• Al Jazeera America is available locally on Chattanooga Comcast channel 107 and EPBFI channel 149.
If this keeps up, Luther Masingill might just one day be famous.
"Oh, I don't know about that," the iconic Chattanooga radio personality said Tuesday afternoon as he was being followed around town by a crew from Al Jazeera America, the American basic cable and satellite news television channel that is owned by Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network. The network originally launched in 1991 and gained international attention by covering the war in Afghanistan live and for its uncensored, and often unflinching, coverage of world events.
Al Jazeera America launched in January of this year, and "America Tonight" debuted shortly afterward. It airs weeknights at 9, and has done stories on sex crimes on campuses, rape and the dark side of the Internet.
The three-man "America Tonight" crew has been in town since Sunday to film footage of Masingill for a segment to be broadcast in late November. Longtime on-air partner and author of "My Life With Luther" James Howard said a network producer from "America Tonight" contacted him about doing the segment on Masingill.
"I get this random email about two weeks ago," Howard said. "It's Sopan Deb, a producer for Al Jazeera, and he said he had heard about Luther. ... He's read our book, which is wild to think about, and he wanted to do a piece on Luther."
Deb said Tuesday afternoon from a booth at Nikki's, where Masingill had taken the film crew, that his bosses at the show encouraged him to pursue the story.
"I read about Luther a couple of years ago and loved the story and have wanted to do it since," Deb said.
Masingill, 91, began his career at WDEF on New Year's Eve in 1940, and except for a two-year stint in the military he has been broadcasting in the same time slot ever since. He has also been doing television at WDEF-TV since it went on the air in 1954. It is a record-setting career that is not likely to be equaled.
He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2012 and was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame the year before. In July of 2012, he was featured in a piece by Steve Hartman during a segment of "On the Road" on CBS.
Masingill said this latest bit of attention came as a surprise.
The film crew has been following Masingill around town, visiting the section of Broad Street that was renamed in his honor, talking to his wife, Mary, and even shooting footage of his beloved Model T.
"America Tonight" on-air personality Adam May said the segment on Masingill is exactly the type of "old-fashioned, in-depth, long format reporting that people have been craving" and that "America Tonight" is focused on doing.
"Sopan gave me the [Luther] book and I read the whole dang thing in about an hour and a half. [Masingill] sounded like such an interesting guy. I'm a broadcasting guy, and every city has a guy like that, but he is the extreme version."
May said while they were shooting footage of Masingill standing near the Luther Masingill Parkway sign marking the renamed stretch of Board Street, cars full of people slowed to honk, wave and yell, "Hey Luther."
"Here's a guy that has been married to the same woman for 57 years, lived in the same house forever, done the same job forever. It's just an all-around good story," May said.
Contact staff writer Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...