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

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Susan Presson

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… Read more »

Francis P. O'Neill

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

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

Lisa R Trahan

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

Mary Kopp


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.

Dave A

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

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.

John A McCormick

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.

William P. Thurston

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.

Christian Hansen

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.

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

Anne, 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… Read more »

Karen Johnson

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… Read more »

Alison Lerner

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.

Keith Luf

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.

John Beck

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.”

Elinor Stout


How wonderful to read your name and (almost) hear your voice. HEARING VOICES!!… lovely!! As indeed was/is the case on Reading Aloud and Spiders Web. it was only yesteryear, when under your radio management, I was allowed to train at the BBC in radio drama and create pictures in sound through initiating “Masterpiece Radio Theater”.
Now, story-telling on radio is once again taking-hold.
Would love to hear from you.
Regards, Elinor Stout

John H Beck

Elinor, great to hear from you! I’m at

Mike K.

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.


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.


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?”

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

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… Read more »

HCE Brown

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.… Read more »

Roderick Holland

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

Tim Aarset

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