Art Bell has been (mostly) off the air for over a decade but, in honor of his return to radio, here’s a quick look at his bizarre career.
Bell began his radio career while stationed as a medic at Amarillo Air Force Base during the Vietnam War. There he started a pirate radio station where he played anti-war songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” After leaving the military, he set a world record while working as a disc jockey in Japan—he stayed on air 116 hours and 15 minutes. It was a charity effort to earn money to rescue 130 orphans out of Vietnam.
Years later, Bell accepted a job as a late night host at KDWN, a radio station broadcast out of the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas. Instead of sticking with a conventional format, the host focused instead on conspiracy theories and other offbeat topics. Slowly, more and more people began tuning in. By the late ‘80s, many radio stations all across America were broadcasting the show. Bell redubbed it Coast to Coast AM and, in 1988, he moved it to a studio in his home in Pahrump, Nevada.
At the peak of its popularity, the show was broadcast on over 460 stations to an audience of 15 million listeners—in the middle of the night. Favorite topics: paranormal activity, Area 51, ghosts, time travel, and mysterious figures called “shadow people.”
Bell announced his retirement in 1998 due to undisclosed problems involving his family (prompting many conspiracy theories about his forced exit). He returned to host the show a few times before calling it quits for good in 2007 following the death of his wife.
Despite his “retirement,” Bell has returned to radio several times since. He briefly hosted a Sirius XM show in 2013 and had a falling out with management that kept him off the air for the following two years. Bell is set to return to terrestrial radio with a new show called Midnight in the Desert that’s slated to air on over 20 stations across the US. The first episode will debut on July 20th, three days after his 70th birthday.