I was listening to “Coast to Coast AM” Friday night, as I have done for years, when host George Noory said he was a waiting for confirmation of a serious news story that involved a death.
It was a bit unusual, to say the least, but a few minutes later he had the confirmation. Noory broke down as he announced that legendary radio broadcaster Art Bell had died.
The 72-year-old had been found dead in his home in Pahrump, Nevada. There were no other details – just that an autopsy would be conducted sometime the following week to determine the cause of death.
I heard the news, and it made me pause – not only because I had been a great fan of Bell over the years he hosted “Coast to Coast,” but because I’d had the opportunity to speak with him directly several times and because, as life does take interesting turns, I had the opportunity to fill in for Art on many weeknights and eventually to be the regular weekend host of the program.
It was a magical time – to be an integral part of a program that was clearly the most popular radio talk program in the country, if not the world, but also to be on a first-name basis with the man who created it and made it all work.
Bell was a genius in his use of radio. He had the voice to pull it off and the brains to put it all together. His choice of material – the supernatural, paranormal. Aliens, Area 51, UFOs and so much more – were topics virtually no one else would touch. But Art did, and he didn’t make fun of them or the people who were believers, and his success made fools of mainstream radio producers. Others have tried to copy him but haven’t succeeded. “Coast to Coast AM,” continues to this day with George Noory as the host. And now those producing the show have lost their originator.
I’m a night owl and one who has a radio on all the time, regardless of whatever else I’m doing. That’s how I found Art Bell and “Coast” years ago. I got hooked, as so many others have, and listening to him became a regular part of my radio day – or night as the case may be!
I learned a lot from the programs, some I considered nonsense and fun, including aspects of history and life that’s generally ignored by the mainstream. I also realized that I wanted to be part of the mystique.
As good fortune would have it, it came to pass that I was invited to fill in for Art, and that led to my being the weekend host, which I did for several years. It was quite a work haul – I would do my three-hour San Francisco conservative talk show and then race to the other studio to do the five-hour overnight “Coast to Coast” program.
I loved every minute of it, especially talking to callers, literally from all over the world, and interviewing people who had amazing stories to tell.
But best of all, I loved being part of the magic Art Bell originated. While I never met him in person, we talked by phone, and he was warm and kind.
This is the kind of experience you can’t put price tag on. I’ve been so fortunate in my radio and TV career to have had that kind of relationship with so many talented and successful people.
Art Bell pioneered successful overnight talk radio with his own brand of sound and presentation. He was honored by and inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame and the National Radio Hall of Fame. But truly his greatest honor was the faithfulness of his millions of fans who stuck with him and, judging by the reaction to the news of his passing, are still loyal.
As many commented – how appropriate that Art Bell would die on Friday, the 13th.
Would it be crass to say – a “showman to the end”? I hope not.
Until I heard he was gone, I didn’t realize how much I would miss him.
And I do.
Thank you, Art, for all the joy and chills you brought into our lives.