“From the high desert and the great American southwest, I bid you all good evening, and/or good morning,” Bell’s voice would often be heard as he began the show every night, broadcasting from his home in Nye County, Nevada. During the height of Bell’s tenure as host of Coast to Coast AM, the program was carried by more than 500 stations nationwide.
“It’s my life, and that’s all I have ever done.” Bell said of his profession in August 2013, coinciding with a brief return to broadcast after a hiatus of several years. “I went through a lot of family problems,” Bell told the Pahrump Valley Times, “so that interrupted things, and I was overseas for four years, and that certainly interrupted things. I went back into radio because I love it.”
Bell was a recipient of the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame award in 2006, and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2008. However, famous for his reclusive behavior, the radio legend made it standard practice not to appear in person to accept such accolades. Bell also reportedly held a Guinness World Record for the longest solo broadcast, a feat he achieved in Okinawa, Japan, Las Vegas Review Journal reports.
Bell began his format while still based out of Las Vegas, initially presenting a more traditional politics-based program format. With time, the popular inclusion of guests like Linda Moulton Howe and Whitley Strieber lead to a shift toward the unexplained, which became the hallmark of the Coast to Coast AM format.
Among Bell’s frequent subjects were popular conspiracy theories that included time travel allegations–urban legends about John Titor were a favorite among these in the 1990s heyday–to reports of nighttime encounters with “shadow people.” Bell would also feature wild yarns that came completely out of left field on occasion. One popular series of shows featured a man called Mel Waters, who claimed to have found a hole on his property which had no discernible bottom. Throughout frequent return visits on Bell’s program, Waters expanded the narrative with the inclusion of alleged Native American legends about the spiritual significance of the mysterious pit, and stories about weird creatures from within.
Other famous call-ins included a man who claimed to be flying his private plane over the famous Area 51, giving a report of his escapades in real-time. Area 51 was a common theme on Bell-era Coast to Coast shows in the 1990s; on another occasion, a frantic caller claimed to have been an Area 51 employee who was being “pursued” by authorities from the shadowy desert installation. After some listeners reported being upset by the man’s desperate-sounding call, the “real” Area 51 caller made a second appearance a short time later, where he explained that the appearance was merely a prank, even going so far as to demonstrate the unnerving “panic” in his voice from the previous call. Among those claiming to have orchestrated the call is comic book writer Bryan Glass, who has claimed to have been the caller on both occasions. The claim has been disputed by others, however, citing inconsistencies between the voices during the two separate calls.
It was unclear at times whether Bell was merely taking random callers with incredible stories and “playing along,” or if on occasion he was, in fact, the architect behind such exchanges himself. One thing is certainly clear: for Art Bell, the power of radio and the “theatre of the mind” was far from being a lost art, and his shows managed to capture the wonder, as well as the paranoia and fears, we all keep stashed away in our minds.
On a final, eerie note, Bell’s death occurred on Friday the 13th, a day long-recognized by the superstitious as being associated with bad luck and misfortune. Those who knew and loved his work would probably agree: he couldn’t have planned it any better if he had tried.
Bell is survived by his wife, Airyn Bell, their daughter Asia, and his three children from previous marriages. He was 72 at the time of his passing.