Radio Reader Estell to Leave Airwaves After Storied Career

Mar 4, 2016

Fans across the country will miss the rich, gently inflected voice of Dick Estell as the concluding chapter of a storied career draws to a close.

Estell has been known to listeners throughout the country as the "Radio Reader," broadcasting newly published and best-selling books into his 90th year.

Recent health issues have compelled Estell to make the difficult and heart-breaking decision to hang up his microphone after more than half a century as the voice of the "Radio Reader."

The series will end following broadcast of the final chapters of the current book, John Grisham's "Rogue Lawyer." Bob Page, former WKAR-TV general manager and a friend of Estell's, has graciously stepped up to complete reading the remaining chapters. The final "Radio Reader" episode will air on March 10, 2016.

A passionate and avid lifelong lover of reading, Estell took over as the "Radio Reader" in 1964 for WKAR at Michigan State University. In the following years he read close to 1,000 books. Authors featured in his program include Pauline Kael, Bob Hope, Nicholas Sparks, James Herriot, James Michener, Michael Crichton, Erma Bombeck, Joe Garagiola, Ken Follett, Lauren Bacall and hundreds of others.

While WKAR had offered a radio reading series since 1936, it was after Estell took over the program that it was made available to public radio stations across the country. At its peak, the series had an audience of over one million.

Born and raised in Hillsdale, Michigan, Estell attended broadcasting school in Hollywood and later worked in commercial radio. Following active service in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, he returned to Michigan to complete college, entering the Radio and Television program at MSU.

While at MSU he was employed as a student announcer at WKAR. After graduating he became a full-time employee, rose through the station ranks, and became station manager in 1962. Estell had an active role in the formation of National Public Radio and served as board chairman in the early '70s.

He was also responsible for starting WKAR Radio Talking Book (now Radio Reading Service) in 1973, bringing the ability to enjoy the magic of books and newspapers to those who were visually challenged or who could not physically access the printed page. Following his years in management, Estell continued working for WKAR, recording "Radio Reader" and hosting programs on WKAR-TV.

Estell retired from Michigan State in 1986, but continued producing and voicing the program at his home studio in nearby Haslett, Mich. He continued to prepare for "Radio Reader" as he always had -- reading the book one half-hour at a time, and reading it "cold," with no rehearsal or advance knowledge of content. The method brought a certain spontaneity to the work, often reflecting his own emotions, perhaps even pausing during a particularly heart stopping or touching moment.

Fans of the series must now content themselves with finding audio book alternatives. They may well be fine books, read well by any one of a number of fine "readers." But there is only one "Radio Reader" and that name will be forever associated with Dick Estell.

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