I can’t remember when I first started listening to Art Bell—but I know that it was in the ‘90s, along with everyone else who is a fan. I followed him through his various retirements and returns and always tried to catch his shows. Recently, I realized that Art was never going to return to radio, so I started re-listening to his classic shows. I’m able to hear them now from a different perspective. His paranormal-themed shows hold up surprisingly well, but he was able to tease substance from guests on a wide gamut of topics. For example.... this week I’m listening to his 1995 show discussing the upcoming release of Windows 95. He held his own against his guest, a Microsoft software engineer, proving himself to be quite tech-savvy. I can’t think of a single interview where he failed to be engaged and knowledgeable of the topic at hand—and I can bet that he didn’t have a small army of researchers feeding him bullet points and background papers. He was a maestro, skillfully conducting his guests and his callers, gracefully dispatching malcontents, building suspense with carefully timed commercial breaks, succinctly wrapping up the interview. He seemed always to be in control. I realized that those who have followed in his wake suffer greatly by comparison. No matter how informed they seem to be—or not be—they have never been able to cause me forget that I’m listening to some guy (and it’s usually a guy) with a philosophical axe to grind, reading from a list of questions cobbled together a half hour before airtime.
Of course, this raises the question—is the paranormal topic benefitted by being treated as “just” entertainment? If you’re talking about the YouTube UFO, aliens, and conspiracy channels, the endless ghost sighting series, the Hitler-is-living-in-South-America crap—no. Because not only is that crap, it’s not entertaining. Not only was Art Bell entertaining, his audience was, to an extent, in on the shtick—and because of this, he served as a gateway to others to pursue more “serious” research later. For that, as a marginal dabbler in peripheral topics that will always haunt me, I salute Art Bell. May you go in peace, and continue your quest beyond this plane.