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David Carroll: The Luther I Know

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Personal thoughts from David Carroll:
As most folks know by now, WDEF radio/TV legend Luther Masingill has been absent from the airwaves in recent weeks, recovering from illness.
The radio station announced that while Luther recuperates at home, his most able partner James Howard (along with his great producer Gene Lovin) will fill in. James or Gene would be the first to tell you, it's just not the same.
The man I've called "The King of Morning Radio" has been an incredible influence on generations of tri-state radio listeners and television viewers.  To the best of my knowledge, he's the longest-running act in the history of broadcasting.
It's easy to begin reciting his endless list of awards, from every local civic club to every local readers' poll, not to mention the national radio industry's highest honor, the Marconi Award.
But every time I've been a part of presenting those awards to him, or showering him with the praise he so richly deserves, Luther's reaction has always been the same:  "Oh, shucks, David, just get on with it!"  This modest man has said to me many times, "I'm just glad to have a job."
My life with Luther began as a 5-year-old child in my parents' grocery store, in Bryant, Alabama, 35 miles from his studio.  Customers would come in to buy extra food and toilet paper.  Why?  Because "Luther" told them it was going to snow in the morning.  Long before I ever heard the man on the radio, I knew that his "Luther" fellow must know an awful lot, because everyone hung on to his every word.
As a teen, I became interested in radio myself.  On our weekly trips to Chattanooga, I would excuse myself from my parents' restaurant table to find a pay phone and call Luther; at his home!  How many local celebrities would take a break from their rest & relaxation time to give career advice to a star-struck 13-year-old?  Well, I know of at least one.  
Later, I had the pleasure of working in the same building with him for four years.  When I finished my TV program, I would go upstairs to say hello, and would usually end up in one of his commercials, helping him extol the virtues of cottage cheese, fresh fruit or steel-belted radials.  Has there ever been a better salesman than Luther?
For the past twenty-plus years, I've had the honor of filling in for him during his infrequent vacations (never more than two weeks a year; sometimes one).  This usually consisted of helping track lost dogs, announcing church fundraisers, and responding to the most frequently asked question: "Where's Luther?  No offense."  (None taken).
I've pushed for his admission into the National Radio Hall of Fame, based in Chicago.  I've learned that it's induction policies favor broadcasters who are in large cities or on radio networks.  They're not interested in a hometown "small market" guy who turned down the big cities dozens of times over the years (because he loved his hometown).  I've leaned on local politicians to create a permanent, lasting tribute to the man whose voice is synonymous with Chattanooga.  But it's hard to make that happen while the person is alive (which seems strange to me), so I'm still leaning on them.
I could quote many stats and anecdotes about my broadcasting hero, but one has always stood out to me.  From 1947 until 2001, he never called in sick.  Not once.  Believe me, he came to work a few times when he probably shouldn't have.  But Luther was a product of a family and a generation that valued hard work, dependability and durability.  I'm sure he feels like he's letting us down; his listeners and his employers, by not showing up for his assigned shift these last few days.  But I know he's focused on regaining enough strength to wish everyone a "Good Morning Every-body" in that familiar sing-song style that has launched millions of smiles for almost 69 years. 
So here's wishing the King of Morning Radio a rapid recovery.  Our mornings have been a little less cheery in recent weeks; the biscuits haven't tasted quite as fresh.  Take it easy, "old pal" and we'll look forward to you hitting that cold linoleum again soon, bright and early.
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