Luther Masingill wakes up Tennessee listeners for 70 years
Two hours into his morning show at Sunny 92.3 FM in Chattanooga, Tenn., Luther Masingill leans into his microphone in a soundproof booth and, in his down-to-earth, velvety voice, shares his listeners’ personal announcements about lost cats and dogs, class reunions and funerals.
“A listener has to give away a pit bull, female, 5 years old. Been fixed. Here’s the telephone number,” says Masingill, 89, who has broadcast at the same radio station longer than any other American disc jockey. “And one of our listeners has lost a small light brown Chihuahua in the Windstone area. The dog’s name is Poncho.”
A grin spreads across his face as he continues to read: “Lost: A tortoise. It’s a red-tipped South American tortoise. I’ve never seen one of these, but if you have, you’ve got a $500 reward coming to you.”
Known locally as “Luther,” Masingill has entertained loyal listeners with friendly morning banter for 70 years and, in the process, reunited thousands of lost pets with their owners.
His career started by happenstance. At 18, Masingill had a job pumping gasoline when a customer invited him to apply for work at his new radio station. All-request programs were popular at the time, and Masingill assumed he’d be answering the phones. But businessman Joe Engel had noticed the young attendant’s smooth voice and, during the interview, asked him to read a commercial for a local jewelry store. Masingill became a cub announcer on the spot.
On New Year’s Eve 1940, he delivered his first broadcast on WDEF-AM, which now is Sunny 92.3, and quickly garnered a following as “the announcer with sunshine in his voice.” When WDEF joined the CBS television network in 1954, Masingill started broadcasting on camera, too.
Masingill is believed to be America's only radio announcer to have reported both the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
His “lost and found” segment was an instant hit, featuring runaway pets that have included alligators and snakes. “If you find their animal, you’ve made a friend for life,” Masingill says. “Twenty-five, 30 years later, I’ve had people walk up and say, ‘Luther, you don’t remember me [but] you helped me to find my German shepherd in 1948.’”
Masingill’s folksy appeal extends beyond pet owners. Gayle Boring of East Ridge, Tenn., tuned in to Masingill each morning before school during the 1950s. “He was reachable, kind of like the main switchboard for the community,” she says. Even today, “we feel like we could go up to him and say, ‘Hi, Luther,’ and he would know us.”
Though radio technology has changed significantly in seven decades, the easygoing DJ still uses a 1945 Royal typewriter to compile community announcements, which he culls from faxes and emails. In addition to his Sunny 92.3 spots, he broadcasts at 5:40 a.m. and noon daily on WDEF-TV and, once a week, on the 6 p.m. newscast.
In 1990, Masingill won the prestigious Marconi Award from the National Association of Broadcasters, and state lawmakers renamed a section of Broad Street in Chattanooga after him in 2010.
“He’s taught me to be real on the radio, to be open and honest, not fake,” says James Howard, 38, Masingill’s radio sidekick since 2001.
An early radio listener, Howard was 9 when, thanks to Masingill’s reports, he was reunited with his lost springer spaniel.“There will never, ever be another Luther,” he says.