He has spent 72 years on Chattanooga radio, working for the same station. The 90-year-old man is so well-known most listeners just call him Luther.
Luther still remembers the first time he reunited a listener and a lost dog. It was early in his career. A man had found a dog, but didn’t have a place to keep the animal so he was eager to locate the owner. Then, a woman called.
“Very anxious, very much upset,” he said of the woman. “She wanted to find the dog before her children got home from school.”
He connected the two.
“Here’s somebody who’s so upset and why not help her if I can,” Luther said.
The impulse has guided his career in a city that has reinvented itself from heavy industry to a tourist destination as the Hamilton County population grew from 180,000 to more than 336,000 people.
Luther began working in radio at age 17. A man who was about to air a new station heard him speak and asked him to audition. That man was Joe Engel and his new project was WDEF.
“They handed me some copy, I did a few commercials,” Luther said. “There was a little piece of news copy.”
Luther thought he was auditioning to answer the telephone. He was delighted when he was offered a part-time “cub announcer” position for a princely $15 per week.
“To me, yeah I thought I was rich,” he said.
Seven decades later, Luther is still co-hosting the morning show. The station added an FM component on 92.3 MHz. He’s on twice an hour, mostly announcing community events. Luther has also been on WDEF-TV since its inception in 1954, reaching viewers in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
His lost dog fame has expanded.
These days, the information comes over email and fax, as well as the phone.
On the station’s website there is “Luther’s Page,” which features separate searches for dogs and cats _ missing and found and other pets.
“It’s become dogs, cats, horses, mules, and once a small alligator,” Luther said.
Lanier Chapman has been on the other end of one of those calls. The co-owner of a dry cleaner shop on Signal Mountain finally called Luther two weeks after his German short-haired pointer disappeared last spring. Chapman got his dog back the same day.
“He’s just a good guy,” Chapman said. “Nine out of 10 times he stops in here on a Saturday, he’s been over at the church trimming grass or doing something to help.”
Luther said he often runs into people who thank him for helping them find their dog, sometimes 20 years ago.
Now, fame has found Luther. The Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame included him in its initial class of inductees this spring. Luther is also among only seven professionals who will be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago on Nov. 10 at the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
Bruce DuMont, chairman of the hall, said Luther was chosen as “a true pioneer” in a local radio market.
“I don’t think anyone exemplifies that better than Luther,” DuMont said.
Over the years, offers have come from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Luther has always said no thanks.
“I love the city,” Luther said of Chattanooga. “It’s just the right size for me.”
And retirement? Luther figures his exit from the airwaves will be fate’s decision, not his.
“An ailment will hit me that will keep me from driving or keep me from speaking distinctly,” he said in well-rounded tones.