BANGOR, Maine — Beginning in January, there will be a new player in the eastern Maine sports radio lineup.
WEZQ, Sports Radio 92.9 FM “The Ticket,” and SportsNet Maine have teamed up for a new afternoon show called “The Drive.” The live program will air 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays.
Veteran sports broadcasters Jim Churchill and Jeff Solari, along with Wes Hart, will serve as co-hosts of the show, which will focus on New England professional teams, the University of Maine, Husson University and Maine high school sports.
“The hosts are driven by sports and passionate about our teams,” SportsNet Maine’s Churchill said. “We are also driven to connect with Maine sports fans with a high energy, fast-paced and informative production each and every day.”
The slogan for the show, which will give Bangor three locally produced, sports-oriented radio programs, is “Your Sports. Your Teams. Your Show.”
The debut of “The Drive,” scheduled for Jan. 20, 2015, coincides with a move across the dial for the show that spent the past three-plus years on Townsquare Media’s WEZQ. “Downtown with Rich Kimball,” which features sports talk along with segments about the arts and culture, is switching to AM.
“Once it became apparent that the afternoon drive timeslot was going to be opened up, some mutual interested developed,” Churchill said. “I talked it out with Jeff and eventually Wes. We’re local sports broadcasters and thought it would be fun.”
Next month, “Downtown” will begin airing on WZON 620 AM, where it will go head to head with “The Drive” during the 4 to 6 p.m. timeslot.
Churchill explained “The Drive” will be listener-focused, interactive and opinionated. It will blend regular features around a fast-paced format driven by the day’s most talked about sports topics.
“Our focus is to deliver programming that is live, local and relevant to our audience and community,” Tom Preble, marketing president for Townsquare Media, said in a press release. “We’re excited to be adding ‘The Drive’ to our afternoon lineup.”
“The Drive” will boost WEZQ’s on-air sports presence, complementing Dale Duff and Clem LaBree, who co-host “The Morning Pitch” from 6 to 8 a.m. weekdays and broadcast high school and college games.
The show brings together broadcasters with extensive experience and ties to the community.
Churchill, a Brewer native and UMaine graduate, has been the radio voice of Black Bears baseball since 2000. He also does color commentary and play by play for UMaine men’s basketball.
The longtime Bangor business owner was previously affiliated with WZON, including his role as “The Rev” on “The House of the Fenway Faithful.” Churchill was named the Maine Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in 2010.
Solari, manager of business development at the Bangor law firm Rudman Winchell, is a Mount Desert Island native and a graduate of the University of Southern Maine. He has won more than 15 Maine Association of Broadcasters and Associated Press awards.
Most recently, Solari did a weekly segment called “The Shootaround” on “Downtown.” He hosted an afternoon sports show by that name on WZON from 2004-10. He also has worked as an adjunct professor at the New England School of Communications in Bangor.
“I am very excited to be back on the radio and part of this team and to have the chance to bring a new style of show to local sports fans, a show that’s listener focused,” Solari said.
Hart, a graduate of Bangor High and NESCOM, will serve as the senior producer and co-host of “The Drive.” He began his broadcasting career in 2012 at WZON, where he called high school sports contests.
Hart, who also works in the sports information department at Husson, will join the game on-air team for game broadcasts on BDN Maine/SportsNet Maine and “The Ticket.”
“We all bring a passion for sports to the table, but we have different viewpoints that I believe will make our show a must-listen for sports enthusiasts in the state of Maine,” Hart said.
Churchill’s SportsNet Maine has video streamed high school games on the BDN website. BDN reporters also will be doing guest segments on his new radio show.
Kimball said with his Townsquare contract running out, he met with Preble and Zone Corporation general manager Bobby Russell about the future of “Downtown.”
“WZON is a better fit, and it’s a better deal financially,” Kimball, a four-time Maine sportscaster of the year winner, said. “It’s a local station with a local owner (best-selling author Stephen King), not a corporation.”
“Downtown” will be owned by Cashman Communications, with comedian and late-night TV host Dan Cashman serving as a frequent contributor. “Downtown” will will continue to be broadcast from the studio at Seasons Grille and Sports Lounge on Main Street in Bangor.
Kimball, who said the “Downtown” contract at WZON is for at least two years, hopes to attract new listeners to the station with an eye toward establishing a network.
“I’m going home,” Kimball said of his return to WZON, where he worked extensively in the past.
An official announcement of the move is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday at Season’s.
“Downtown” will debut Jan. 5, 2015. Kimball’s final show on WEZQ is scheduled for Dec. 31.
Kimball also has been the radio voice of UMaine football for the past 18 seasons.
BDN reporter Larry Mahoney contributed to this report.