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November 2009     Web Edition     Issue #3

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Art Bell 1945-2018

For Whom The Bell Told

by J. Kent Hastings

Art Bell died on April 13, 2018 at the age of 72. Art was most famous as the talk show host of Coast to Coast AM, with the largest live nighttime audience in the world. He produced the show from his home studio in “the Kingdom of Nye” (Nye County, Nevada).

Coast to Coast AM covered many topics--mostly UFOs, ghosts, and the paranormal, as well as doomsday, economic collapse, cutting-edge or fringe science subjects, and often pop culture. Hopefully I’ll be forgiven for thinking that Art’s departure from this world on Friday the 13th seems appropriate.

I occasionally called the show on the “west of the Rockies” line starting in 1995, although I never met Art Bell in person. But I do credit him with getting me a job when I lived near him later in the small town of Pahrump, Nevada.

We talked frequently on his ham radio link system, which connected his friends in the Pahrump Valley on VHF to those in Las Vegas on UHF and throughout the world via Echolink on the Internet. My discussions with Art were about science fiction books and movies, the broadcasting business from the local KNYE FM station to network problems, political topics, the weather in great detail, and at one point, an interruption in my checkered career. (We were both active working the world directly on shortwave as well, but I never spoke to him there. I used low-powered QRP digital modes mostly on 20 meters, while he used maximum power voice sideband on several bands with his extensive antenna farm and audio processor.)

Around 2012, due to my lack of income, I said I might follow a friend to the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota and join the transportation business (a.k.a. “driving the Patch”) around the boomtown of Williston. Art Bell joined the chorus of friends who suggested that I might find the winters there extremely cold compared to those in “the high desert of the great American southwest.” I also found out there was no cheap housing there.

When I mentioned some indie feature films I edited, namely Lady Magdalene’s and Alongside Night for J. Neil Schulman and Crustacean for L.J. Dopp, Art told me that a gun training school, Front Sight, was looking for a video editor. Front Sight’s 550-acre complex was widely known throughout the world, and just a 30-minute drive compared to more than an hour to jobs in Las Vegas. Two of Front Sight’s managers were also ham operators who talked to Art on their morning commutes, which is how he knew to tell me about the position. I worked there for about 4 years before I sold my house and left the area.

Coast to Coast AM’s theme music was “The Chase” from the movie soundtrack of Midnight Express. It was as important to Art’s show as the theme music for The Prisoner was for that series.

In 2013, Art Bell followed Howard Stern’s exodus from the FCC regulated broadcast bands to his own Sirius XM satellite channel, but it was a brief honeymoon as a dispute over control of the Dark Matter show’s archives drove Art to quit the channel later that year.

Art started a new show on the Internet using the title of his Coast to Coast AM closing music, composed for him as a free tribute by a celebrity fan, Crystal Gayle. The song and new show title was Midnight In The Desert.

Gayle was interviewed as the first guest while Art Bell told the story.

Coast to Coast AM successor host George Noory announced Art’s death after confirming the online reports coming in were authentic. Noory was clearly upset over it, even as he admitted his differences with Art. Art’s wife had just given birth to a new baby. I used to hear about Art’s family, their travels and travails on ham radio.

Art Bell will be missed.