Lost Art

artbell
Art Bell died on Friday the 13th. In a way, fitting.

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.

 

 

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Aircheck: WFLA-AM, 6/6/1991

I’ve had this in my collection for many years, and finally got around to converting it to an mp3 file back in 2013, then turning it into a YouTube video. (Only had the first hour of a three hour show, though. Sorry.)

Back then, WFLA was still locally driven, with talk show hosts on the political left and right. Now, the station is owned by Clear Channel, and syndicated conservative talk is the order of the day.

Personally, I thought this WFLA at its peak. All voices and opinions welcomed. A shame stations aren’t run this way today.

Aircheck: WFLA, 11/5/1992

It’s Jay Marvin’s last show at WFLA on November 5th, 1992. A couple of nights prior, Bill Clinton became president-elect of the United States, defeating incumbent George W. Bush and independent Ross Perot.

This (sort of) marked an end of an era for the biggest talk station in Tampa Bay, as the station went more conservative after Jay’s departure. They would return to former glory for a few years in 1996 when Bob Lassiter returned to 970, but he only lasted a little over three years before the station went all-conservative again.

WFLA went from music to all talk in 1986, and have stayed that way ever since. It’s the current local home for the nationally syndicated shows of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Todd Schnitt among others, plus a plethora of mostly financial call-in shows over the weekend.

 

Aircheck: WSUN and WIOD (Miami), 7/1/1992

I got some positive feedback from a recent aircheck of Neil Rogers, so I thought I’d go to the well again.

It’s July 1, 1992, and Neil Rogers is now simulcasting on WSUN in Tampa. After being on in Tampa Bay for a few months, he reintroduces the area to Bob Lassiter, who left WFLA to go to Chicago and talk radio station WLS. After a disappointing experience there, Bob and his wife had moved to Davenport, Iowa.

In early 1993, it was back to the Tampa Bay area for Lassiter at WSUN, initially doing morning drive before eventually going to a 2-6 pm shift before getting booted from the station when they changed to an all-sports station. Eventually, WSUN would change call letters to WDAE, an ID uprooted from 1250 AM where they had been on the radio dial for several decades.

A few weeks later, Neil appeared live on Bob’s show out of St. Petersburg.

Aircheck: WFLA, 12/21/1988

I thought I’d take another look at “The Mad Dog” Bob Lassiter for today’s aircheck. This one particular episode is special to me, because I used to have this on tape personally, listening to WFLA that day on Christmas vacation as a senior at Largo High School.

Lassiter is talking about an old computer golf game called Mean 18, the evolution (or devolution) of Burger King, Wendy’s and other burger joints, plus some other topics. I don’t think he initiated any hard topics this day, and as the poster on YouTube indicates, he seems in a jovial mood just days before Christmas.

The mood would turn a bit more somber later in the day, as this was the afternoon of the Lockerbie bombing and crash in Scotland. A bomb was detonated on Pan Am Flight 103 placed by Libyan nationals, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew members, and 11 more on the ground.

Within a year, Lassiter left WFLA on his way to Chicago and the powerful WLS, only to return to the market a few years later.

Aircheck: WFLA, 8/27/1999

Today’s aircheck comes from WFLA and the late 1990’s. The host is the controversial Bob Lassiter, who is in open phones as this recording goes, taking calls in rapid style fashion. The language and sarcasm here is a bit raw and biting, as befits Bob’s style.

The big story in the Tampa Bay radio business, as Lassiter is fond of discussing on the air as part of his shtick, is that Mason Dixon got booted from another Clear Channel station, 95.7 FM, which then had the call letters on WMTX. WFLA is (currently) and was at the time also a Clear Channel station, which would put many other talk hosts in an uncomfortable position, but Lassiter seems to excel at talking shop regardless.

His last show on WFLA (or any station as a host) would air on December 1, 1999, passing away nearly seven years later in October of 2006. There hasn’t been anyone like him on the radio in this market since.