CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - One of our colleagues at Channel 3 Eyewitness News has a new book that goes on sale Monday. It is a history of Chattanooga radio and television. Anchor David Carroll, who authored the book, hopes it will contribute to the "era of good feeling" about Chattanooga.
WRCB: Why did you decide to write the book?
David: I had collected hundreds of classic local radio/TV photos, and started putting them on the web a couple of years ago. Before long, people starting sending me favorite photos from their collections, asking me to put theirs online too. Bill Markham then brought me a book about Birmingham broadcasting, and said, "You should do this for Chattanooga." I looked it over, and agreed with him. It was time for a book about Chattanooga radio and television. No one had done it before, and I thought there were some good stories to tell.
WRCB: What can readers expect?
David: It's primarily a photo book, so the main attractions are the hundreds of photos of personalities that have made Chattanooga broadcasting so special, from 1925 to the present. But there's also some historical background, detailing when the various stations signed on the air, and how some of your favorite TV and radio personalities got their start.
WRCB: Is there one thing about Chattanooga's history that surprised you the most in your research?
David: I think most of us believe that WDEF's Luther Masingill had to be Chattanooga's first broadcasting superstar; he's certainly the most enduring, still on the same station he started on in 1940! But I found some photos of the announcer that Luther listened to each morning when he was growing up in the 1930s. Chuck Simpson drew crowds and made headlines in the 1930s, when radio was the dominant form of entertainment. He was Chattanooga's "morning man" in the era before Luther.
WRCB: How long did it take to create?
David: In a way, it took many years. I've been collecting photos and other radio/TV memorabilia since I was a kid. I have a TV Guide collection that goes back many decades; that's how I learned to read! Plus as a former radio guy, I saved all sorts of promotional material from my childhood, and my own career. It wasn't until I started displaying the photos and memorabilia online, that I realized other people enjoyed looking at them too. Once the idea for the book came along, it only took about a year to solicit and collect the photographs, screen them for quality, do the research, and then organize it into a book.
WRCB: Chattanooga radio and television has had a lot of memorable characters over the years. Is there one that stands out above the rest?
David: No one compares to Luther Masingill. I could have done an entire book about him. In fact, he's the only individual who gets his own chapter in this book. He's the longest-running broadcaster in the history of the world; still on the same time, same station. That's unheard of. He's 88, and doing the same job that he was doing at age 18. People who only know him now as the market's senior broadcaster can learn a lot from his early career. He routinely had about 70 percent of the listening audience, meaning that the other six stations had to fight for the rest! He ran for mayor, as a joke in 1951. Two days before the election, the other candidates asked him to please tell everyone NOT to vote for him....it was starting to look like he would win. And because he's so dominant in radio, people forget he's also been on TV every day since 1954. I doubt anyone else has done that either.
WRCB: Chattanooga has a rich history with television and radio. Why combine them into one book?
David: I don't think you can do one, without the other. Almost everyone who made an impact in local TV's early days came from radio. In fact, the local radio station owners of the late 1940s and early 1950s were all competing to get the first TV station licenses. The man who eventually put Channel 9 on the air in Chattanooga in 1958 had tried and failed several years earlier for both Channels 12 and 3. Mort Lloyd, who was "Mr. TV News" in this area from the 1950s until his death in 1974, used to do the TV news at 6:00 p.m., then go read poetry on the radio. So the two just go hand-in-hand.
WRCB: Some may say you literally wrote the book on Chattanooga media. Do you see it that way?
David: Not really. I hope people will accept this as a good first draft of the history of Chattanooga broadcasting. Since it's primarily a photo book, it's not as "in depth" as some might like. Due to space limitations, it's not as detailed as a traditional history book, and there wasn't room for everyone who's played a role in local broadcasting. At first, I didn't know if I would have enough photos or material to fill a book, and later I realized that it all wouldn't fit. So maybe in the future, someone can expand on some of those stories, and include even more people. But I like to think I've hit the highlights, and have paid tribute to some deserving broadcasters.
WRCB: What do you hope comes out of telling this story?
David: I hope it contributes to our current "era of good feeling" about Chattanooga. We were sort of down in the dumps a few years ago, but with the added jobs and industries that have come our way, people are starting to show their local pride again. I think we've been blessed with some great broadcasting stations and personalities in Chattanooga. People often comment to me, Cindy Sexton, Paul Barys and Jed Mescon that there must be something special about this area, because we've all stayed so long. I know some of the folks at the other TV channels and radio stations hear this too. So it was a pleasure to pay tribute to these folks, as well as Tommy Jett, "Miss Marcia" Kling, Darrell Patterson and so many others who have made this their home for so many decades....not to mention some great broadcasters from years gone by, who are no longer with us. All you have to do is mention the name "Harry Thornton" or "Dr. Shock" to Tennessee Valley residents, past or present, and the memories rush in.
WRCB: Would you do it again?
David: Absolutely. From the early response I've gotten to it, I know I've done something worthwhile. It has brought tears to some people, and it has made others laugh out loud. Some have thanked me for including a deceased loved one in the book; they say it proves their lives had meaning. That's important to me. And some are amusingly fearful of the reaction they'll get when readers see the bad hairstyles and fashions they so proudly sported in years gone by. I figured the book would be primarily of local interest, but I've already taken orders and shipped copies to Michigan, Ohio, California, and New Zealand...before the book officially "came out!" So no question, I would definitely do it again.
WRCB: How much is the book and where can people buy one?
David: From the earliest publicity about the book, people began insisting on autographed copies, which is very flattering. So to make sure I can do that efficiently, I am selling the book myself at www.chattanoogaradiotv.com, which is set up to take PayPal and credit card orders. Or if you prefer to write a check, make it payable to Radio TV Book, P.O. Box 4042, Chattanooga, TN 37405. The autographed copies are $26, which includes shipping and handling. I will also be selling autographed copies in the near future at some personal appearances and book signings. In the near future, it will also be in area bookstores.