll ask, “If he’s so good, why didn’t he ever make it to the big time?” You see, Chattanooga may seem like a big deal to those of us who live here, but the big-city folk are not impressed. We don’t have big-league sports, we don’t have 16-lane highways and we’re not swarming with celebrities. So, if you haven’t worked your way out of our scenic little town, you can’t be very good, so they say.
After a little prodding, Luther admitted that during his heyday in the 1950s and 60s, he could have gone just about anywhere. As television gradually connected our nation from coast to coast, Easterners became infatuated with Southern-style entertainers. Suddenly, New York-type stars like Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Groucho Marx were giving way to comics and singers with a Southern flavor: Dinah Shore, Andy Griffith, Jimmy Dean, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Pat Boone were all near the top of the TV ratings and record charts. Big market radio stations took notice. “Hmmm,” they said. “These Southerners are taking the nation by storm. Maybe we should hire a down-home deejay to do our morning show.” When they saw Luther’s eye-popping ratings, they tracked him down.
I mean, this is the guy who made an entire city pull over to the side of the road one morning. As heavy snow began to fall, Luther helpfully advised his listeners to let some air out of their tires to gain more traction. As witnesses would later describe, main arteries like McCallie Avenue came to a standstill as everyone stopped, got out of their car and began deflating their tires. Can you imagine anyone, in any broadcast medium, having that sort of influence today?
Yet despite the offers from New York, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, Luther chose to stay put. His family was here, and he always appreciated WDEF for giving an unproven high school senior a job on the radio, which was beyond his wildest dreams. When he applied, all he wanted to do was answer the phone and take requests for the older guys. Owner Joe Engel asked him to try out for an announcer’s job, and gave him a commercial script to read. Young Luther mispronounced one word (“salon” became “saloon”) but those golden pipes landed him the station’s prime position. By the way, if the 73-year radio gig isn’t impressive enough, consider this: he was also on WDEF Channel 12 every day since it signed on, sixty years last April. No one else did that, either.
Every time I saw or heard Luther, I cherished the moment. This much is certain: there will never be another one like him, anywhere in the world. If you’re lucky enough to be a Chattanoogan, you can say with hometown pride, “He belonged to us.”
I have posted my tribute to Luther from the Celebration of Life program at Engel Stadium on October 23rd. They are in two parts: Here is part 1:
Here is part 2:
To watch the celebration program in its entirety, click here.
Here is a beautiful video of Luther’s funeral procession, produced by Ben Cagle. It is set to the music of one of his favorites: “If I Can Help Somebody”
Cleveland High School has produced some amazing lip dub videos in recent years, under the supervision of their great broadcasting teacher, Jon Souders. Every year, I say, “How will they top that?”
Well, they’ve done it. Their latest, “Be True To Your School,” is their entry in the Macy’s Lip Dub Challenge, which could earn the school $25,000 in prize money. The video has to be one continuous take, which is hard enough in itself. When I saw this one, which lasts about six minutes, I was blown away. How’d they do it? There are two key ingredients: a drone camera, and lots of talent, both behind and in front of the camera.
Take a look, enjoy, and join me in wishing Cleveland High much success when the winners are announced at the end of October.
It was early in the afternoon Friday, August 23, 1991. I was in the Channel 3 newsroom waiting for something to happen. Photographer Glen Wagner and I had seen a couple of story ideas come and go that day. Some people didn’t call back, and those who did were too busy to meet with me. Fridays can be like that. But I have a newscast to fill….
Suddenly, the phone rang. Was it a heavenly voice on the other end, granting my wish for a little nugget of news? No. It was just my old radio buddy Dex.
My friend Dex
At the time, he was managing the Gardens restaurant at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. “Dave, you’ll never guess who’s eating a cheeseburger about twenty feet away from me,” Dex said. “You’re right,” I said. “Who is it?”
“You’re not gonna believe this, but President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and their grandkids are here having lunch, and then they’re gonna get on the box cars,” Dex said. He capped it off with, “And you’re the only person I’m telling.”
“Glen!” I yelled, “grab your camera, we’ve got a president at the Choo Choo!” Glen, a good-natured guy, didn’t ask questions, he just grabbed the camera, and we took off. As we got in the car, I told him about Dex’s confidential tip. “Does President Carter know we’re coming?” he asked. “I don’t think so,” I said. “I guess we’ll surprise him.”
When we got to the Choo Choo, there was nothing out of the ordinary. “Gee, I hope we didn’t miss him,” Glen said. There was no limo, no beefy Secret Service agents staring us down. A few scattered tourists were roaming the grounds. We carried the camera and tripod to the restaurant area. We didn’t want to barge in, so we took a quick look through the window. There they were! The First Family, ten years removed from the White House, enjoying a quiet lunch with the grandkids. “Glen!” I said. “Go ahead and set up your camera, this may be all we get!” He dutifully aimed through the glass, and Mrs. Carter spotted us. I’m not a lip-reader, but she said something to her husband, like, “How nice! A couple of delightful local news people found out we’re here on vacation! What a pleasant surprise!” Or maybe that’s not exactly what she said. Anyway, Mr. Carter turned around, looked through the window, and looked me right in the eye.
Pres. Jimmy Carter, not particularly happy to see me.
He quickly turned back to his wife with that “busted” look on his face. Sensing his disappointment, I said, “I’ll tell you what, Glen. Let’s give ‘em time to eat, and do their sightseeing, and then I’ll ask him to do an interview.” It turns out there were a couple of Secret Service guys who politely requested we give the President “a little space.” Fearing a headline of “Alleged news guy ruins Presidential vacation,” I gladly consented.
Glen and I waited, and our persistence was rewarded. About a half-hour after finishing their meal, the Carter family had apparently wrapped up their tour of the complex. The cute grandchildren had hopped on and off every box car in sight, so I said to Glen, “Here’s our chance!”
I walked up to Mr. Carter, shook his hand, and introduced myself. “Mr. President,” I said, “I really hate to bother folks when they’re on vacation…” He stopped me in mid-sentence, flashed that peanut-eating grin, and said, “It must not bother you too much.” I laughed awkwardly. (Was he kidding? Or did I just play Fail to the Chief?), I plodded on. “If you can spare a minute for a quick interview…” He stopped me again. “As long as it’s quick, we’re ready to go.” I can take a subtle hint. Fortunately, Glen worked fast, and we were ready to roll.
After that rough start, he couldn’t have been any nicer. I had my questions ready. Could there be a female presidential candidate in 1992? Absolutely, he said. There were several qualified women, and he fully expected one to be elected in his lifetime (he just turned 90 last week, it still could happen). Did he expect a big-name politician to win the ’92 Democratic nomination (Al Gore, Bill Bradley, Jerry Brown and Mario Cuomo were front-runners), or would it be a relative unknown, as he had been in 1976? He said the election was still 15 months away, and there was plenty of time for a lesser-known candidate to emerge (It turned out to be an obscure southern governor named Bill Clinton. Whatever happened to him?)
As you’ll see in the story below, he also commented on his knowledge of downtown Chattanooga, the railroads, and even the quality of his lunch. He didn’t seem too annoyed as we parted company, and I had my exclusive interview for the 6:00 news.
Mr. Carter returned to the area recently, to campaign for his grandson Jason, a candidate for governor of Georgia. When I heard he was coming, I called Dex. “I just wanted to thank you again for tipping me off when Jimmy Carter came to the Choo Choo,” I said. “Yeah, I’ll never forget that day,” Dex said. “I told the staff to take good care of him and his family, and after a while, I went to the bathroom. There was somebody in the next stall, and I later realized it was him. That was the first time I met a sitting president.”
As many Usher fans know, the singer was born and raised in Chattanooga before he moved to Atlanta as a teen, seeking stardom. Well, he found it, but before he left Chattanooga, he was on my “Live at Noon” show a few times with his group Nu Beginning. Managed by Darryl Wheeler, the youthful quintet had a smooth sound and slick dance moves. Here’s a video clip from 1991. Usher is wearing an orange shirt and blue shorts, and does some vocalizing, although Adrian Johnson is lead singer on this song, “Keep Dreamin.” Usher turns 36 today (October 14), so here’s a flashback to his early days in Chattanooga:
“Sweet Caroline” may have been the first 45 I ever bought. It was one of the first, for sure. I’ve always liked Neil Diamond, and every few years he puts out a new album. He has a new one coming out next week, called “Melody Road.” This song, “Something Blue,” (not to be confused with “Song Sung Blue”) is a standout. Plus, the video is full of puppies. Click and watch, this 73-year-old guy, he’s still got it.