Les Kinsolving, retired radio talk show host and conservative gadfly, dies

Conservative talk radio personality Les Kinsolving is pictured May 14, 1998, in one of his famous bright-red blazers.
Conservative talk radio personality Les Kinsolving is pictured May 14, 1998, in one of his famous bright-red blazers. (Chiaki Kawajiri / Baltimore Sun)

Charles Lester “Les” Kinsolving, a retired WCBM-AM conservative talk radio personality and political gadfly who hosted the show “Uninhibited Radio” for 28 years, died of heart disease and dementia Dec. 4 at his home in Vienna, Va. He was 90.

Mr. Kinsolving, whose bright-red blazer and outrageous talk show earned him national renown, was a “throwback to radio yesteryear [who] tries to shock, outrage and prod the world around him with his commentary,” according to a 1998 profile in The Sun.


“From the loud red jacket to his blustery delivery,” the article said, “Kinsolving guarantees a scene every time he walks into the room.”

Born in New York City and raised in West Point, N.Y., he was the son of the Rev. Arthur Barksdale Kinsolving, who was later the Episcopal bishop of Arizona. His mother was Edith Lester, who assisted Arthur Kinsolving in his ecclesiastic postings. He was a cousin of the Rev. Arthur Kinsolving, a former rector of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore. Numerous members of the Kinsolving family were Episcopal clergymen.


“I would say we gave more members to the Episcopal church than any family in America,” said his daughter, Kathleen Kinsolving of Herndon, Va. “It’s kind of a royal Episcopal family.”

After attending Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., he served in the Army. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and the Johns Hopkins University, where he roomed with actor John Astin. Mr. Kinsolving also taught at St. Paul’s School for Boys in Baltimore — and coached football — and performed in theatrical productions, appearing as Clarence Darrow in “Inherit the Wind.” He was Brig. Gen. William Barksdale in the 1993 film “Gettysburg.”

“He had a beautiful voice and could act,” his daughter said. “He had the most amazing voice. Who could forget him, on Halloween night, reciting ‘The Raven’?”

Mr. Kinsolving then decided to pursue the ministry and graduated from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif. He was ordained in 1955. While there, he met his future wife, Sylvia Alice Crockett, who was then singing in a church choir.

The self-taught WBAL talk show host shared his final days with listeners

He was initially the Protestant assistant chaplain at San Quentin State Prison and a legislative assistant to Bishop James Pike. He later associated with the Anglican Episcopal Church.

His daughter said her father became interested in journalism and became a religion writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and later the San Francisco Examiner. He went on to write a nationally syndicated column that mixed religion and politics.

Mr. Kinsolving’s opinion columns appeared in numerous newspapers, including The News American. Family members said he worked to expose Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple cult when it flourished in San Francisco. Jones and his followers died in a mass suicide in Guyana in 1978.

After moving to Virginia in 1973, he went on radio on WAVA-AM in Arlington. He also gained White House press credentials and soon became a conservative gadfly. He called his style “uninhibited radio.”

Ralph Ferrell, a banker and Parks and People Foundation board member, died of Parkinson’s disease complications Dec. 1. He was 76.

A 1981 Washington Post story quoted Ron Nessen, President Gerald Ford’s press secretary, saying: “He can be an irritant, but in my experience he often asked important questions on important issues long before other people realized they were important.”

Jody Powell, who was President Jimmy Carter’s press secretary, described Mr. Kinsolving as “a gnat.”

Mr. Kinsolving worked at radio stations WFBR and WPGC before joining WCBM from 1990. He worked the night slot until he retired in April.

A 1998 Sun story described his entry into Baltimore City Hall’s press room: “[He] rarely misses an opportunity to plop down wearing his trademark red blazer, slide his microphone across the table and ask [Mayor Kurt] Schmoke the most outrageous question of the week. While the rest of the television, newspaper and radio reporters pepper the mayor with queries on crime, schools and taxes, Kinsolving lies in wait, bound to send the perpetually composed Schmoke stammering for an answer.”


Sean Casey, who hosts the “Sean and Frank in the Morning” program with Frank Luber on WCBM, said in a statement, “No sacred cows went unmilked.”

Mr. Kinsolving read six newspapers a day and numerous magazines to get ideas for his broadcasts.

A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the Church of the Holy Comforter on Beulah Road in Vienna.

In addition to his daughter and wife of 64 years, survivors include a son, Thomas Kinsolving, also of Vienna; another daughter, Laura Abate of Santa Margarita, Calif.; a brother, William Kinsolving of Lakeville, Conn.; and three grandchildren.

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