As one person put it on Twitter, of course, Art Bell would pass away on Friday the 13th. But it did happen, with a mournful George Noory breaking the news on Coast to Coast AM late on Friday evening on the very show Mr. Bell used to host.
I’ve never met or spoken to Art, but his impact on radio in the era I worked in the business was profound. I’m pretty sure that Art was briefly on North America One, a satellite sister entity of the Sun Radio Network, in either the late summer or early fall of 1991 – though my recollection of that is a bit fuzzy here in 2018. When I worked for Valentine Communications producing Radio Free America in 1995 out of WBDN in the Feather Sound area of Clearwater, Art’s show was on the station, airing at 1:00 in the morning through to 6:00. I’d often run errands when my radio shift ended at midnight, and I’d catch the starts of Art’s shows driving around in my car.
WFLA, the big talk station in the Tampa Bay area, eventually picked his shows up locally. I heard him again in 1996 on a Greyhound bus heading out to stay in Las Vegas for a few weeks, then got hooked hearing him out in Sin City listening to his shows on 720 KDWN. I’m living in Florida again in 1998, driving up with my mother to North Carolina one overnight with Mom getting spooked out listening to the “Sounds Of Hell” recording Art frequently played in that era. Memo to future self: don’t scare your mother when you’re driving a car.
In the last two decades or so, he was on and off the air numerous times. He’d sign a new deal with someone, then find the deal wasn’t up to snuff and leave just as quickly as he returned. As many of us in the profession, my guess was he wasn’t too fond of the consolidation the radio business has gone through since the FCC laws changed in 1996, trying satellite radio, then online radio with what became his last sortie in the business.
My sincerest condolences to Art’s family on their loss this past day.