Weird Radio Host Art Bell Returns

ByABC News

Feb. 6, 2001 -- The truth, apparently, is still out there.

Late-night radio’s king of the weird, Art Bell, took to the airwaves early Tuesday after he spent nearly a year in self-imposed exile to deal with personal and legal troubles.

Bell, who broadcasts from his home in the Nevada desert, tackled UFOs, conspiracies, cover-ups, chupacabras and more for some 15 years before his sudden retirement last year. Now, he’s promising to stick around for “years.”

“The negotiation was brutal and bloody!” Bell said in a press release. “The result... fewer commercials and back to five hours.”

The commercials may be fewer, but they are still significant — while no official number or comparison was immediately available, tuning in Monday night found between 20 and 25 minutes of ads in a single hour of the five-hour broadcast.

King of the Weird, King of the Airwaves

With an estimated 10 million listeners, Bell’s show was at the time of his retirement the most listened-to late-night radio program, and fourth overall behind Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and Dr. Laura. But many stations, including those in key markets such as New York and Los Angeles, dropped “Coast to Coast AM” as ratings fell under replacement host Mike Siegel.

“If the show had been sizzling along in great form, I wouldn’t have even thought about it,” Bell told radio trade magazine Talkers. “But you know, this is a program that I built from the first brick, brick by brick. And to see it dismantled... was not something I was prepared to see.”

Art Bell can be heard again nightly from 1-6 a.m. ET in more than 400 markets. Monday night, Bell could be seen on the show’s live Web cam in his trademark oversized dark sunglasses as he took calls on UFOs and other topics.

Bell’s once-popular and newly reopened Web site was at times difficult to access during the broadcast, suggesting heavy use.

Personal, Legal Battles Resolved

Bell bowed out of his show last April, saying personal and legal distractions became too much. One involved his teenage son, who was kidnapped and raped by an HIV-positive substitute teacher in 1997.

The other involved a defamation suit Bell launched against a Tennessee radio station, on which he was accused of child molestation. The suit was reportedly settled and Bell received an apology and retraction.

“I am ecstatic to welcome Art Bell back to his program,” said Kraig T. Kitchin, president of Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates the show. “It was a bloody negotiation — pulling someone out of retirement always is.”

The negotiations, however, did not center around more money for Bell — instead, Bell wanted the number of commercials cut in half.

“The net effect of cutting commercials in half is a fairly serious economic reality for Premier, and for me” Bell, who stands to lose at the profit-sharing end of the dial, told Talkers. “The program was over commercially loaded, in my opinion, and I want to take the program back to basics.”

Reaching Out Across the Universe

Bell also characteristically tells the magazine he expects alien life to be discovered soon, and the unusual weather is “going to get stranger, faster.”

This morning’s show began with a nod to Mike Siegel, the man who tried to fill Bell’s paranormally huge shoes.

“He stepped into a really tough position to fill,” Bell said during the opening minutes of the broadcast. “He did a wonderful job for a long time.”

He then spoke of a “miracle” — his cat’s recovery from a deadly liver disease, and asked that callers not waste time welcoming him back.

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