Legendary "Luther" celebrates 89th birthday; still on air - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Legendary "Luther" celebrates 89th birthday; still on air

Luther Masingill Luther Masingill

By David Carroll


CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- William Luther Masingill was a frequent visitor to the principal's office at Hardy Junior High School, receiving regular paddlings for talking in class and "cutting up." By the time he moved up to Central High School, he was still talkative but learning to use his gift of gab more constructively.  Young "Luther" was called upon to host school talent shows and deliver the morning announcements.  Like many teens, Luther sought part-time work, and was hired at a service station.  He says his love of broadcasting may have begun when he would go on the store intercom, saying, "Mr. Penney, a gentleman wants to buy some tires."  The other workers told him, "You sure sound good, Luther!"


As fate would have it, the 18-year-old attendant was washing the windshield for Joe Engel one December day in 1940. He'd heard that Engel would soon open a new radio station (WDEF), and asked his famous customer if he could help answer phones for the announcers.  Engel told him to apply at the station, but when Luther arrived, he was given some scripts and told to audition for an announcing  job.   Despite mispronouncing the word "salon" as "saloon," he was hired on the spot, and was soon hosting the Jitterbug Jamboree.  A few years later, a  newspaper writer coined a phrase that said it all: "He's the radio announcer with sunshine in his voice."


Luther jokingly conducted a mayoral campaign in 1951, making outlandish promises in an effort to get out the vote.   As listeners suggested planks for his platform, Luther would readily agree. He pledged to abolish parking meters, reduce the price of haircuts for balding men, build a 12-lane bridge across the Tennessee River, and eliminate railroad crossings in the downtown area.  There was only one problem.  An alarming number of citizens were planning to actually vote for their favorite morning announcer, much to the dismay of the real candidates!  So two days before the election, Luther took out a full-page newspaper ad, making sure everyone was in on the joke.  Luther's political escapade was reported nationally by Time and Readers Digest.


When Luther proposed to church secretary Mary Varnell in 1957, it was big news.  The two had met at Avondale Baptist Church, and word soon spread that Chattanooga's most famous bachelor would finally tie the knot at age 35. They're the proud parents of Jeff and Joan, and have two grandsons.


Dominating the local radio scene like no other broadcaster in any market, his recipe for success is simple. "It's more than just playing music.  It's what you do between the songs that matters, and I like to help people. " Luther has reunited thousands of lost dogs with their owners, asked his listeners to help burned-out families, and has surely promoted more charitable events than anyone in the world.  During the 1950s and 1960s, he routinely attracted more than sixty percent of local listeners, and turned down job offers from radio stations in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.


In addition to his astonishing 70 years of daily radio broadcasts, he has also appeared on WDEF-TV since the station signed on in 1954. He hosted a daily variety program in the 1950s, and has delivered the "Community Calendar" on the station's noon newscast since the 1960s.

Seven decades since his radio debut, when asked if he had any idea he would still be working at the same time, and the same station longer than anyone in the history of broadcasting,  he replied without hesitation, "You know, I believe so.  I just love what I do! I always have."  

Luther can still be heard each weekday morning from 6 until 9 a.m. on WDEF Sunny 92.3 FM.

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