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One of the most listened-to people in the U-S is Nevada's Art Bell who retires tomorrow (January 1st). His world wide syndicated talk show broadcast from Nevada's desert claims the largest late night audience. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports on Bell's popularity and what's next for the celebrity.
(Intro of Art Bell and theme music)
Art Bell, got back in radio after he fell of a telephone pole 15 years ago, breaking his back. No longer as physically able, his injuries put him behind the mike.
He lives in Pahrump, 60 miles west of Las Vegas. Residents are proud of their rugged independence. They have a history of tangling with government over land rights and scattered reports of encounters with extraterrestrials. Bell's talk radio show targeted niche markets like Pahrump. A guy who call's himself 'Dusty', describes an art Bell fan . . . his father.
"ahhhhhh . . . he was one of the conspiracy theorists, that ah knows how corrupt our overall government is, not just Nye county and the whole united states but how everything is coming down to one world government. How everybody is being manipulated and I don't know, he was a constitutionalist like myself. I believe in the constitution and freedom of the united states and I'll tell ya what, I am one U-S American male man . . . you know"
Bell catered to this population with an open mind - serious interviews with people anxious to tell their stories of government cover-ups or censorship. They claim time travel, aliens, angels, ghosts . . . just about anything imaginable all exist. Tom Woodgeck is an electrictian in Pahrump. He says people are enamored by the freedom Bell used in broadcasting.
"It's a real topic of conversation a lot of times, the next day everybody's talking about whatever he was talking about especially if he gets into area 51 stuff, being as close as we are, there are quite a lot of people who are really interested in it . . . It's kind of pro and con."
And so . . . over the years the talk in Pahrump became, the talk of the nation - spreading to more than 500 stations world-wide. 18 million people tune in to Bell's late night talk show: Coast-To-Coast AM. By living and broadcasting from Pahrump, he put this town of 30 thousand on the map. Cynthia Guptill works for a convenience store in Pahrump - she sees Bell's popularity first hand.
(sound of store up and under: "See, you come in here and I get a line. (That'll be) Three twenty. Open sound of cash register and closing, is this going to be all for you gentlemen. We have five coffees")
People from Russia, Japan and Europe come to Pahrump just to see Bell. They walk up to Gumptill and they say:
'Where is Art Bell!' they want to know where he his, they want to see him, meet him, talk to him. They think he is wonderful and they won't take no for an answer. I do know where he lives and I am not going to tell anyone, he is a very private person and I tell them that . . . and they say 'no no no, I must talk to him!'
She's not a fan, she's a public radio listener. Nonetheless, she used to be in the thick of Art Bell fever. Her ex husband was a die-hard fan.
Bell commercialized on the fears and curiosity of his listeners on his phenomenally successful show AND web site with health aid commercials software for researching a past lifes, a gift center and prepaid subscription to audio archives. Gumtill saw her husband taken in by the Y2K panic.
"2000 you know everything was going to get . . . computers were going to go down and there would be no electric excetra, excetera. He believed every word. He was out there with spare money trying to . . . what little spare money we had trying to get food items and containers for water . . . and it . . . I got tired of all the scare tactics and to me that's all it is . . . scare tactics.
She says her husbands spending and fear, egged on by Bell's broadcasts contributed to their divorce. But she doesn't hold it against Bell. She calls him intelligent . . . and even protects him from the throngs of fans who try to find out where he lives. She knows them well, she was married to one.
"I mean a lot of wierdos are interested in UFO's and ghosts excetera excetera and I wouldn't advertise where I live either if I was him."
So, while it might be easy to find Art Bell on the air, it's not easy to find him in person. He is often featured in pictures wearing black with lightly-tinted sun glasses, sporting a thick gray mustache. His popularity became obvious when he spontaneously signed off the air in 1998, citing only some "Terrible, Threatening Event" as the reason. Henry Breeen, is the managing editor of the Pahrump Valley Times. He remembers the reaction.
"There were satellite trucks all over the place, hellocopters circling his place down on the south end of the valley. It was kind of ridiculouse the kind of people that were decending on Pahrump to find out why he was quitting his show."
The mystery of Bell's absence fit right in with the themes of his show. There was lots of speculation on why he left . . . but eventually he returned to the airwaves. In October this year he again announced he'll retire tomorrow (New Years 2002). Breeen says it's probably not a hoax. This time there is no mystery and . . . no media frenzy. Bell gave a short description of why he's leaving. The same thing that put him behind the mike is also taking him away from it. . . his back injuries.
(Retirement Announcement :10)
But there is one fact he didn't mention. He and his wife Ramona Bell have bought a radio station in Pahrump. A station fit for retirement.
"You're over the hump in Pahrump with 95-one K-Y-N-E" (song, when I was a little boy)
It's an oldies station, filling another slot in the mix of 14 other stations audible in Pahrump.
(Sound of switching through the stations.)
Over the years Bell coined some catchy terms for Pahrump - like "Where things go Pahrump in the night," and "In the shadow of the valley of death," referring to its proximity to Death Valley and another for Nye county's vast expanse.
(songs in and out). "From the kingdom of Nye, this is 95.1 KYNE Pahrump" (song under)
Art Bell isn't giving any interviews about his retirement. At 57 years old, he's re versioning and just quietly slipping into the mainstream of radio broadcasters. Julie Lawrence works for the economic development corporation for Nye county. She says Bell has run his oldies station commercial free for a year.
"That is his thank you to Pahrump . . . he loves pahrump" "We love our KNYE"
The commercial free days may be numbered. This year Bell joined a fast growing Pahrump chamber of commerce, with its hundreds of potential advertisers. In an interview with the local paper he admits the world isn't coming to an end anytime soon. The former conspiracy theorist and doomsday broadcaster said he is looking forward to hiring an ad-salesman.
Though Bell is retiring his show continues. Another paranormal interviewer is filling his shoes on Coast-To-Coast AM, continuing to cash in with the same arguable content.
(Intro Music, The Chase) And good morning, good evening, wherever you may be, across the nation across the world, I'm George Nori and this is of course coast to coast AM, the worlds most listened to late night talk show. Good to be with you tonight and those of you who are listening to me now in those hidden caves quite a program for you tonight . . . ghosts at the top of the hour
Tonight, as most of the world celebrates the coming year, Art Bell wraps up his final year. His contract says that he will still fill in on Coast-to-Coast AM. And he hopes to return to the national airwaves if his back gets better. But starting tomorrow, his signal, once heard all over the world, will fade to static outside Nevada's Pahrump Valley.
(fading to static) "There is no use in hanging round . . . (static) .
For KNPR, I'm Ky Plaskon
. . the world will be empty without you . . . can't get used to loosing you no mater what I try to do gonna live my whole life through, loving you"
TAG: Art Bell's last show can be heard tonight on 720 K-D-W-N at 10 p.m.