“I think — no, I’m sure — Coast to Coast wouldn’t work with a daytime audience.”
Art Bell died in his Pahrump home in the Nevada desert on Friday, April 13. No doubt, someone somewhere is already prepping to dispute the information provided by his pending autoposy, to allege that perhaps the “facts” should be questioned. Maybe something else has transpired. Incredulously, they will construct an alternate timeline and ask, “But what about [blank?]” As it should be.
Bell got his start as a rock deejay, but transitioned into talk radio in the late ’70s. Talking about politics bored him, and he shifted discussion on his West Coast AM program to conspiracy theory. Renaming the show Coast to Coast AM in 1988, he found his calling, talking about the paranormal with listeners late at night. Whether you were a hardcore believer, a permissive skeptic, just there for kicks, or a combination of them all (as I find myself), Bell provided a singular radio experience. It wasn’t about truly interrogative interviews — Bell was happy to let a lot of suspect info slide right on by — it was about his unparalleled mastery of atmosphere. Listeners tuned into C2C and its spinoff Dreamland for the far-out conversations about aliens, shadow people, other dimensions, Area 51, Roswell, shadowy government agencies, and Mel’s Hole, as well as interviews with free-thinking luminaries like Robert Anton Wilson and Terrence McKenna, and rants from deeply problematic folks like David Icke. But just as much, they tuned in for Bell himself and the curious radio theater he constructed, the way he made curiosity a virtue, made strange things seem possible, or perhaps even plausible. They came for hidden truths, but stayed, I suspect, because Bell created something remarkable through his innovative use of silence, AM’s soft fuzz, and haunting music.
Bell continued hosting Coast to Coast until 2003, when he moved to weekend hosting gigs, which he continued until 2007, when he moved into occasional guest host spots. He formed two other short-lived shows: the evocatively named Midnight in the Desert and Dark Matter, both of which captured some elements of the classic show, but were beset by problems, including Bell’s assertion that someone — perhaps something — was targeting him.
“I love all-night, and I would never leave it,” Bell told Larry King in 1999. “I think there’s something special about the night and nighttime people.” words / j woodbury