Saturday, April 14, 2018

RIP Art Bell, of the Kingdom of Nye

I am probably among the final generation that will remember firsthand the culture of overnight talk radio on the AM dial. I was an enthusiastic radio listener during the 1980s. After Phillies night games (with Kalas, Ashburn, Musser and Wheeler), I would often fall asleep listening to Larry King or Jim Bohannon through my earbuds. When we moved to the Philadelphia suburbs in 1986, I discovered Steve "Mr. Movie" Friedman's amazing all-night Saturday shows on 1210 AM. The show would start sometime between 10 a.m. and midnight and run until 6 a.m., which I never made it to.

In the 1990s, after I graduated from college, I found myself doing a lot of late-night driving. I might be commuting home from a newspaper shift after midnight. Or heading to Mom's house or another far-off destination overnight, a driving time I found very preferable to daytime hauls.

And — like so many others — I discovered Art Bell, "Coast to Coast AM," and "Dreamland" during those long, dark drives. Who could resist listening to guests and callers discussing UFOs, time travel, cryptozoology, conspiracies (before that become a dirty word), hauntings and more during the wee hours of the morning, as the highway mile markers flitted by? At its height, the show was syndicated on about 500 radio stations, making it easy to find on the dial, wherever your location.

Bell died on Friday the 13th at age 72, at his home in Pahrump, Nye County, Nevada. But he leaves quite the legacy.

Memorable aspects of "Coast to Coast AM" included:

  • its opening theme, the 1978 instrumental "The Chase" by Giorgio Moroder
  • Bell's show-opening line "From the high desert and the great American Southwest..."
  • Referring to his location as "the Kingdom of Nye"
  • And those oft-, oft-, oft-repeated call-in lines: East of the Rockies, West of the Rockies, First-Time Callers, International Callers and the Wild-Card Line.

Bell's influence indeed cut across numerous generations. I love the juxtaposition of these two pop-culture figures being among the many noting Bell's passing on Twitter. It just seems kind of oddly appropriate, here in 2018.

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