Born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, on June 17, 1945, Bell’s interest in radio manifested early – by the age of 13 he had become a licensed amateur radio operator, and throughout his life he worked both behind the microphone, as an engineer, and in front of it, as a DJ and show host. He had both the technical skills required for the former job, and the deep baritone and conversational skills that were a perfect fit for the latter.
In 1986 he took on a five-hour time slot in the middle of the night at KDWN in Las Vegas. During the 1990s his show’s popularity grew substantially and became syndicated by hundreds of stations across the country, with up to 15 million listeners tuning in nightly to catch Bell talking about ‘fringe’ topics including the paranormal and conspiracies. The show’s popularity meant he was able to interview guests ranging from little-known paranormal researchers through to stars of music and film.
Additionally, Bell’s Coast to Coast AM took unscreened calls and communication from listeners, resulting in plenty of awkward and unsettling moments. Some of these moments have become part of pop culture, from the introduction of ‘time traveler’ John Titor through to a hysterical alleged Area 51 employee (later used in a track by the band Tool).
Given the weird and controversial topics covered by Coast to Coast AM, the show was not without controversy. Perhaps the most notable criticism of Bell came after the suicide of 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult, who believed that Comet Hale-Bopp was being trailed by a UFO; this had been a topic of discussion on Coast to Coast AM.
Bell ‘retired’ from the show multiple times, for various reasons, from 1998 onwards, and continued hosting paranormal-themed radio shows until his passing. He will be remembered well by a generation of people who loved listening in to his late-night discussions of the weird and uncanny.
And while his passing is tragic, wherever Art is out there now in the great beyond, he’s probably smiling at the fact he passed over on Friday the 13th…