LAS VEGAS — An ubiquitous and otherworldly voice of late-night talk radio for a generation of radio listeners has been silenced.
Art Bell, who rose to fame with the paranormal-themed overnight program Coast to Coast AM in the 1990s, died Friday (4/13) in nearby Pahrump, Nev., where his program was based. He was 72.
The cause of death has not yet been determined. Bell’s autopsy is scheduled for later this week, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office announced. The office made the announcement via Twitter and Facebook in the early hours of Saturday.
Coast To Coast AM was a late-night staple on AM radio, and was distributed by Premiere Networks.
Kraig Kitchin, President/CEO of Premiere until June 2007, was highly involved in launching Bell’s syndicated radio program, which Bell “retired” amid much media speculation in 2003. The reasons given were personal matters and health issues.
He later returns, albeit for weekends, only to step down for good in July 2007, one month after Kitchin’s exit. “I really want to spend my time with my wife and newborn daughter,” he explained, adding that his association with Premiere Radio will continue and he’ll be back to occasionally fill in or host special shows.
Kitchin said, “Art Bell’s late night conversations made you interested in what he found interested him. He defined the word, compelling. You respected what he inspected. You listened much longer into the night than you told yourself you would. He caused lots of sleep deprivation by his craft, but opened the eyes and minds of so many to the “what if…” of our world. He will be missed.”
Bell was also a radio station owner, of KNYE-FM 95.1, a 6kw Class A in Pahrump serving an area west of Mt. Charleston and Las Vegas. Bell sold the facility a decade ago to Karen T. Jackson for $600,000 and came with the station’s associated “manufactured home and garage.”
More recently, Bell had a show on SiriusXM in 2013. Classic programs were offered by Premiere from 6-10pm Saturdays under the name Somewhere in Time.
Bell was less than pleased with that rollout. In a September 2013 Facebook post, he wrote:
“Some months ago I asked Premiere to stop my Saturday replay. I thought they had run their course and I wanted them gone for reasons I will not state here. They refused and continue to this day for reasons I still don’t understand, so thank Premiere for my new show … I would only add that if Premiere is going to continue my Saturday show, please tag it at the end with, ‘For new shows, please tune to SiriusXM 104.’ I wanted my name dropped from the show as well as my Saturday shows stopped, to be blunt, because I hated the direction the show had taken and no longer wanted to be associated with it.”
Premiere responded to RBR+TVBR‘s request for comment at the time by noting, “To remove the show from our weekend lineup would be a disservice to those affiliates and their listeners, many of whom have already expressed their desire to keep the show on the air.”
Coast to Coast AM is the result of a successful locally based overnight program Bell hosted on KDWN-AM 720 in Las Vegas, presently owned by Beasley Media Group, from 1986. Syndication started in 1993, and quickly gained affiliates. By 1994, Bell’s voice was literally coast to coast, with nearly 500 affiliates across the U.S. and Canada.
With some 10 million listeners at the show’s peak, Coast to Coast AM made itself unique from political and “hot talk” programs by focusing on UFOs, conspiracies and government cover-ups.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, his pre-1986 on-air antics landed him the Guinness world record for a solo broadcast marathon, logging more than 115 hours of airtime while working as an air personality in Okinawa, Japan. The stunt raised funds to rescue over 100 Vietnamese orphans left stranded by the conflict in their country, according to Coast to Coast.
FROM THE RADIO & RECORDS ARCHIVES (Courtesy of American Radio History)