By Iris Mahan, University Relations Intern
Legendary radio broadcast announcer Luther Masingill celebrated his 90th Birthday with students and offered “A Conversation with Luther,” an event held during UTC’s Communication Week.
Hosted by the student-managed public relations firm, PR Tactics, and the UTC Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, the “conversation” got off to a running start with a standing ovation for Masingill as he walked on to the stage at the University Center Auditorium.
James Howard, his 92.3 FM morning show co-host, engaged Masingill in a reminiscence of the highlights of his impressive 72 year career. Holding the record for the longest occupation of a time slot at the same station, the Marconi Radio Award recipient is also the only radio announcer to have broadcast both the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the attacks on September 11th.
Masingill has lived in Chattanooga all his life. Growing up in in Kings Point, a community in East Chattanooga, he remembered enjoying moon pies and RC Colas and listening to the family’s crystal radio receiver that broadcast a station from Cincinnati, Ohio, and sometimes, if the wires were just right, Atlanta.
Masingill’s fate in radio came calling early. While working in high school at his first job at Bill Penny’s Service Station, he happened to clean the windshield of Chattanooga icon, Joe Engel. Engel was opening a radio station and Masingill inquired after a job answering phones; he was given an apprentice announcing position during the evening shift after school instead, and so began his career in radio’s heyday decades of the ‘30s and ‘40s.
After a stint in the Signal Corps in the Philippines and New Guinea during WWII, Masingill settled into a life of outstanding service to his community, reaching out with his distinctive voice to generations of Chattanooga residents. James Howard himself recalled his mother calling Masingill’s show to search for the family’s missing dog when he was just an eight-year-old boy. Masingill was elevated to hero status in Howard’s eyes when the dog was returned soon after, safe and sound.
Masingill’s colleagues Kim Carson and Chip Chapman were on hand to serenade Masingill and join Howard in a good-natured paddling; it is his sense of humor they seem to admire most. When Howard asked Masingill how he kept in such great shape, he coolly replied, “Every morning before work I touch the tips of my shoes fifty times. Fifty times I do it. Then I take the shoes off the dresser.”
His blend of optimism and self-deprecation keeps his co-workers on their toes and is responsible for charming audiences into tuning in decade after decade. For Masingill’s part, he admits that today’s radio continues to push him to grow as a journalist.
“The advancements in communication technology are staggering,” Masingill answered, when asked about the challenges facing future workers in the communications field. “It’s more difficult to be a broadcaster today because of the amount of information. You really have to know your stuff.”
Although he stretches himself to seek out news in new and different ways, he still holds on to a few remembrances of times gone by.
“I still use a Royal typewriter,” he said, pointing to a projected photo of him in the Philippines. “Like the one in this picture. I have almost the same one still. That sure is a handsome guy.”
Masingill’s humility was unfailing to the end, when Howard, his co-host, announced over cake that they had just gotten a call; Masingill had just been inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. Jovially, he quipped in response, “Well, what a swell birthday. I think I might cry…but I don’t worry, I won’t!”