Recently, I paid tribute to Chattanooga radio legend Luther Masingill on the fifth anniversary of his death, but I’ve never shared the story of how he got into the National Radio Hall of Fame. It wasn’t easy, and it was a frustrating process. Now it can be told.
I became aware of the National Radio HOF several years ago. It was based in Chicago, and each November they inducted newscasters like Paul Harvey and Charles Osgood. Entertainers such as Jack Benny and Bob Hope. Talk show hosts like Larry King and Rush Limbaugh. These stars had national followings, because they were affiliated with networks.
However, other inductees were considered “local” personalities. Deejays and hosts who broadcast to local audiences in New York, LA, and Chicago.
In 2009, I noticed a glaring omission: The longest-running radio broadcaster in the history of the world, our friend Luther was not in the Hall of Fame. I wanted to change that.
I launched a campaign to inform the Hall of Fame board members about Luther’s extraordinary career. I anticipated the obvious questions: “If he is such a big deal, why didn’t he go to a bigger city? Why didn’t he take his talents to a larger audience, like Atlanta or Philadelphia? Why did he never move up from Chattanooga?”
I explained to them that Luther was loyal to his hometown, Luther DID get offers from larger markets, but he preferred to live near his family. Nothing against the big names listed above, many of whom left their small towns for the big cities. That simply wasn’t for Luther.
For three years, I “pitched” Luther to them, and each time I was shot down. They continued to ignore Luther in favor of the big-city radio stars.
At that time, the public voted from among a list of nominees selected by the board. That sounds fair, but once I convinced them to include Luther, he was up against other “local” radio personalities from cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. Most of them would solicit votes from their listeners, encouraging them to vote online. Of course, Luther would never do that, and even if he did, the sheer number of listeners from Chicago would drown out little ol’ Chattanooga.
I asked the board to change the process, or make an exception in Luther’s case. He would never win a national poll, but they had the power to right a wrong, and recognize a man who had made an impact on his town like no other. My most memorable exchange with the Hall of Fame board members was in 2011. After they had rejected Luther yet again, I strongly criticized them, pointing out that at age 89, Luther was running out of chances to be honored during his lifetime. I sent this as a “mass e-mail” to all 24 board members.
Have you ever replied to an e-mail and hit “reply all” when you didn’t really mean to do that? Well, that’s what one board member did. She was intending to comment on my email, and she THOUGHT she was replying only to her fellow board members. In a very snide way, she noted Luther’s age, and wrote, “We’ve waited this long, so what’s the rush? We can always induct him posthumously.” She hit “reply all,” and her tasteless message landed in my inbox.
I went off the rails. I “replied all” intentionally, and I told them this was unacceptable. Luther deserved to be in the Hall of Fame NOW, while he was alive.
That particular board member, along with others, immediately apologized for the insensitive comment, and pledged they would look into changing the voting method. Soon, we got the good news. Luther would be inducted in November 2012.
I told him about it, and he was humbled. Luther’s family would accompany him for this grand event, the pinnacle of an unparalleled career.
That night was unforgettable. Luther stole the show. Watching this 91-year-old man dance up to the stage was a thrill. Watching his adoring family wipe away tears of laughter and joy was a beautiful thing.
At evening’s end, a tired but joyful Luther was sitting in the lobby of a Chicago hotel, accepting congratulations from friends and strangers.
I smiled at Luther, and half-jokingly said, “Well, we’ve gotten you into the National Radio Hall of Fame. You know what? I’ll bet I can get you honored at the White House too.” Looking at me through a tired pair of eyes, he shook his finger at me and said, “You’d better not, David. You’d better not.”
I think deep down inside, he would have liked that, if we had done it a few years earlier. I wish we had. But at least his name, his plaque, and his story is where it belongs. In the Hall of Fame, with the other legends of radio.