The man! The myth! And the LEGEND! All wrapped into one man. That’s who Art Bell was to millions of us who listened to him nightly back in the Coast to Coast days. And on April 13th, 2018, the legend’s microphone went silent from the Kingdom of Nye. This time for good. Art Bell, the iconic radio host, fan favourite, champion of the strange and weird, passed away at his home at the age of 72, according to the Nye County Sheriff’s Office. What do you say about Art? There’s so much, and yet, when you need to find the words to express how you feel, and the impact the man had on you, the words just don’t want to come out.
There are not many in the world who can say they basically started an entire genre. Art could. When he created Coast to Coast AM, I’m sure he didn’t even know the impact he was going to bring back to radio. Something that was missing. Something different. Paranormal talk radio was non-existent until Art Bell started noticing a trend. During his late night talk show, he started seeing his listener numbers increase sharply when he talked about subjects like ghosts, UFOs, or conspiracies. Because of this, he quickly became the ‘face’ for the strange and weird. Art clearly resonated with his audience, which was topping between eight and fourteen million listeners a night in C2C’s hey days. His impact on people, and giving them a reason to listen to late night talk radio is immeasurable. It was the voice. It was his dry humour. It was the way he took phone calls. It was his persona. It was the topics he chose or the chain smoking that made his voice sound the way it did. Art was our generation’s Vincent Price. Many of us grew up with the legend.
From a broadcaster’s perspective, this is the impact Art had in radio. I remember working in the newsroom in Vancouver. Our studio was playing our format, yet in the newsroom, we were tuned into another local station at night, just to hear Art speak. His stories were transcending and multi-directional. He knew how to captivate even us professionals in the radio business with the way his commentary would come across the airwaves. He owned the night, and probably caused many a car accidents along the way with his freaky stories about flying into Area 51, or the payphone caller, or the sounds of hell from a hole in Russia. Most of the stories or callers turned out to be hoaxes, much like Orson Welles and War of the Worlds, but it still left us in wonder as to whether or not it was real? It made for great radio. It takes a good host to do that.
So many radio hosts throughout the last couple of decades have tried to emulate Art, even in different subjects. But none could capture people’s ears and time like the King of night time radio. He was infectious. He respected people on the air, even those that did sound a little nutty. If a caller went to far, Art had no problem calling their bullshit and putting them in their place. He connected with his audience, which in my opinion is a very lost art in radio! No pun intended. Art bonded with listeners like no other. He had the ability to win people over, even the people who couldn’t stand him, because every show has critics. To me, he was the perfect broadcaster. Silky smooth with his delivery. Never afraid to chase down a topic or a guest. His knowledge and studious preparation for the topics and the guests were phenomenal. He was the perfect broadcaster. With Art on the air in the middle of the night, everyone knew their creepy uncle was there to keep them company.
Sure, Art’s career hit a couple of rocky roads. I personally don’t think he was ever the same after Premiere Radio Networks pretty much cut him loose from his baby, Coast to Coast AM. He had lost the fire and a little bit of the will. Maybe that had to do a lot with is wife, Ramona’s, passing. But he was the consummate pro. Talking with Amy Martin from Amy on the Radio about Art. She worked with him when he created Midnight In The Desert. She said the man had a heart of gold and cared. He would just call out of the blue to talk radio or about anything really. To me, that makes the man. When you’re in radio, whether you have 10 listeners or 10-million, people on the outside bond with you. You, as a host, become an important part of their lives. And for any radio show host, the lesson to be learned from Art is to care about your audience. Because with out the audience supporting you, there is no show.
The other point I’d like to make is Art was a leader. He basically created an entire sub-culture of amateur radio enthusiasts that in turn started their own radio shows and podcasts when places like Blog Talk Radio opened up. He allowed everyone to share in his love for the subject matter. He was the god of Paranormal Radio. We all looked up to him. Many of us sought to be him. However, no matter how hard we tried or try to this day, it’s impossible. Art was perfection on air. Now, being a professional broadcaster that he was, he’d probably laugh at that comment, but to us, who were glued to his every word, we’d pretty much say every show was perfectly pitched. I’m sure there’d be some sort of rebuttal on that from him. But Art created a concept of entertaining people with campfire stories. If there was no Art, there would be no Spaced Out Radio. There’d be no George Noory, Jimmy Church, Clyde Lewis, Connie Willis, Richard Syrett, Jim Harold or Heather Wade or any other host of these delightfully eerie topics of conversation. There are very few pioneers in the field of broadcasting, and Art was one of them. His love of these dark topics took him to the top of the mountain, and frankly, even though he moved on in his career, retiring numerous times before calling it quits for good, no one has ever come close to matching his skill and ability. He’s still the king of late night radio. Others will come, and others will fall. But with today’s internet age which has diluted audiences, talent, and topics of discussion so much, there is no way in hell there will ever be another Art Bell.
Paranormal radio has Art Bell to thank for absolutely everything. We are indebted to the legend for allowing many of us to follow our dreams into the weird and strange. Rest In Peace, Art.
Dave Scott can be heard every Monday through Friday night at www.spacedoutradio.com starting at 9pm PT. 12am ET. Follow Dave on Twitter @SpacedOutRadio and on Instagram @DaveScottSOR