Paying tribute to late-night radio titan Art Bell
I was saddened to learn of the death two weeks ago today of the celebrated late-night Nevada radio host Art Bell, who died at his home in Pahrump at the age of 72 following a long illness.
Perhaps it was fitting that Bell, whose programs featured guests who disseminated reports of dark conspiracies and the paranormal, died on Friday, the 13th. An autopsy revealed his death was caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
While attempting to fall asleep, I often listened to Bell on his nationally-syndicated “Coast to Coast” show. Although his callers told of dark plots and conspiracies facing the world and described their past lives, time travel and flights aboard UFOs, Bell once admitted that his programs were “absolute, pure entertainment.”
But this didn’t stop him from letting his followers believe that he, too, had one of those extraterrestrial experiences. During one of his radio shows, Bell stated that when he and his wife were driving from Las Vegas to their home in Pahrump at night, they came upon a massive triangular craft hovering over the highway. Each side of the mysterious object, he said, was about 150 feet long and there were two bright lights at each point of the triangles. The craft then passed over the Bells’ car. The spacecraft “was silent, dead silent. It did not appear to have an engine,” he recalled. “It then floated out of sight,” he added.
When chatting with his radio listeners in the dead of night, Bell never mocked, debased or argued with them. He appeared to be a kind, accepting fellow, and in the late 1990s, at the zenith of his popularity, his show was among the top-ranked in the United States. He appeared on nearly 500 radio stations and had more than 10 million listeners.
Born in North Carolina in 1945 to parents who were career U.S. Marines (his father was a captain, his mother a sergeant), Bell began his radio career at the age of 15 when he became a licensed amateur radio operator. He served as an Air Force medic during the Vietnam War, and after his return to the U.S. from Vietnam, he moved to Las Vegas where he took a job as a late-night radio host on KDWN. He later moved to Pahrump in southern Nye County where he founded KNYE radio station and continued his nightly call-in shows.
While in Pahrump many years ago to attend the annual meeting of the Nevada Press Association, I managed to discover the location of Bell’s radio station, adjacent sky-high radio transmitter and home-studio, which occupied the same compound. When I rang the doorbell, a woman, whom I believe was his wife, opened the door and politely told me that Bell was too busy to greet visitors. That’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to Bell. I’ve never seen him in person.
Bell had four wives. One was a Japanese-Filipina and the other a Filipina. Bell divorced his first two wives, the third died and he was married to the fourth at the time of his death. He fathered four children, and the fourth, a boy named Alexander, was born nine months before his death.
Bell, who was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, the National Radio Hall of Fame and won the radio trade magazine “Radio and Records” Lifetime Achievement Award, held political and social beliefs that included positions held by conservatives, liberals and libertarians. For example, at one time he was firmly against same-sex marriage, abortion and gun control. But later in life, he moved somewhat to the left, supporting same-sex marriage, decriminalization of marijuana and the elimination of the death penalty “because too many innocent people are being executed.” He also said on his show that Bill Clinton “was a great president” and that he supported the election of Barack Obama.
In recent years, Bell appeared on his Coast to Coast less frequently, as he had moved to the Philippines to marry and live there with his fourth wife, Airyn, a Filipina. Taking over the show during Bell’s increasing absences while living in Manila was George Noory, who also did a fine job.
On several occasions, Bell returned to Pahrump from the Philippines to resume his radio show full-time, but he always returned to Manila to join his new family, which consisted of his wife and their two children. At one time, Bell started up a new call-in show he named “Midnight in the Desert,” but it didn’t last long. Bell also had been plagued with poor health in recent years. In 2016, he suffered a heart attack and spent nearly a week at a Las Vegas hospital. His website at the time quoted him as saying, “I am not in good shape. I’m so weak that I cannot dress myself.” But he was able to periodically return to the airwaves, dying at home less than two years after being hospitalized.
Arthur William Bell III, who began his Coast to Coast broadcasts with “From the kingdom of Nye …” was given this appropriate epitaph by his family and co-workers following his death:
“Art had a fascination with the afterlife, and it’s heartening to know he peacefully slipped into the next world and now knows the answers he sought for so long.”
I have been unable to learn if Bell had or will have a funeral or celebration of life.