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Remembering Art Bell's Short-Wave Radio Conversations


Many readers of this article probably don't know who Art Bell was. Art was the founder of "Coast to Coast AM", a radio talk show out of Pahrump, Nevada about all things strange: UFO's, ghosts, alien abductions, rumored beasts, "shadow people", all sorts of conspiracy theories, and generally anything far removed from ordinary life. Although Art finally retired for good a few years ago, Coast to Coast and its new host can be heard from most places in the United States, nearly every night from around 10 PM to around 5 AM, depending on the radio station rebroadcasting it. Most affiliated stations rebroadcast the nightly show two or three times during the night and early morning.

I'm not exactly sure when I began listening to Coast to Coast. After moving to Los Angeles in the late 1980's, I was laid off and began working as a contract engineer in various cities from Arizona to Florida. I stayed with contract engineering for nearly the whole of the 1990's. This ended when I moved to Tucson just before the beginning of the new millennium. I remained in the general area of Tucson and Phoenix for the next six or seven years until I left Arizona in the mid 2000's. I think I may have first tuned in to Coast to Coast some time in the 1990's before I moved to Tucson, but I'm not sure. I am sure that during much of my time in Arizona, I listened to Coast to Coast late at night when I had insomnia, which was often, partly because my jobs were often frustrating.

I doubt that many readers are aware that after Art signed off the air every night and switched off his Coast-to-Coast microphone, he usually switched on his ham radio microphone and began long conversations with his ham radio friends around the country. These conversations frequently lasted until nearly dawn when the listening conditions on the 80-meter band deteriorated.

In the early 2000's, while living in the Phoenix area, I happened to find a Realistic DX-390 AM/FM/short-wave radio at a thrift store for $9. It looked like it might have been owned by a painter, because it had tiny dots of white paint all over it's black plastic surface. One night, while perusing the short-wave frequencies between the 20 and 160-meter bands, I happened to tune into a conversation in which one of the participants sounded very much like Art Bell. Art had a very distinctive voice.

A similar thing had occurred while I was living in Tucson, when I heard someone on a local radio station that I knew personally, someone who had a very distinctive, deep, gravely voice. When I mentioned to my Tucson acquaintance that I had heard him on the radio, he seemed very surprised that I had correctly identified him just by hearing his voice. He then admitted that he actually ran a local radio station, instead of the port-o-potty business he claimed to be running to dissuade people from pestering him for jobs.

Anyway, back to the guy who sounded like Art. I was intrigued to hear that his name actually was Art. Soon, enough clues had accumulated that I was 99% sure that this was indeed Art Bell. That's how I became a semi-regular listener to Art's late-night/early-morning short-wave conversations. This continued until I moved away from Phoenix. I never talked to Art or his friends, because I didn't have a long-range amateur license. I did get my ham Technician's license in about 2004, but because of its limited range, I only used it a few times.

Although my DX-390's ability to pick up the participants of Art's nightly conversations was not as good as that of his equipment, I could hear most of what was being said. From Arizona I could hear everyone in California and Nevada clearly. With difficulty I could sometimes hear a farmer in Ohio and others at similar distances. I was also aware of a handful of others farther away that I could not hear at all. Art's short-wave conversations were fairly similar to those that you would expect to hear while sitting in a friend's living room. So, in a way, I spent many nights in Art's radio living room listening to him and his friends.

I remember Art was very, very interested in weather, and particularly in hurricanes. As one particularly strong hurricane approached the US, he talked about his earlier invitation to his Coast to Coast listeners to focus their thoughts on a hurricane and then think about it changing coarse toward a new heading. Art was convinced that the result of this experiment was strong evidence that millions of minds all focused on the same thing could change natural events in the physical world. He talked about this in tones of awe mingled with trepidation at the prospect of anyone unwisely harnessing this kind of power.

Art often complained about the newly-emerging technology of the transmission of the Internet over power lines. He said this technology caused power lines to leak so much radio-frequency energy that it was causing significant short-wave interference. He often talked sadly about how this would shortly mean the end of long-distance ham radio communication.

One of Art's ham friends, a professor at one of the California universities, was often unkind to the occasional uninvited guest to their conversations. I remember Art mostly being uncritical of him, except for once. Art told him that adults don't treat people that way. I could tell by the professor's response that he felt suitably put in his place. I wondered what it must feel like to be dressed down in front of possibly thousands of silent listeners around the country, especially when the realization hits you that the criticism is well-deserved.

My unseen, nightly visits to Art's radio living room ended abruptly in the mid 2000's when I moved East for a job. Not being able to hear Art and his friends on my DX-390 any more made me sad at first. Then, a short time later, as I recall, Art mostly dropped out of my insomniac nights all together, when he retired, except for the occasional appearance on Coast to Coast. He retired, moved to the Philippines, and married a woman in her twenties. Not many years later, Art came out of retirement for a time, and I was pleased to be updated about some of the events in his life I had missed while he was away. For years, whenever I moved for a new job, one of the first things I did was search for Coast to Coast on my radio. I nearly always found it.

Art's death last year saddened me, but I still listen to Coast to Coast when the mood and the insomnia strike. And, I still have my DX-390. It's having problems now, often turning itself off randomly for no apparent reason. After a while, I get frustrated and once again consider finally throwing it away. Then, I remember Art and his friends, and I put it back on a shelf out of sight for another year, unable to part with it quite yet.



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