Bill Cavness

From Bill Cavness

Friends have often asked me why I chose to devote my lifetime career to radio, when my entry into the field of broadcasting dates far enough back that I could have been a pioneer in television, or at least in public television.

My answer today is the same one I’ve always used: radio, with its appeal to a single sense, forces me to keep my imagination working, while television somehow blocks much of its use. When I listen to a play on the air, I design the sets and the costumes and the lighting — even the faces and the characters’ movements. When I watch the same play, other people have done those things, and I must accept their taste and judgment.

For going on 28 years, I have tried in the Reading Aloud series to present works of fiction and non-fiction in a way that allows you, imaginatively, to take part in the broadcast — even with Chamberworks and other concerts, to establish a You-Are-There feeling, so that in hearing a late Beethoven quartet well-played, you feel all dressed up in Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and sitting in a handsome auditorium surrounded by other music lovers.

Sometimes my T-shirt and tattered jeans and bare feet and reclining chair make that sort of fantasy an uphill pull, but I feel that the mind needs exercise just as much as the body does. Maybe that’s why I’m always a little startled at your generous response to a book of factual prose, as compared to lively, active fiction. That is certainly why I prefer music recorded during public performance, as opposed to perhaps-slicker studio performances which allow for editing, or re-takes, to eliminate the chances of slight mishap always present in live presentations.

At this writing, Reading Aloud has established a record for a continuous series of its kind, and Chamberworks will very soon reach the 1,000-program mark: a thousand hours of music and not one commercial recording! May both continue at least that much more.



Bill Cavness begins the narration of the 1957 film Discovering Discovery, detailing the making of the NET program series Discovery with Mary Lela Grimes (now Sherburne).

Discovering Discovery


  1. Bob Stepno on November 2, 2022 at 8:46 pm

    Bill Cavness’ Reading Aloud was often part of my (then undiagnosed ADHD) multitasking in Hartford, 1978-80, while working at home in the morning writing a daily column for The Hartford Courant and beginning part-time studies for a master’s at Wesleyan. Memory fails me: Was it Connecticut Public Radio carrying the program, or was I listening to WFCR?

    Most memorable, Jane Langton’s “The Memorial Hall Murder,” which I reread years later after moving to Somerville and attending concerts there. He read other Langton works — and so did I, thanks to him.

  2. Kevin Lucas on March 6, 2022 at 3:13 am

    I think it might have been Bill Cavness Reading Aloud where I heard Pavane, Op. 50 by Gabriel Fauré as the musical introduction and epilog (maybe there’s a better word for that) for each segment of The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett — sometime in the 1970’s I think. Tonight I heard that music as part of a phenomenally well done sound track to a show about crustaceans. As I hummed and whistled along to it, my wife asked what the name of the music was. Internet slogging past many misguided references to a Norwegian and Irish couple who “wrote” a piece using the Pavane melody, I found Fauré and dug out faint fond memories of Reading Aloud. I never was good at reading books using my eyes. Bill did wonders for me. If I could, I’d listen to his readings all over again.

    • Leah Weisse on March 11, 2022 at 2:30 pm

      You can go to this link at WGBH Open Vault to see a list of what we have in the Archives:

      We are digitizing many and would love to make them available, but, as usual, there are issues regarding rights and publishers. Thanks for the comments and fond memories. It keeps us going when we wonder why we save things!

      • Anne Ulmer on March 14, 2022 at 1:34 pm

        When we lived in Middletown Connecticut, we would dash home at noon to hear Bill Cavness reading The Once and Future King (T.H.White) — amazing characterizations, often hilarious. I’d love to hear that again, if it were available.
        I don’t see it in the archives.

      • Mike K. on February 3, 2024 at 11:45 pm

        Hi, Leah!

        Back in the mid/late 1970s (… or possibly early 1980s), I seem to recall either ‘Reading Aloud’ or another time slot adjacent WGBH-FM series presenting a multi-part adaptation of ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ which has haunted me for most of my life.

        Ring any bells?

        Oh, and also from the mid/late 1970s, I remember a nicely produced ‘Sherlock Holmes’ series where the actor playing Dr. Watson read the credits, ending with the line, “… and my friend, ____ ____ played Sherlock Holmes,” or words to that effect.

        • Leah Weisse, GBH Archives on February 9, 2024 at 4:45 pm

          Good memory! GBH aired a BBC radio production of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1976. Here is a line from the wikipedia entry on Norman Shelley (aka Dr. Watson): Other roles for Children’s Hour included Dr. Watson (opposite Carleton Hobbs as Holmes) in the 1952–1969 Sherlock Holmes radio series. You can listen to them at a BBC site: But the sign off isn’t the same.

    • Carol Obertubbesing on March 12, 2022 at 11:58 am

      Even the animals loved Bill Cavness Reading Aloud. A friend’s cat used to jump up on the radio when the program started and back down at the end.

  3. Ernest J. Aubert on December 28, 2020 at 10:50 pm

    Bill Cavness’s reading of Scaramouche (on Reading Aloud) was absolutely splendid, and I’d love to be able to listen to it again, streamed or on CD.

    • Linda Dunn on August 12, 2021 at 9:22 pm

      We listened to Reading Aloud all the time when I was growing up. The Perelandra trilogy was my favorite, and Day of the Triffids gave me tingles. Thanks for the adventures

  4. Susan Presson on March 29, 2019 at 11:15 am

    My aunt, who lived in Essex, Mass., was a huge fan of of WGBH radio. When I was working there, every spring…early spring…she would cut enormous bouquets of pussy willow branches for me to bring to Robert J. Lurtsema and Bill Cavness. Robert’s reaction was, especially after a few years, a combination of bemusement and annoyance. (Those things took up a LOT of room in a small studio), but Bill was never anything less than gracious.

    One of my first paid jobs at ‘GBH was working for Peggy MacCleod (and lord help me, at this point I can’t remember if she was a ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’), on the Elliot Norton Reviews show. Bill was the announcer and every week one of my jobs was to prepare the copy for his lead in. Since Bill was, I believe, dyslexic, and I was, a.) sort of dyslexic and b.) a profoundly lousy typist, we were hardly the perfect match. He really needed clean copy to read and he rarely got it from me first time out of the gate. But he was endlessly patient and kind with a newbee.

  5. Francis P. O'Neill on March 28, 2019 at 1:52 pm

    I listened to “Reading Aloud” at lunchtime every day when I was in college in Washington, D.C. 1971-1975, but the only novel I still remember clearly was ‘Nicholas Nickelby’. Is there any chance someone could compile and publish a list of everything that was read during the course of the program’s existence? I still read Dickens aloud to my long-suffering family today and I always try to do it the way Bill Cavness would have done.

    • Mark Duffield on March 29, 2019 at 12:03 pm

      That would be wonderful to have CD’s available of his broadcasts. A very nice gentleman that matched his unique voice.

      • Lisa R Trahan on April 16, 2019 at 5:44 pm

        I would buy them all. Great revenue stream possibility here. (Hint, hint!!)

  6. Mary Kopp on August 26, 2018 at 1:33 pm


    My family lived on and listened in the ’70s to The Spider’s Web (with Livingston Taylor’s theme) as well as many other shows mentioned here. I particularly remember a series called (I think?) Ear Play and it’s dramas including a marvelous one about the sacrifice of Iphigenia written by a Canadian playwright. I would appreciate any information about this. Many thanks.

    • Mike K. on February 3, 2024 at 11:49 pm

      Hi, Mary!

      I’d forgotten about “The Spider’s Web” …

      I recall one of the series on WGBH-FM presenting an adaptation of “A Wrinkle In Time,” not certain if it was on that series or on “Reading Aloud.”

      • Greg Fitzgerald on February 9, 2024 at 3:40 pm

        Paula Apsell, now of NOVA fame, was the radio producer for The Spider’s Web back then. She would know which program produced it.

        • Leah Weisse, GBH Archives on February 9, 2024 at 4:19 pm

          Well, just to confuse things … the GBH Archives has A Wrinkle in Time listed as having been read on Reading Aloud and done for Spider’s Web. The 1/4 inch tapes digitized were done for Spider’s Web.

  7. Dave A on August 15, 2018 at 10:08 am

    The Phantom Tollbooth. Bill’s voices had us rolling on the floor.

  8. Jennifer Troyer on April 7, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    I remember so vividly our family listening to “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase”. What other titles do you remember? I wish I could play them for my kids.

  9. John A McCormick on August 25, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I recall working in Traffic when I recommended Way Station to Bill at WGBH. He borrowed my copy and read it to PBS listeners.

    Must have been about 1970 or so.

  10. William P. Thurston on July 29, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I echo all the above comments!

    I listen(ed) on Maine Public Radio in those far off halcyon days.

    One day it was gone, replaced by “The Radio Reader.” Fine program in it’s own right, but simply not up to the standard that Bill set. Especially missed were the musical segments introducing each episode! Great creations on their own.

  11. Christian Hansen on May 26, 2016 at 11:57 am

    I loved Reading Aloud when I was in high school. Bill was at that time reading The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, as well as the Pickwick Papers. I have re-read them many time since, but my question is: what was the music that introduced those Lord of the Rings programs? I remember it being vaguely Renaissance, but it’s been bothering me for years–decades even. Thanks to WGBH and Bill for their years of delightful programs.

  12. Anne Ulmer on December 27, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    In about 1969 I was teaching at Wesleyan, on the fringe of the range of WFCR. Every day I dashed home after class to hear Reading Aloud. I had forgotten the name of the program, but picked it out of a VERY long list today.

    Bil Cavness did an inspired reading of TH White’s The Sword in the Stone. Recently I reread it, and was longing to hear that performance again. Is there any chance?

    • Leah Weisse on January 4, 2016 at 11:54 am

      I am reposting a response from the WGBH Media Library and Archives director, Karen Cariani. It concerns the issues of making older Reading Aloud programs available. We do have T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone in the archives. It is on 22 1/4″ audio tapes. An older format that will have to be digitized. As I said, please read Karen’s post. Thank you for your interest in the Reading Aloud series and the WGBH! Leah

      Karen’s Post:

      Hi Doug,
      It may be a little complicated because of rights issues for us to sell podcasts or cd’s. Great idea though, especially as a fundraiser for the archives! However, it might be more feasible for us stream the programs from our Open Vault website. We’ve started a digitization on demand process on open vault where we are asking users to help pay for the preservation and digitization of content they would like to see. The first step is to pay for staff time to check out the rights, to see if we can stream it. We didn’t think people would pay for it to be digitized if they then couldn’t see it. You could go to Open Vault here:
      and request a Reading Aloud program to be digitized. It might open the door for us to be able to stream a number of them. Karen

      • Karen Johnson on March 29, 2019 at 3:17 pm

        Hi Karen,
        A project after my own heart! In the, maybe, ’80’s?, we did manage to clear, package and sell one Reading Aloud story–Bill’s inimitable “A Christmas Carole,” as a cassette tape, and there may be a precedent there for rights and all. I don’t remember any of those details, but it’s possible someone in Legal does (Jeff Garmel?), and there may be files. As long as a literary work is in the public domain, you can use it; pretty sure all of Dickens is long out of copyright. However, rights in the RA production itself–technical work, recording, music, art and design, packaging, etc–may still need to be cleared, which can be a thorny bush and a pricey one, too, as you well know. Good luck with this.

  13. Alison Lerner on December 22, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I loved Reading Aloud and listened for years, so sad when it was no longer aired. I’ve been trying to remember a novel Bill read about man who was living in a cemetery. Does anyone know what the title or author was? I have searched with no luck.

  14. Keith Luf on November 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    John Beck beat me to it, but he is correct, I believe you are thinking of the Spider’s Web, which broadcast Wrinkle in Time in early 1979. I just listened to the first few minutes and while Bill did work on some SWs, he is not, unfortunately, featured on this 1979 broadcast.

  15. John Beck on November 16, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Reading Alouds were certainly being stored while I was there in the 1970s, though Bill may have taped over some series he didn’t like as well as others. On “A Wrinkle in Time,” Mike, if you recall only Bill’s voice it may have been Reading Aloud; but he also, as I recall, did parts in Paula Apsell’s “The Spider’s Web” which is where I seem to recall “Wrinkle.”

  16. Mike K. on November 11, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Can anyone confirm that “Reading Aloud” presented an adaptation of the novel “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle in the 1970’s? That production has haunted my memory for decades.

    • Lyman on October 29, 2015 at 11:04 am

      Growing up in Austin Texas, our NPR affiliate broadcast Reading Aloud when my mom as picking me up after school. I agree, A Wrinkle in Time was chilling at times.

      • Miles on November 6, 2015 at 7:39 pm

        My dad had the Wrinkle in time Radio broadcast recorded on casettes that I listened to as a kid in the 90s… but I think my mismanagement of the tapes resulted in at least most of their loss….

        Anyone have a digital copy of the Spider’s Web “Wrinkle In Time?”

  17. Doug Randall on November 5, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    I would happily pay for the podcasts or a CD. It is a sorely missed program in Philadelphia. Peace n Love.

    • Karen Cariani on November 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Doug,
      It may be a little complicated because of rights issues for us to sell podcasts or cd’s. Great idea though, especially as a fundraiser for the archives! However, it might be more feasible for us stream the programs from our Open Vault website. We’ve started a digitization on demand process on open vault where we are asking users to help pay for the preservation and digitization of content they would like to see. The first step is to pay for staff time to check out the rights, to see if we can stream it. We didn’t think people would pay for it to be digitized if they then couldn’t see it. You could go to Open Vault here:
      and request a Reading Aloud program to be digitized. It might open the door for us to be able to stream a number of them. Karen

  18. HCE Brown on November 12, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    I listened to Bill Cavness’ “Reading Aloud” almost every weekday evening for seven years in the 1980s. I recall with great delight listening to serial installments of various fiction and nonfiction works, including George Eliot’s “Silas Marner,” Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” and Loren Eiseley’s “The Immense Journey,” among many others. In there any way in which WGBH could make any of those available to the public? I echo the previous remarks that podcasts of old “Reading Aloud” segments would be an extraordinary public service. I know of many people who would benefit immensely, including older folks whose eyes no longer work so well but whose imagination and desire to read are still keen, as well as people who are convalescing for one reason or another, including my brother who suffered a recent head injury and cannot watch TV or read for the next several months, but who is trying to keep his mind alive by listening to audio books. Please consider making some of these available.

  19. Roderick Holland on November 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

    A podcast of the complete series would be a genuine public service.

  20. Tim Aarset on May 7, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    I recall the wonders of War and Peace during the ’73-’74 season. Are these readings taped and available to us and our offspring?

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