Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Radio's Hero Of The Weird, Art Bell, Announces (Maybe) His New Show

This was the World Wide Web, in the mid-1990s.In its 1990s prime, the late-night radio show "Coast To Coast AM" was an unscripted audio mix of "Twin Peaks" and "The X-Files." It was corny, uncomfortable, laughable, utterly paranoid, completely of its time, and occasionally terrifying. Because it was broadcast in the middle of the night, if you listened it was generally because you were alone: driving a deserted highway, fighting insomnia, cramming for a test, finishing some code, working a graveyard shift.

A parade of crazies appeared every night, people with no apparent sense of humor, explaining the most obscure and ridiculous theories and conspiracies. And then, because this was also the golden age of weird crap on the early World Wide Web, you could look up these dingbats and discover… oh good god, so "Major Ed Dames" is a real retired military officer who really did "remote viewing" for a secret government project called "Stargate," that's a real thing? This was always the terrifying part about the show: Some of it, maybe all of it, was true.

Behind it all was exactly the kind of person you would avoid in real life: Art Bell, a chain-smoking hermit and deejay with a creepy knowing laugh who worked from a mobile home compound in the high desert near Area 51, which still doesn't officially exist, although the federal government eventually conceded there was something related to defense and/or intelligence at the (dry) Groom Lake section of the Nevada nuclear test site north of Las Vegas. And now, a dozen years since he left the weeknight show for good and made a series of increasingly perplexing retirements/comebacks on the little-heard weekend version of the program, Art Bell has announced (on Facebook) that he's in talks to begin a new radio show, apparently free of the "Coast to Coast AM" corporate overlords at Premiere Radio Networks in Los Angeles. Are the weird times coming back?

Rock of the Westies.
It is always vague and mysterious with Art Bell. The man could make anything, including where his cats were hiding in his home studio on any given night, sound like the space monsters had arrived. "Emotional roller coaster" is an overused and hopefully outdated phrase, but it exactly describes the plunge from "Oh for chrissakes, listen to this idiot" to "Lock the doors and turn on all the lights!" that always awaited the Art Bell listener. The transition from voyeuristic hilarity to terror was that quick, and of course that was the reason to keep listening.

Art Bell is tragic proof that fame and fortune certainly don't guarantee a pleasurable life. He first quit the radio show at the height of its popularity, in 1998, reportedly because some local psychopath had sexually assaulted Bell's young son with the stated goal of infecting the child with HIV. In 2006, Bell's third wife died in the couple's RV parked outside a trashy casino-motel in Laughlin, Nevada, the kind of place where you can still find penny slots and half the clientele drag along portable oxygen canisters. He apparently sat around his Mojave desert compound for a while after the death of Ramona Bell, and then decided to move to the Philippines and marry a girl he met over the Internet. He finally came back to Pahrump, Nevada, but immigration problems kept his fourth wife out of the United States for many years. Bell had a full compliment of health problems when he was still in his 40s, including back injuries from falling off a telephone pole, and his lifetime of chain smoking can't be making him feel much better.

And yet, for all of his very public foibles and misfortunes, Bell had the best voice on radio and a master's touch with the callers, guests and soundboard. The show was about suspense, about that one unexpected-yet-expected moment that would scare the listener into another two hours of insomnia, hearing every sound of the house settling as an invasion of sinister entities. To listen during an actual, unfolding freakout was the peak "Coast to Coast with Art Bell" experience: during the 1997 Phoenix Lights incident, for example, as people in Nevada and Arizona called in with eyewitness descriptions of the gigantic black craft moving silently over highways and exurbs, or as a Texan calling from a small plane claims he's flying into Area 51, or the convincingly frantic "former employee" from the fabled Dreamland base with its subterranean halls of escaped interdimensional beings.

The nightly show continues without Bell, and is apparently more popular than ever. In the 21st Century version you can hear tonight, the host is a genial radio veteran named George Noory. Because he's relatively normal sounding on the air, he brings in guest crazies like Alex Jones to yell staged hysterics for a few minutes now and then. I gave up on the show nearly a decade ago—by that point, I only skimmed the podcast while walking the dog in the daytime; sunlight disinfects even the best "Coast to Coast AM" show of its required nocturnal creepiness. When I've tuned in on the occasional late-night drive in recent years, the biggest surprise is how much dumber the callers seem, speaking in stereotypically crypto-racist redneck grammar crashes, regardless of their national point of origin.

If the show still attracts a few stoned college kids, open-minded scientists or sleepy newspaper reporters on the night desk, they aren't being chosen for the open lines. ("East of the Rockies, West of the Rockies," there were special toll-free numbers for everyone, including pop-up numbers for specific classes of paranormal incident, or highway patrol officers who had witnessed a certain type of unidentified flying object.) On the Reddit post dedicated to news of Bell's latest return, the comments are mostly along the lines of "Noory phones it in from the land of mediocrity."

While the Art Bell show followed a compelling mythological arc that nearly corresponded to the fictional (?) "mytharc" of "The X-Files," Noory's show is a grab bag that reflects the growing idiocy of both America's working class and the aural clown assault of talk radio in general. The 1990s program was amazingly apolitical—of course they were up to no good, or making treaties with the aliens, or whatever sinister plot. But they included Republicans and Democrats, Reagan and Clinton, the U.N. and the Nazis, the reptilian aliens and the gray aliens. We weren't quite to the point where every American awake after midnight on a weekday was an absolute psychopath with a hundred guns under their bed. Art Bell routinely made climate change and global warming the topic of his nightly show, in a time before the fossil fuel industry had created the "climate hoax" meme that may be the final cosmic joke on humanity. Despite Noory's calm demeanor and attempts to steer his guests and listeners away from the mouth-breathing constants of daytime AM, the show suffers both from Noory's sleepy acquiescence to the least entertaining claims and the general lack of imagination and wingnuttery of the other participants.

Art Bell already sounded old-fashioned in the 1990s, with his delightfully square bumper music—"Dancing Queen" by ABBA was a perennial fade-in from the ABC news on the hour and advertorial spots featuring Bell praising a sponsor's brand of tabletop radio. It's tough to imagine how he'd sound any more current in the second decade of the 21st Century. Radio itself has changed to the point that the only likely listeners are people with no other options: no iPhone, no Pandora or Spotify, no choice but to work a loading dock or security booth until dawn, no one to love or sleep next to, in the sad American night.

The cultural attraction of a return to Art Bell's inimitable live radio broadcast is the chance for a revival of the medium itself. Since he vanished from the nightly airwaves, a whole generation has grown up and become pointlessly addicted to Twitter and Snapchat and Vine and whatever approximation of live radio currently occupies people and their iOS devices. If they've come across AM radio at all, they know it as the home of hysterical low-income whites obsessed with a fantasy socialism that might make their lives less of a constant struggle, if it was a little bit more real. Art Bell was the standard-issue late-night soundtrack for young hackers of the 1990s, as this remembrance of Aaron Swartz makes clear. People hungry for "Weird Twitter" could do worse than to sit in their car at 2 a.m. listening to the now-67-year-old Art Bell scare the living crap out of them.

You might also enjoy: A Spooky Monster From Every State (with "Coast To Coast AM" inspiration)

Ken Layne is an occasional host of "Weird Twitter," and also lives in a remote compound in the high elevations of the Mojave Desert.

31 Comments / Post A Comment

venuspie (#12,714)

The quickening!

Coast to Coast turned me on to the nephalim, and damn if i'm not shaking in my boots at the thought of their return.

Do_Go_On@twitter (#241,297)

There's something super creepy about a guy who gets introduced over the internet to a teenage girl when he is over 60 by her mother and then flies over to the philippines, meets her, marries her after a matter of a couple of weeks and then knocks the teenager up.

Sunny (#241,604)

@Do_Go_On@twitter Quite an inappropriate comment!

BadUncle (#153)

Because the one thing we need now, more than ever, is pseudoscience and credulity spread by that most rare of creatures, a libertarian.

Ken Layne (#262)

@BadUncle If you're listening to Coast to Coast AM for science, you might as well watch "Lost" for survival tips.

BadUncle (#153)

@Ken Layne You could make the same comparison with Fox News, Limbaugh, etc. And yet I still feel less entertained when so much of America rejects critical thinking and embraces Magic.

Rick Paulas (#1,565)

I got onto the Coast to Coast train a bit late, back in 2003 or so, so I only got the chance to listen to Bell every now and then while Noory was transitioning over. Has the show really changed all that much under Noory? I'll hang up and listen to the answer.

Bubbles (#5,041)

Loved reading this. It brought back memories of many late-night drives listening to Coast to Coast and wow, little did I think then that someday Art Bell would sound like a veritable voice of reason and moderation. It's still hard for me to believe he's an actual person and not a character.

Lisa Alica@facebook (#241,308)

Learn More !!!

Not Spam, it's Art Bell !!!

Enjoy !!!

Annie K. (#3,563)

I was interviewed once on Coast to Coast by Art Bell about a book that conspiracy theorists loved, and Bell had not only read the book but asked relevant questions about it. I mean, that just doesn't happen. Also, a caller proposed marriage. He sounded like a sweet guy, not joking or presuming, but I was already married.

mizcoyne (#241,315)

I actually shrieked when I saw the headline of your post. Thank you for the notice, and for an excellent overview for the kids who missed it all. I am so excited.

Bells's Coast to Coast was a marvel that I feel privileged to have experienced. Those stories–those unforgettable images and breathtaking moments–are part and parcel of my subconscious.

One of the most remarkable things about Bell's show was that he didn't screen calls. He was expert at separating the sheep from the goats. Some callers got cut off for after a few words, but if he sensed that the caller had something interesting to say, he'd keep them on the line as long as necessary and gently draw out the story. He mined a lot of gold that way. (Remember the guy that had trapped a demonic entity in his hall and didn't know what to do with it?)

Noory screens his calls, and doesn't listen to the callers, so if they might happen to say something interesting, he misses it, or derails the conversation entirely with a non sequitur. @Rick Paulas: It is very different under Noory, a pale shadow.

It would be interesting to get a bunch of old Art Bell listeners together and recount our memories of the show. I wonder what we'd remember together. Sometimes I think some of my memories of his show are actually dreams, sometimes I remember a vivid image, but can't remember the context. It would be great to write down the stories we remember, as we remember them, all morphed by dreams, imagination, and time.

NancyW (#242,867)

@mizcoyne I have some GREAT memories! I listened to Art (for around 8 years)while working at the postal service on the night shift. Does anyone remember the time Art lost his watch and asked listeners to call in to help find it, and this regular caller (can't remember her name) told Art to look in his toolbox because he had left it there when he had climbed his radio tower to work on something. IT WAS THERE. I also remember the time his shelf above his desk fell, during an especially spooky show. What memories. It would be nice to have him back. Wish he had been on the air when the Japan tsunami happened. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to enjoy a few more years of Art, and a lot less sleep.

NancyW (#242,867)

@mizcoyne OH! And remember how the rabbits from hell kept eating through all of his sprinkler hoses in his yard? On any given night at work, there were at least 50 of us listening to Art, and even though we were spread throughout the building, we would all laugh at the same time or get that creeped out look on our faces during the EVP ghost voices, and I don't even want to think about that Bigfoot scream or the tormented voices coming from that borehole in Siberia. Later we would all talk about the nights subject matter in the break room. Good times. What an icon this man was. Come baaaaaack Art!

Fladster (#241,325)

I stopped listening to George Snoory years ago. THe man is a talentless imbicile and anyone who buys his MR Nice Guy hasn't listened closely enough. The fact the people actually listen to him on a nightly basis is truly a sign of societies decline.
It will be a pleasure to hear the talented and skilled Art Bell on the air again.

Please come back Art!!! George could give a crap about the subject matter… we need your rich, deep, intense voice back on the air… come on brother!!

Calliopek (#241,332)

Delightful news, if true! Your article is spot-on. Of particular familiarity: "The show was about suspense, about that one unexpected-yet-expected moment that would scare the listener into another two hours of insomnia, hearing every sound of the house settling as an invasion of sinister entities." Yep, many, many nights awakened by that 2a.m. crescendo of terrifying madness: the voices from hell (supposed screams from the depths of the earth)…Tales of the black-eyed children, etc. Turning off the radio on my husband's side of the bed was pointless…I was snared. The dull tenor of Noory does nothing but encourage sleep!

Tony Prost@facebook (#241,355)

Half the time George Noory has stupid political crap on. I get tired hearing people hate on the PResident. I miss chupacabra! When was the last time George Noory had a chupacabra show?>

flapadactyl (#12,522)

I thought I was dialed into the internet and its exposing of the weird in 1997, how could I have missed out on this?? Was it more of a midwest/west coast thing to know about? Am I asking the obvious by wondering if Art is an heir in the tradition of Dr John R Brinkley's border Radio del Rio and Rose Dawn? Is Ken Layne the Deuce of Clubs? I feel cheated of a rightful part of my weirdo teenagehood, I have so many questions! Is there a beginner's guide that can give me a good introduction to the choicest broadcasts?

Do_Go_On@twitter (#241,297)

There are now a lot of podcasts available over the internet or through the iStore on any topic. Art needs money to support his teenage internet bride and her family overseas who pimped her out to Art (well over 60 when selecting a teenager as a bride). He left his so-called precious son to fend for himself in the states after the very weird sudden death of his wife, while he went overseas to meet his teenage bride he was hooked up with on the internet and to play out a fantasy, knocking her up and starting a second family.

It's all very creepy and no one needs to support such a narcissistic loser who creates infantile drama for every network he's been associated with, then leaves them holding the bag. He's worse than Jay Leno giving up his show in a dramatic fashion and then wanting to have it back.

Check out and search for great new talent on podcasts instead.

Sunny (#241,604)

@Do_Go_On@twitter One wonders how you are privy to all this information. Sounds like a smear campaign to me. Is this you George Boory? Sour grapes! Can't wait till Art comes back. As for your 'it's all very creepy' comment….yes, your comments ARE all very creepy. There's no talent like old talent….newbies lack the fountain of knowledge that the real broadcasters do.

Pat Cose@facebook (#241,699)

…….. Read this 4-page article about Art's son and daughter from his first wife. Also read the comments. I've been a big Art Bell fan since the early 90's but this article has disturbed me.

Also from wiki: Art's Marriages (I knew he didn't waste any time after Ramona passed away but didn't know he only waited one month after divorcing his second wife to remarry)

Wife #1 – Sachiko Toguchi Bell Pontius, married 1965, divorced 1968. Children: Vincent Pontius, and Lisa Pontius Minei.

Wife #2 – Vickie L. Baker, married March 1, 1981, divorced, July 3, 1991. Children: Arthur William Bell

Wife#3- Ramona Lee Hayes, August 4,1991 – January 5,2006 deceased

Wife #4 – Airyn Ruiz, April 11, 2006 – present.
Children: Asia Rayne Bell

And if you read the comments from the above article, there is another person claiming to be Art's child.

Democritus NOW! (#238,594)

A lot of people thought they heard Art Bell on the radio, but it was really just the planet Venus.

Robbespierre (#242,579)

My cousin Oscar turned me on to Art Bell around 1998. I had the fortune of listening to Art Bell during the final few years. Art was a smart interviewer. The show was always interesting. When George Noory began as host I couldn't believe it. Noory doesn't ask questions which drive conversations. He doesn't seem very bright. How he became host with many other suitable candidates in the running is a mystery for the ages.

Johnny144 (#242,608)

You can still hear Art Bell's old shows streaming 24/7 on the internet. Hear "The Very Best of Art Bell" on this website:

Johnny144 (#242,608)

Does anybody know where Art Bell lives now (2013)?
Back in Pahrump, NV or in Indonesia?

bill not bill (#243,590)

Art Bell was/is a unique show. I listened on and off since the beginning. Yes some of his shows were "out there" but then so was the theory that the earth revolved around the sun at one time. Information is just that -info- research, research, research for ones self, by the way, the theory that the earth is round actually turned out to be true…IMAGINE THAT!

BiteMe (#243,638)

What the FUCK is your problem? Especially with the overuse of "white people". Who's the fuckin racist now, asshole? The reason Art retired is that cultural "clowns" and commentators like you have never had an original thought in their life. What a stupid fucking waste of humanity you are, dickhead.

LGB56 (#247,248)

I like George sorta. But let's face, Art is the BEST! When others can't provoke thought or controversy, Art can and will!! I sure hope he will see fit to grace the airways once again and reintroduce a new audience to UFO's, the Nephilim and all the other good stuff he introduced us to!

Jaime Muir@facebook (#262,594)

Adios, Senior (Senor) Bell! "Georgie" acts like just another A-hole
on the radio…too bad.

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