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Luther Masingill sits in his studio in 2011.

Career highlights

• Dec. 31, 1941 -- Goes on the air at WDEF radio

• April 25, 1954 -- WDEF television goes on the air

• 2003 -- Given the Distinguished Service Award from the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters

• 2010 -- Section of Broad Street renamed Luther Masingill Parkway

• 2012 -- Inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame

• 2012 -- Featured in an "On the Road" segment by CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman

• 2014 -- Inducted into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame

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Arrangements

The funeral service for Luther Masingill will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Engel Stadium, 1130 E. Third St. The family will receive friends at the East Chapel of Chattanooga Funeral Home from 1 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday at the stadium. A private burial will be held at Chattanooga National Cemetery with full military honors.

In His Words

Luther Masingill audio clip from 2010:

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Luther Masingill poses for a WDEF photograph in his job as a staff announcer for the radio station shortly after he returned to Chattanooga from military service in World War II. As a fledgling radio announcer, Masingill read incoming news accounts to Chattanoogans of the Dec. 7, 1941, attacks on Pearl Harbor.
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During a 2011 interview, Luther Masingill points out a former technician he once worked with.

During Luther Masingill's 74-year broadcasting career he announced both the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

Not inconsequentially, he also helped reunite thousands of dogs and cats with their owners.

In a career that spanned more than seven decades and 13 different presidents, Masingill did essentially the same job at the same broadcasting station -- WDEF. The man known to most Chattanoogans simply as "Luther" died Monday morning in a local hospital after a short illness. He was 92. He leaves behind Mary, his wife of 57 years, and children Joanie and Jeff.

At Masingill's peak, the drivers of seven of 10 cars on the road listened to his show, remembered David Carroll, an anchor for WRCB-TV who says Masingill inspired his career.

"He could say, 'everybody blow your horns, flash your lights, pull over,' and the whole city would do it," Carroll said. "I asked him his secret one time, and he said, 'David, we all get the same records, we all play the same commercials, and every station has the same basic ingredients. It's what you do in between those songs that touches people.'"

A week ago today turned out to be Masingill's last day on the air.

WDEF station manager Danny Howard said Masingill had been feeling poorly lately, but in typical form, he showed up to work on Wednesday.

"He didn't feel well and James [Howard] was able to convince him to go home and to see the doctor," Danny Howard said.

Masingill died at 6 a.m. Monday with his family and on-air partner of 15 years, James Howard, there.

"Right on cue with his family and James," Danny Howard said, noting that is when Luther would have gone on air.

Fans on social media sites on Monday commented on Masingill's friendliness, humility and easy-going nature. He was all of those things on -- and off -- the air, say those who knew him. Radio callers to a variety of stations told stories of meeting him at a restaurant or at the store and of seeing him trimming the hedges at his church.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said in a prepared statement: "Luther is a Hamilton County icon, not only for his decades of broadcasting service, but for his community efforts throughout his memorable life."

Not only would Luther devote airtime to helping people find their lost pets, he often called back a day or two later to check up.

"When I was about 10, my new springer spaniel ran off with some other dogs," Mike Leiper wrote on Facebook. "My dad called Luther ... had my dog back within a few days ... RIP, Luther."

A Chattanooga native, Masingill's first day on the job at WDEF was as an 18-year-old on New Year's Eve in 1940. Other than his time in the military working as a reporter during World War II, he had been at the station ever since. He also worked at WDEF-TV 12 since it signed on in 1954. He was talked into auditioning for the job by Joe Engel, owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts.

For all of those shows, Masingill played the current popular songs, but what fans remember him for was his community updates on things like the weather, school closings, calendar events and, of course, lost pets. Chattanoogans have joked for years that if Luther said it was going to snow, the stores would run out of milk and bread in a very short time.

Masingill was a National Marconi Award winner and a member of both the National Radio Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.

"I'd like to say he taught me about radio, but really he taught me how to be a good father, and a good husband and a good person," says James Howard.

Before working at the station, Howard was one of those listeners helped by Masingill in locating a lost dog, and he was at the station Monday taking calls from listeners remembering the legendary personality.

Howard was emotional talking about his friend and colleague.

"He also taught me that the key in radio is to be real and to love my community and to answer that phone," Howard said. "He'd say, 'Don't let it ring more than twice, because on the other end is somebody you can help.' Radio is not about car giveaways and promos. It's about public service, but I knew that before I started here because I listened to Luther."

Tommy Jett started his broadcast career here in 1961 at rival station WFLI, and it was Masingill who inducted him into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2013. He says Masingill was uniquely suited to be on the air for so long.

"To have the fortitude to be on the air for this long," Jett said, "you have to have a love of people and a love of country and a love of God; and you have to ... present yourself as a caring person, and Luther was that.

"Luther holds a lot of records in broadcasting that will never be topped," Jett said referring to his long career and job at one station.

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Luther Masingill sits in the studios of Sunny 92.3 radio in 2010.

Masingill was also known for his sense of humor on and off the air.

Asked a few years ago to describe his morning routine, Masingill said, "I get up and touch the tips of my shoes 50 times, and then I put them on."

Longtime listeners remember the days when Chattanooga News-Free Press writer Buddy Houts, Masingill's very good friend, would call into the show. One of his favorite gimmicks was to call in to offer football tickets, for free, to the upcoming Tennessee-Alabama game. Houts would proceed to give out his phone number only to hang up before giving out the last digit, leaving Masingill to answer the angry calls.

Ben Cagle was the general manager and vice president at WDEF radio from 1979 to 1986, and he spoke with Masingill every couple of weeks.

"I loved him," Cagle said Monday, fighting back tears."He was the most professional person I ever worked with, and one of the most honorable people I've ever known. It's just who he was."

Danny Howard said "You can't really be a boss to someone like that. He had a unique voice and a power but he was more of a colleague."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.


Please share your comments and memories about Luther below.

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