Remembering Art Bell
As a child of the 1980's, it was only fitting I would eventually meet Art Bell. Not in person, mind you, but over the airwaves where the still of the night was filled with something a little more otherworldly than Led Zeppelin-inspired Whitesnake riffs.
My summer nights during those years were spent consuming a heavy diet of Old Time Radio. Classics like "Suspense" and "The Shadow" would play until the local NPR broadcast signed off shortly after the witching hour. At that point, it was time for dessert: reading Stephen King and Peter Straub until my eyes could no longer spar with the inevitable late night ass-kicking champ: sleep.
While my routine would change over the years, I would still find myself dialing through the radio stations late at night. Listening to broadcasts from a far-off city somewhere else always seemed better than wherever I was at the time - at least physically - and such escapism is how I first came to hear of Art Bell.
Art's "Coast To Coast AM" seemed more than just a natural extension Old Time Radio's "theater of the mind;" it was real. Or at least realer than the works of fiction I had gobbled-up a decade earlier. Certainly the people who called into the show from all over were real, though whom they claimed to be, such as the anti-christ in one memorable conversation, stretched the boundaries of one's imagination.
"Coast To Coast," in a sense, was a perfect modernization of Old Time Radio's "theater of the mind," providing an audience with countless hours of discussions on any variety of paranormal activities. In fact, former business partner, Alan Corbath, said during Bell's induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame nobody was better than Bell at understanding "How to create theater of the mind..."
Sometimes, listening to callers and their stories was like experiencing "The Blair Witch Project," only on radio, where you're caught up in some unexplainable madness unfolding. Such was the case with the Area 51 frantic caller (see video below.) These callers, many reoccurring and particularly those with unbridled emotions, were like finely drawn characters who had the ability to suck you into their strange worlds that made Twin Peaks seem the norm (minus the damn fine coffee, of course.)
Whether any of the callers' experiences were true or not seemed less a concern with the way Art treated them and his profession in return: always serious, with an open mind and sometimes with a side of skepticism. The approach, coupled with unscreened calls and strangely fascinating topics, made anything seem possible. At least in one's imagination... in the middle of the night.
Art Bell Facts & Figures
Name: Arthur (Art) William Bell, III.
Born: June 17, 1945, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Death: April 13, 2018 (Friday the 13th), 72 years of age.
Hometown: Pahrump, NV
Peak Audience: Between 10,000,000 to 15,000,000 listeners a week on over 500 syndicated stations in North America.
Education: Bell attended the University of Maryland to study engineering, but dropped out and returned to radio.
Awards: Bell was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 2006 and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2007, he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the trade publication Radio & Records in Los Angeles.
- Became a licensed amateur radio operator at age 13.
- Served as an Air Force medic in Vietnam where he also operated a pirate radio station.
- After Vietnam and while in Japan, he set a Guinness World Record for staying on air for 116 hours and 15 minutes.
- Chartered a plane to Vietnam from Japan and rescued 130 orphans stranded in Saigon at the war's end.
- In the mid-1980's at KDWN in Las Vegas, Bell worked a five hour shift in the middle of the night. In 1988, the show was moved to Bell's home in Pahrump, NV.
- Traditional broadcast topics of politics shifted toward conspiracy theories in the early 1990's which resulted in a ratings bump. After the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, the focus shifted toward paranormal, occult, UFO's and the like to much higher ratings.
- Bell interviewed a number of celebrities including singers such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Gordon Lightfoot; writers Dean Koontz, Whitley Strieber and X-Files creator Chris Carter; actors Leonard Nimoy, Dan Aykroyd and Robert Stack amongst many others.
- Segments from Bell's September 11, 1997 Interview with a self-proclaimed Area 51 former worker were used in the song "Faaip De Oiad" by American alternative-metal band Tool.
- Bell was the founder and original owner of KNYE 95.1 FM in Pahrump.
Art Bell: The Area 51 Frantic Caller on Sept. 11, 1997 (6:06)
Larry King Live: Edited Art Bell Interview 1999 (25:45)
The antichrist called the Art Bell show 1998 predicting enconomic collapse starting in 2006 (9:16)
Shadow People – Art Bell radio show (1:58:25)
Art Bell and Whitley Strieber Today Show Interview 2000 (6:32)
Richard C Hoagland / Whitley Strieber – Art Bell – October 1 2013 (3:03:24)
Dr Karla Turner Interview with Art Bell August 28, 1994 – Dreamland (1:48:35)
I’m a night owl now but I pulled a lot of all nighters in high school. I’d stay up and listen to Art Bell many of those nights. His voice was one of a kind and his shows were so weird & spooky but somehow managed to hold off your skepticism. Of course he died on Friday the 13th.
— josh groban (@joshgroban) April 14, 2018
Heard Art Bell has passed. Condolences to his family.
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) April 14, 2018
Time Capsule September 11, 1997
No. 1 Song, September 11, 1997: Mo Money Mo Problems - Notorious B.I.G Featuring Puff Daddy And Mace
No. 1 Book, September 11, 1997: Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier
Cost For 1 Gallon Of Gas: $1.19
Average Median Household Income in 1997: $55,218
Average Monthly Rent in 1997: $576
Average New Home Cost in 1997: $124,100
Average New Car Cost in 1997: $16,900.00
Postage Stamp Cost in 1997: $0.32/oz
Movie Ticket Cost in 1997: $4.59