If you are part of Generation X you no doubt remember Art Bell. Throughout the 1990's, Bell dominated late-night talk radio. He started as a West Coast phenomenon broadcasting from Midnight to 5 A.M. from Las Vegas. The program was then called After Dark. Later, he syndicated nationwide from his studio at his home in Pahrump, Nevada. The show was renamed Coast to Coast AM and rescheduled to 10 P.M. to 3 A.M. to accommodate Eastern listeners. Since 2003, the show has been under new management and is a pale imitation of what it once was.
Art Bell was the last of a sadly departed breed of radio hosts who made the medium both entertaining and fun. He never screened calls and never let guests hijack the program into an infomercial. Younger people don't remember radio when it was like that. Today, talk radio is mostly boring and/or offensive. But Bell knew how to handle repulsive callers.
To put it in context for younger readers, Art Bell's show was something like an audio version of an Internet forum.
Bell loved radio and broadcast six days a week. Until 1996, his daily show was news-talk oriented. On Sunday, he had a program called Dreamland which explored paranormal topics. Bell was a political conservative and, out of disgust with the Dole Campaign, switched to paranormal subjects full-time. The move was so popular that it insured Bell's fame. He authored three books, The Art of Talk about his life in the radio world; The Quickening, which touched on some of his social theories; and The Coming Global Super Storm. The latter became a Hollywood movie, The Day After Tomorrow.
I always liked Art Bell because he was a man after my own heart. He always said what he thought; did what he liked; and didn't give two hoots for 'political correctness'. He read Science Fiction, was a ham-radio operator, and was married three times to younger women. He insisted on leaving his studio in his home because "there wasn't a no-smoking policy there.' During the 1990's when Conservative talk radio was all on the same script, Bell would host Third-Party candidates because he felt that they were being discriminated against by the MSM. He used to talk fondly of his service in the Air Force and mention that he some of his comrades set up a pirate-radio station on a remote island. "I can talk about that now that the Statutes of Limitation has run out." he used to say.
What's not to like about a guy like that? Well, as all independent and successful men do; Bell incited the envy of competitors and the hatred of social activists. He had to retire in the early 21st Century after his son was sexually assaulted by a homosexual and his enemies dragged him and his family through the dirt. Later, the new management of Coast to Coast AM wouldn't let him return. Bell was often critical of the direction that the show was going. Thus, he launched a new venture on Sirius FM.
To crown all their crimes and display their utter crassness, the new producers of Coast to Coast AM scheduled one of Bell's false accusers as a guest the same night that Bell's new program began. The Trash Culture of modern talk radio reached its nadir at that moment.
Bell often said that he hoped to inspire a new generation of young men with a love of radio and a respect for free speech. Radio is pretty much a closed system these days, but who knows how many on the Internet are carrying on Art Bell's legacy? Bell is a man who served as a man we can all admire; and he left this world with nothing to be ashamed of.