Radio legend Art Bell passed away today at the age of 72.
Bell was best known as the creator and original host of late-night radio show Coast to Coast AM, where he covered all sorts of supernatural and paranormal topics. His show aired from midnight to 3am east coast time. Popular subjects on his show included alien/UFO sightings, ghost recordings/sightings, out-of-body experiences, “shadow people”, remote viewing, and even “reverse messages” (that last was about taking recordings of people talking and playing them backwards to hear subliminal messages). In many ways, Bell helped create the culture that would embrace The X-Files.
It wasn’t until the late ’90s that I discovered Coast to Coast AM, and thus Bell. I was able to pull in a station on my radio late at night that carried the show. I found the show fascinating. I really found the callers interesting. I knew many of them were silly (esp. those calling on the time traveler line), but it was neat to hear them talk about possible futures and alternate realities. This was at the time Sliders was on, and X-Files had reached its peak. Bell’s topics were part of the fabric of national culture. Paranormal, supernatural, and extraterrestrials were a national fascination. We were all about UFO sightings and ghost recordings. I remember FATE magazine, which covered similar topics. Bell’s voice, the way he respected callers regardless of how ludicrous they seemed, was great.
Bell would eventually step down from Coast, to be replaced by current host George Noory. I never listened to many of his shows. Back in 2015, I had my first shortwave radio, a Tecsun PL-310, and late at night I’d scan the shortwave dial. I picked up a station out of Tennessee that carried Bell’s new show, Midnight in the Desert. I found that during his second episode, and would try to stay up late just to listen to it most weeknights, my sleep schedule be damned. Midnight was much like Coast, just with a different name. Bell broadcast out of his home in Pahrump, Nevada, the Kingdom of Nye.
I remember when Bell stepped down as host of Midnight. The situation was that someone was threatening him and his family, and would act if Bell continued on the air. Bell took the threats seriously when he heard gunshots outside his house one night when he was on the air. Heather Wade took over as host and remains to this day.
Back when I was still doing Radio Free Caemlyn’s Friday Night Trivia, there was an idea from Bell that I wanted to use, called “Truth or Trash”. For that, Bell would have people call in, volunteer to serve as “judges” (three people for that). Other callers would tell stories that the judges had to guess were either true or false. Bell wanted the stories to be strange, the sort that Rod Serling would be proud to have penned. I wanted to use this on Trivia, but could never work out how to implement it. For anyone who remembers that I had a round I was working on but never got to use, that was it.
More recently, the guy who plays T. Rucker on the YouTube/Vaughn/Twitch series “Haulin’ Ass” has launched a new show, called “The Vortex”, where he plays a character named Ira Cutler. This show and character are based entirely on Bell and Coast/Midnight. A popular recurring guest on Bell’s shows, Richard C. Hoagland, is planned to be introduced, to be played by the guy who plays Bob Croft on “Haulin’ Ass”. Hoagland is another story entirely. I guess he still hosts his own show, The Other Side of Midnight.
Anyway, rest in peace Art Bell. You will be missed.
Update: Wait, this is the remembrance NPR posts? That isn’t a remembrance as much as it is a mockery. They mock the radio legend. “Hey, remember that kooky radio guy who talked about Bigfoot?” Ugh. She calls him “quirky”. Wow.