I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to write about the passing of Art Bell, purveyor of strange ideas and the poser of questions concerning all manner of mysteries of the universe. He was for many years the host of Coast to Coast A.M., one of the most successful radio programs of the last half century. Art’s was a fantastic and fascinating format, as he basically just opened the phone lines to anyone who wanted to call about whatever topic he was covering in a given night. Ghost stories? He took `em. UFO sightings? He wanted to hear about `em. Were you a time traveler? Give Art a call if you were in the same year. He might not believe you, but he’d let you tell your story.
I wish I could say I grew up listening to Art Bell, but if a radio station in my area of Mississippi broadcast his show I was unaware of it. I learned of him in the late `90s while working as a radio DJ myself in Tupelo, Mississippi. I can’t recall for sure how I came to know of him, but likely from one of the various conspiracy, UFO, or cryptozooloigic websites I was a fan of in the day. I know for a fact that I had read a creepy story or to featuring his show in an encyclopedia of Fortean topics I owned at the time (but which has mysteriously disappeared from my shelf now). He was a fascinating figure, even if I couldn’t hear him on a regular basis. I was able to download clips of his shows from his website, but streaming was an odd creature in the late 90s. And then, in 1998, just as I was learning of Art to begin with, he retired under mysterious circumstances. It was to be the first of many such retirements, almost all of which didn’t take for very long. Art was soon back on the air.
When I moved to North Carolina in 1999, Coast to Coast was broadcast by one of the sister stations to the one I worked for in Charlotte. And during the two months or so I did an overnight shift there, I often found myself switching over to the AM feed and listening to Art in real time, rather than downloads days later. It was always entertaining. However, my thankful departure from that shift and Art’s various other premature retirements kept me from regularly hearing him much after that.
Bell is, of course, the inspiration for my fictional character of radio host Rik Winston and his UFO All Night program, who is referenced in my short story “…to a Flame.” (You can read more about that story in the Moths & Men blog series elsewhere on this site.) In the story, one of the characters, Virgil–loyal Rik Winston listener–tells the tale about a “doctor guy” who calls in to Rik’s show following an alien encounter. This was inspired by a real series of calls to Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM from the 1990s. The real story turned out to be a complete hoax, of course, which the “doctor” guy eventually admitted on Art’s show. However, this hasn’t stopped that guy from trying to make money off of it to this day. (UFOWatchdog has more about the real story and the “doctor’s” actual identity HERE.)
While Rik is also the “author” of the foreword to A Consternation of Monsters. But he’s only turned up in one short story, so far. However, he’s been referenced and even makes an audio appearance in three of my short plays. I call them the Ellipses Cycle, as they all have titles featuring ellipses and are thematically tied together by their strange and unusual (and often West Virginia-related) subject matter. They also all mention Rik Winston. They include the stage adaptation of “…to a Flame,” the inspired-by-a-true-story African lion adventure “…and Tigers and Bears,” and a third play set in the waiting room of eternity called “A Game of Twenty…” It’s a story about a guy who finally gets to ask for answers to all the questions about strange and unusual things he has wondered about. Naturally, he loves every single answer he gets. That play has been produced for Greenbrier Valley Theatre as well as a staged reading at the 2016 West Virginia Playwright’s Festival. And, in May, it will again be performed as part of the Opera House PlayFest 2018.
I’ll have to dedicate it to Art Bell. Hopefully now, the man has all the answers. But here’s hoping it’s another early retirement.