Radio Favorites – Art Bell and his Many Shows
Often when I draw, I’m also talking with the family, listening to my oldest make up stories, or absorbing the kids’ show-of-the-moment in the background. When those things aren’t happening, especially weekends after everyone has gone to bed, I find one of my favorite “old” radio shows to listen to as I sketch. I’ve got two in the rotation, both of which unfortunately no longer broadcast new shows. I decided to dedicate a post to each show, along with a drawing of the host(s).
“From the high desert in the great American Southwest, I bid you all good evening or good morning, wherever you may be across this great land of ours and beyond...”
My first radio favorite, and subject of this post, is Art Bell. Art has had several shows over the course of a couple decades, including Coast to Coast AM, Dreamland, Dark Matter, and Midnight in the Desert. All of the shows from the mid-90s until his retirement in 2016 had a common theme; discussion of the paranormal, UFOs, and other off-beat or bizarre topics. Art wasn’t afraid to have some of the most off-the-wall theories, guests, and callers on the air, which made for some incredibly entertaining radio. Some of my personal favorites were shows about “shadow people”, lizard men, and time travelers.
I first listened to Art Bell when I was in high school; I tuned in occasionally when I was playing video games or drawing. I have fond memories of listening, even though a few of the shows freaked me out a bit when my young imagination got carried away. Fast forward to the present, and I still get a kick out of sitting back and sketching away while listening to Art field calls or interview someone. For the record, I am a skeptic regarding pretty much everything on the show…but it’s fun to imagine if these things were true. Also, I didn’t really like when guests were too obvious, and clearly there to sell something (hint: it’s okay to say “I’m not sure” sometimes…you shouldn’t have 100% certainty no matter the question).
I’ve included a couple samples below. One was from a show about shadow people, which was among the creepiest I ever heard, and another is an example of his interview style.
Art’s shows became very popular in large part (in my opinion) because of his demeanor and approach. He’s said that he didn’t always necessarily accept every guest’s claim, but that he wanted to offer a forum where they weren’t automatically ridiculed. He had a very calm and patient approach to hosting, and combined with his recognizable voice, gave the show a grounded feeling, despite the often wild topics. From my perspective, another important aspect was that Art didn’t make his show about politics; talk radio has long been over-saturated with political talk, but his shows kept that to a minimum.
So, on to the sketch. Here’s my portrait of Art Bell:
This is based on one of the covers of his autobiography called The Art of Talk (1996). I think it turned out pretty well overall; this definitely looks like Art from those earlier Coast to Coast days. I really like how the face, arms, and hands turned out. The shirt is another story though. I almost feel like I should have left it white, even though Art was often wearing black in photos I’ve seen. The dark shirt may be a little distracting from the main focus of the face. Unfortunately, I didn’t take enough photos to do a progression .gif this time.
Well, that’s all for my little tribute to Art Bell and his paranormal, supernatural shows. I wish he was still on the air, but I’m glad I was able to enjoy it while he was in his radio prime. If you want to know more about Art, you can check out his most recent show’s website http://midnightinthedesert.com or http://artbell.com. His original show, Coast to Coast AM, is still on…but it’s hosted by the incredibly boring and highly political George Noory. I think they do, however, sometimes play old Art Bell shows on the weekends (I think they call it Somewhere in Time with Art Bell).
13 days after I posted this tribute to Art Bell, the legendary broadcaster passed away at his home in Nevada. Although he wasn’t doing new shows anymore, a part of me always hoped for another return to radio, even if it only lasted briefly. Sadly, Friday the 13th marked the end of his journey. Condolences to Art’s family, and a final posthumous thank you to him for all the great entertainment he provided over the years.
To the high desert and the great American Southwest, good night to you Art Bell.
Three years after Art Bell’s passing, I’ve been thinking a lot about his legacy and the state of the topics he popularized, particularly when it comes to the conspiracy theory type content in light of everything that’s going on the U.S. lately. It seems the fringe topics Art used to cover have morphed into something heavily integrated with politics, which is exactly what I didn’t want to see. The partisan issues and guests were by far my least favorite when Art Bell was broadcasting; I preferred the shows that covered things in the paranormal and sci-fi realms. These fantastical, imagination-driven topics were great in isolation, but now it’s almost impossible to separate them from politics…which is incredibly sad to me. The next evolution from Coast to Coast AM apparently became groups and people more than happy to take you partisan political roads with dangerous, inflammatory rhetoric. At least, if you want to hear wild stories that Art used to cover, those are the paths you have to take.
Unfortunately, the current state of things has made it hard to listen to old Art Bell shows for entertainment anymore. It just makes me think about how dangerous conspiracy theories can become. In my off time, I want escapism. I don’t want to listen or watch things designed to agitate me. I hope someday, this changes and becomes something silly and entertaining again. More X-Files and Stargate, rather than whatever this current situation is. Obviously, I didn’t know Art Bell and only listened to his shows, but he was always a critical thinker and willing to call anything into question. I’m not sure he would have been comfortable with the way this has all evolved.