Luther Masingill – “The Common – Tater”

  • Thursday, March 7, 2024
  • Earl Freudenberg

It’s been nearly 10 years since world renowned radio broadcaster Luther Masingill took his last breath on earth at 6 a.m., the exact time his radio program began every morning for over 70 years.

Luther’s 102nd birthday is March 9th, and looking at the early part of his life he was destined to be a personality figure.

From the 1941 Central High School yearbook, “The Champion,” we learned some interesting facts about Luther as a student.

World conditions made it apparent the American Way of Life was in danger, but Principal Stacey Nelson said Central High School was dedicated to preparing young people for what was ahead beyond the 12th grade.

According to the late J.D. Carnes, who served as Hamilton County Schools director of education, the Central High School 1941 class graduated 516 students, tops for the period 1938 – 1942.

Luther Masingill was a product of Hamilton County Schools, attending Avondale Grammer, Hardy Junior High and graduating from Central in 1941.

His elementary and junior high school teachers said Luther loved to talk, at times when he wasn’t supposed to. They said he’d always participate in any activity involving public speaking.

TV news anchor and author David Carroll wrote, “Luther was a frequent visitor in the principal's office in junior high, but in high school, he learned the gift of gab more constructively.”

Luther did just that in high school, as the Central yearbook, “the Champion” recorded him as a “common – tater.” He had roles in several school plays and talent shows and he was section editor of the annual.

The yearbook says Luther Masingill was a commencement speaker, labeled as the “Prophet” and his classmates voted him Mr. Personality. Luther was asked what he said, “Well, I just talked, probably about the impending world war and the possibility of male graduates going overseas; there were so many uncertainties.”

Luther answered the call of Uncle Sam in World War II and served in the United States Army in Papua New Guinea in the Signal Corps.

S. Dean Peterson was a coach while Luther was a Central student. The former Chattanooga Mayor and Education Commissioner said, “We always knew when Luther was in the room; Lookouts owner Joe Engel recognized his talent early, and the rest is history.”

At the age of 19, Luther told WDEF station owner Engel his ambition was to reach radio heights and have Sundays off. Luther worked the night shift at WDEF in his senior year of high school.

In later years, Luther said the time at Central High School was some of the best years of his life.

Luther loved the words to his Alma Mater:

“What a wonderful school is ours to love,
With its up and its downs and its joys;
What a wonderful banner of purple and gold,
As it floats over its girls and boys.
What a wonderful school that we know so well,
With its wonderful ‘rep’ so high.
Now you’ve heard of the school that’s true as blue,
What a wonderful school, CENTRAL HIGH!”

While Luther was a student at Central, the school was located on Dodds Avenue, less than a mile from where, for most of his life, the broadcaster lived on E. Fourth Street.

Luther said, “The Glenwood–Dodds Avenue Community is the only home I really know, and it’s where I want to live the rest of my life.” (And he did)

During the 60th Central High School Reunion in 2001 at the Country Place Restaurant, Luther was one of the main speakers, telling some of his familiar stories and still getting laughs from those in the audience.

The late E. J. Hartman, with the western music group the Hartman Brothers, was a classmate and said, “We could always depend on Luther for a good story or two.”

Broadcaster Carroll said, “Early in Luther’s career, a newspaper writer coined the phrase, the man with sunshine in his voice.”

Luther Masingill died in 2014, but had earned the distinction of being the longest running radio broadcaster in the world and had been inducted into the National and Tennessee Radio Halls of Fame.

The late Hamilton County Commission Chairman Curtis Adams said after the announcer's passing, “Mornings just haven’t been the same without Luther to help start our day. He can’t be replaced.”

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