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.
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!
Many years ago I listened to Dick Estell on a public radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area. I loved that radio show.
Could the recordings of his shows be circulated as a podcast? Also, where can I find a list of all the books Dick Estell read on air over the years? I have found it in the past, but it seems to be gone now.
I loved this show. I grew up listening to it and miss it.
Hi! Did anyone answer you? I had that very question! I’d love to hear his stories again!
I listened to him read The Chamber (John Grisham) in 1993 at work in Southeast Florida. I would write code while listening to him on my headset.. A true service provider to the masses.
True story: I discovered “Radio Reader” quite by accident. I was shopping in a used clothing store, being mostly broke and borderline homeless (later to become completely thus, but that’s another story.) I had next to nothing, but I did have books, and I always had a radio. Imagine my delight when I heard the store playing Radio Reader. I asked what station they had on–WPLN in Louisville–and I was a devoted listener from that day till I moved in the early 90s.
My wife had died, I remarried and got a new job in Joplin Missouri. On the night shift, I tuned in every night to hear Dick Estell read from a book. I really enjoyed it. It was refreshing to hear him telling another story. I will never forget Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox. Dick had just the right, soothing voice. I will never forget those stories that he told.
Radio Reader was broadcast weekday afternoons on WNYC in New York in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
I would listen daily between service calls driving around NYC. I miss Dick Estell and Radio Reader.
I still miss The Radio Reader and Dick Estell! I made it a point to make sure I was near my radio for his 30-minutes daily broadcast. When we moved from the San Francisco Bay area yo North CarolinaI became a member of WKAR in Michigan just so I could listen to Dick every weekday morning. It seems like it would be a great program to rebroadcast on NPR. I’m sure many of us would delight in listening to Dick read books from the past. One doesn’t have to listen to the “latest and greatest” to delight in Dick’s delivery. A Podcast would also be a delight. Heck, if they can do it for Art Bell’s radio programs why can’t they do it for Dick Estell’s?