Midnight in the Desert

A completely off topic and off the wall question for Root Simple readers this morning: how many of you spent the 90s drifting off to sleep with Art Bell’s radio show playing in the background? The sad news of Art Bell’s passing back in April escaped my notice until this week and I’ve been reflecting on all those evenings Kelly and I spent listening to tales of inter-dimensional time-traveling Sasquatches, Y2K panic chatter and “shadow people.”

For those of you not familiar with Bell, he hosted the third most popular radio show in the U.S., Coast to Coast, which focused mostly on paranormal topics. Bell’s show resembled 19th century newspapers where “fake news” tales of moon men, lizard people and mysterious airships mixed with the more mundane events of the day. Nineteenth century readers knew that the moon men tales were fake just as Bell would frequently describe his show as “just entertainment.”


Bell was not one to let epistemological correctness get in the way of a good yarn. He was a skilled listener who would patiently, over the course of hours, draw tall tales out of his guests. In an approach reminiscent of William James’ stance on religion, Bell would suspend judgement on his topics knowing that obsessing on the “truth” of a subject would get in the way of excavating its meaning.

If you don’t know Bell’s work I would commend that you listen to what I think might be one of the true masterpieces in the history of radio, his long interviews with a mysterious guest known as Mel Waters. Waters claimed to own property containing a hole, more than 80,000 feet deep, west of Ellensberg, Washington. Among the features of the hole: the power to restore life to deceased animals, birth mysterious seal creatures from within the carcass of lambs and produce impossible objects such as 1943 Roosevelt dimes. During a commercial break on Water’s first appearance on Coast to Coast, listeners started searching the area around Ellensberg on an early internet satellite service called Terraserver. Mysteriously, Water’s property seemed to have been blacked out. Bell later claimed to have heard of military activity around Ellensberg. After his last appearance in December of 2002, claiming to have found another hole in Nevada, Waters disappeared never to be heard from again.

If you haven’t heard the Mel’s Hole story here you go:

And Part II:

Bell’s show had an eeriness to it aided by the fact that he was broadcasting live from a remote compound in the Nevada desert in the middle of the night surrounded by his cats and ham radio gear. Bell’s show was the soundtrack of the American West’s vast deserts and forests, a landscape of secret government programs where the only sound is the mating call of lonely, inter-dimensional Sasquatches.

If you’d like to catch up on your Art Bell listening you can download 1,200 episodes (!) here.

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3 Comments

  1. I’m about half way through Part 1. I’d heard of Coast to Coast, but when I tried to listen online, there was a charge.
    I had a relative (now deceased) who was an avid reader of Fate Magazine. This reminds me of her.

  2. We used to listen to Art Bell from time to time when doing late-night drives— coming home from long distance trips. I’m pretty sure his show pre-dated the 90’s though! Seems like it was the 80’s when we heard it. Maybe that’s just me gettin’ old, though, faulty memory for dates. Anyway, it was a hoot! We did hear of his passing back in April, I think he probably boosted the sales of aluminum foil quite a bit in his time.

  3. Funny thing, while I was in Minneapolis this fall I found a radio station that had a nightly program “Somewhere in Time”. It was past Art Bell programs. One night it would be from 1997 and the next it was from 2001. There is no timeline for absurdities.

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