‘Radio Reader’ host Dick Estell dies at 90

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Dick Estell, host of the program Radio Reader for 52 years, died Friday, according to WKAR in Lansing, Mich. He was 90.

Estell began reading books on the air in 1964 for Radio Reader, a half-hour weekday show produced by WKAR. The show began in 1936. Estell was its third reader, focusing on newly published books. He read more than 600 books on the air, according to the station.

“Dick brought the written word to life using nothing but inflection and the cadence of his voice,” said Gary Reid, director of broadcasting and g.m. at WKAR, in an email. “… Dick touched listeners from one end of the country to the other. Their outpouring of support has been nothing short of amazing, and he will be sorely missed.”

Radio Reader ended in March when Estell retired from hosting the show due to health issues. It was heard on 10 stations but at its peak aired on about 200 stations, according to WKAR.

“Our decision to end production of The Radio Reader is a tacit acknowledgement that no one will be able to replace Dick Estell,” said Reid.

Estell got his start in commercial radio, working for five years as an announcer and engineer, before deciding to attend Michigan State University, WKAR’s licensee. He began working at WKAR as a student announcer and after graduation became a full-time employee at the station. In 1962, he became general manager.

Estell was chair of NPR’s board in the network’s early days, from 1972–74.

In 1973, he created WKAR’s Radio Reading Service, which provides people in the WKAR listening area who aren’t able to read with a pre-tuned radio.

He retired from WKAR in 1986 and independently produced Radio Reader from his home. The station continued to distribute it.

The funeral is scheduled for noon Wednesday at The Peoples Church in East Lansing.

  • Ed Joyce

    Dick Estell: That time at Oregon Public Broadcasting in the early 1990s, when there was a problem with part of the Radio Reader feed and an on-staff announcer had to “read” the rest of that missing section for the listeners. Feedback was swift and unforgiving! No one could then, or now, replace Dick Estell!

  • A true legend. We want a new #RadioReader, especially @jeffreybrown, makin’ a parallel job with the NewsHour. #PBSNEWS RIP.

  • I loved Dick Estell but nobody is irreplaceable. Somewhere the right person is there and I hope he/she will soon be found!