Rich Kimball sits in a Bangor restaurant every weekday afternoon and talks to people he finds interesting.

He’s talked about the death penalty with Mike Farrell, who played the witty Army doctor B.J. Hunnicutt on TV’s “M*A*S*H.”

He’s discussed the role of race in American history with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and chatted with former child actress Sally Dryer about being the voice of Charlie Brown antagonist Lucy Van Pelt. He’s talked baseball with ESPN announcer Dan Shulman and history with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin, and he’s rated pop music crooners with Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan.

Kimball is host of “Downtown with Rich Kimball,” ostensibly a sports talk show on Bangor station WZON (620 AM), broadcast live from Seasons restaurant on Main Street. He has plenty of guests who talk sports, including sportswriters, broadcasters and University of Maine players and coaches. But often his guests are just folks he’d like to talk to, their names popping into his head for whatever reason. Like last fall when he watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and saw Dryer’s name listed as the voice of Lucy.

It’s not just the eclectic guest list that makes Kimball’s show stand out. Unlike many hosts on male-centric sports and news talk radio, Kimball doesn’t rant and rave, he doesn’t go looking for the outrageous sound bite. It’s a quality his guests and his bosses appreciate.

“I’ve been on a lot of these shows, and most of them are combative, but Rich is open and encourages a conversation, which is rare,” said Farrell, 77, from his home in Los Angeles. “Whenever he contacts me about being on the show, I say sure.”


Kimball, 57, has an idea of what people around Bangor might be interested in. He graduated from Bangor High School and the University of Maine. He began in broadcasting as a teenager and has been working on Maine radio and TV stations since 1975. He began hosting his Bangor afternoon radio show in 2011 on WAEI-AM, then moved to WEZQ-FM. He’s been on WZON since early 2015.

He’s been the play-by-play announcer for UMaine football for 19 years. He recently won his sixth Maine Sportscaster of the Year award.

He’s also a social studies teacher and drama director at Brewer High School, and he has acted in local theater groups. His interests go well beyond sports.

When he thought about starting an afternoon talk show on AM radio, Kimball first outlined all the things it would not be.

“We don’t want it to be a hardcore sports show. The world doesn’t need another show with angry callers,” said Kimball, who collaborates with producer Bryan Stackpole on the guest list. “We decided to do sports as entertainment, so we could talk to people in entertainment, too. Our criterion is ‘Who would be a really interesting person to talk to?’ ”

WZON used to be a sports-only station but branched out to other types of talk shows. In a small market like Bangor, it’s hard to find a large audience for just sports talk, said Bobby Russell, general manager of WZON and two other stations. So the fact that Kimball didn’t do a straight sports show appealed to Russell.


Even when Kimball talks sports, the conversation can stray to other fields.

“I do a few of these shows, and with Rich I really look forward to going on, because the conversation can go off the rails, in a good way,” said Chad Finn, a Boston Globe sports columnist who covers sports media and lives in Wells. “He’ll ask me about the Red Sox rotation, and the next minute we might be talking about (country singer) Kenny Chesney.”

Some of Kimball’s interviews sound more like something you’d hear on public radio than on an AM station during the afternoon drive time. When he talked to Burns about the 25th anniversary of his PBS series “The Civil War,” Kimball began with this: “Are you mystified by the fact that there are still people out there that deny that the Civil War was about anything other than slavery?” Later, when talking about Burns’ Jackie Robinson film, due on PBS in April, he asked, “Is race and how we’ve dealt with it the defining issue of American history?”

The interview was about 12 minutes long, and Kimball only asked four or five questions. Each one was open-ended, yet probing.

After the movie “Concussion” came out late last year and started a discussion of the serious health risks inherent in football, Kimball interviewed the ex-wife of former Pittsburgh Steeler and UMaine player Justin Strzelczyk, who died at the age of 36 in a car crash. An examination of his brain later revealed that he suffered the same form of brain damage, which can only be detected after death, found in other former NFL players after years of violent impacts to the head.

“Sunday used to be the centerpiece of her week, now she doesn’t watch football,” said Kimball of his interview with Keana Strzelczyk McMahon.

But not all the guests invite discussion of heavy topics. Kimball’s co-host is local comedian Ryan Waning. Kimball also has had songwriters, musicians and actors as his guests. He’s talked with ’80s rapper Vanilla Ice, and with hot dog eating champion Joey Chestnut.

And because his show is called “Downtown” he did a phone interview with Petula Clark, whose best known song was “Downtown” in 1964. She was 81 and in France when Kimball talked to her. “I know it doesn’t all appeal to everyone,” Kimball said of his show. “But we try to make it interesting.”


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