Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


The Man With Sunshine in His Voice: Remembering Luther Masingill

He worked the same morning shift at Chattanooga's WDEF for 74 years

Radio World’s “Guest Commentaries” section provides a platform for industry thought leaders and other readers to share their perspective on radio news, technological trends and more. If you’d like to contribute a commentary, or reply to an already published piece, send a submission to [email protected].

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Luther, “the man with sunshine in his voice.” On Oct. 20, 2014, the longest-running broadcaster in the history of the world died, and his name was Luther Masingill. He was known as “The Voice of Chattanooga,” Tennessee for more than seven decades and had an unprecedented career in broadcasting.  

Luther Masingill, known to locals in Chattanooga as simply “Luther,” held the same job at the same radio station (WDEF) in the same time slot for 74 years. In addition to his radio career, he signed on with WDEF-TV the first day they went on the air in 1954 and worked there ever since, heading to the television studio after his radio shift each day.  

Luther was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2012, an inaugural member of the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame and a winner of the NAB’s prestigious Marconi  Award. He is the only known radio personality in history to have reported both the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Luther Masingill (Credit: Radio Hall of Fame)

Luther is a man that, over the course of his career, received offers to move to larger markets, but each time respectfully declined. He chose to remain where he was and serve his community. He understood the power he held as a broadcaster, but was also known as a humble man. He even received offers from Ted Turner, but declined, choosing to remain in the city he loved and using his position as a broadcaster to help  and serve others. 

Luther considered helping others one of the most important aspects of his life. His coworkers and friends have told countless stories of his generosity and kindness. The  stories include paying for car repairs, donating to a couple’s adoption fund and stopping after work to weed-eat a random business’s overgrown storefront. Many of the children at his church had no idea of his fame or notoriety, but simply knew him as “the man who emptied the trash at church every Sunday morning.”  

I personally experienced Luther’s generosity many times over the years of working with him. It was Christmastime and I, young and single, was getting off the air early one morning as he was coming in for the 6:00 a.m. shift. He stopped in the main studio, gave me some sage advice regarding tire pressure and de-icing my windows, and then reached out and placed a $50 bill in the palm of my hand. “Take this and put it in  your shoe,” he said. “You just never know when you’re going to need some cash. It’ll  keep you safe in an emergency. Now do it, put it right there in the bottom of your shoe.”  

Luther Masingill, 89, poses for photos in his radio booth at Sunny 92.3 FM in Chattanooga. Photo by Dan Henry/Radio Hall of Fame.

Luther was also widely-known for helping people with their pets. People called Luther whenever there was a lost dog, cat or even a snake! “The busiest morning was always July 5, because everyone’s dogs would go missing the night before from the fireworks and loud noises,” he said. “It would just scare those poor dogs to death. Have you found my dog, Luther? Can you help me find my dog, Luther? Please help me find my dog. People just love their pets so much. The phone in my studio would be ringing off the  hook. And we’d find ‘em. It may have taken a few days, but we’d find ‘em.” 

Luther’s long time co-host James Howard remembers how Luther helped him find his lost dog when he was a young boy. “He quickly became my hero,” he said. James grew up and, until Luther’s death, worked right alongside the man he had admired and listened to on the radio every morning as a child. 

Luther, dubbed by a newspaper writer as “the man with sunshine in his voice,” took his last breath peacefully on a Monday morning at 6 a.m., the exact time he signed on the airwaves every morning for more than seven decades at the Sunny 92.3, WDEF Radio studios in Chattanooga. Ironically, he was 92 years old. 

It’s been almost a decade since Luther’s death, and even though his voice has been permanently silenced in this life, “the man with sunshine in his voice” lives on in history and in our hearts. 

Holly Abernathy is a communications and creative arts professional. She works in a variety of media and lives in Nashville, Tenn. She co-wrote the book “My Life with Luther: A Glimpse of a Legendary American Broadcaster.”

[Read More Guest Commentaries Here]