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Broadcaster Luther Masingill Was A Fixture In Chattanooga

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Some 75 years ago Luther Masingill was a high school kid in Chattanooga working in a tire repair shop, making the occasional announcement to customers on the PA system. Now, one day a customer was listening and asked him if he'd ever thought about radio.

By New Year's Eve of 1940, Masingill was on air for the first time and it was the start of a career in Chattanooga that lasted more than seven decades. (SOUNDBITE OF WDEF RADIO BROADCAST)

LUTHER MASINGILL: The changing face of downtown Chattanooga is of big interest these days. Now freeways and magnificent architecture dot the landscape and the changing skyline makes emphasis of the point that Chattanooga is truly the Dynamo of Dixie.

CORNISH: This past Monday, Luther Masingill died at age 92. As far as we can make out, he is the only radio announcer who was on air both when Pearl Harbor was attacked and when the Twin Towers were hit. Masingill was heard most mornings on WDEF, an adult contemporary music station and for the past 14 years, his co-host was James Howard. James joins us now from the station in Chattanooga.

James Howard, welcome to the program.

JAMES HOWARD: I thank you very much.

CORNISH: Now, what was he like because you actually grew up listening to him, right?

HOWARD: Yes. I was one of a thousand kids that would sit around the breakfast room table listening to Luther and he had his lost dog and cat announcements, he talked about all the neat things that's going to be happening, you know, in Chattanooga. And Luther became more than just a radio voice when I was 9 years old and I went to go feed my dog Andy and I couldn't find him. And I remember my mom, you know, she looked at me and she goes, James, everything's going to be OK. When I get home I'm going to call Luther and Luther is going to help us find your dog.

And sure enough, someone heard that Andy was missing and Andy ended up being a mile and a half away from our home and that was the moment when Luther was more than a radio voice. Luther became my friend and not knowing that, you know, years after that I was going to be his sidekick.

CORNISH: His segment on lost pets was of course very well-known. We have a little clip here of him talking to a listener who called in to alert the community that she had come across someone's dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF WDEF RADIO BROADCAST)

MASINGILL: You found a little black and white puppy dog on South Crest.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Essentially black.

MASINGILL: All right, let me know if somebody claims him, will you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Right.

MASINGILL: Thank you, ma'am.

CORNISH: That lovely deep voice of his.

HOWARD: I know. You know, he would walk into a store and everybody would instantly recognize Luther's voice. You know, one of my favorite stories about Luther is that he recommended that everyone deflate their tires a little bit because you can maneuver in the snow and someone told me they were sitting and listening to Luther at a busy intersection, and lo and behold - everybody at this intersection was getting out and deflating their tires. Why? Because Luther said so.

CORNISH: Did he have any aspirations to leave Chattanooga or maybe go for some national media job?

HOWARD: Yes. You know he jokes about Ted Turner offering him a job and he's had the opportunity to go to Chicago and New York City. He felt like he needed to stay put in Chattanooga - and thank goodness. You know, for seven decades he was on the air every single morning, Monday through Friday and he just loved what he did.

CORNISH: Well, James Howard, thank you so much for speaking with us and sharing your memories of your friend.

HOWARD: My pleasure.

CORNISH: James Howard, he co-hosted the morning show on WDEF in Chattanooga with Luther Masingill. Masingill died Monday after more than 70 years on the radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.