Harder and Harder to Go Coast to Coast AM

by August 9th, 2009 - Culture »


Somewhere out there…

Some time ago, there was born quite possibly the greatest radio program ever: Coast to Coast AM, an unbridled breeding ground of imagination and investigation covering all topics strange, silly, and out of the reach of current or even possible science. Although the format has surely evolved over the years, it eventually became a 4-hour late night show whereon the most peculiar current events, conspiracies, and bastard ideas were discussed at incredible length with one or two guests and variably screened guests from across the United States, the world, and perhaps beyond.

I remember quite on accident discovering the show in my early teens, randomly sifting through radio late one night. I can’t remember whether it was a snippet of intriguing dialog that caught my ear and stopped my hand or whether it was the show’s distinctive bumper music – it’s main intro, as I by chance found out years later, is the amazing Giorgio Moroder thoughtful, driving disco piece “The Chase”.

Regardless, I was hooked…sitting, freezing in my family’s garage listening on the only radio that had enough reception to pick up the show.

A rolling bedtime story anarchy, the nature of the show, anything and everything for the sake of entertainment and investigation. Original host and show creator Art Bell skillfully steered the show along this road, allowing all manner of the things to be discussed. Here and there, he would interject a clever audible skeptical smirk and would occasionally have to shut down a guest or caller for being off-base in a manner detrimental to the entertainment value of the show, but these actions largely served to add a rather pleasing necessary wrinkle to the magic fabric of the conversation.

Art Bell is arguably one the greatest figures in radio and subculture history, an incredible voice and an incredible mind that could ask all the right questions of even the most banal topic making the four hours seem like hardly enough time to cover the subject, building a mystery in the ears of his audience causing them to frequently look over their shoulder and into their mind. There were few other experiences in my life as enjoyable as driving late at night down a lonely, infinite highway listening to his voice searching through shifting sands of the radio, reaching out into the darkness beyond my headlights. I would often, upon returning home, decide to take a few more twilit roads, only parking when the rising sun would wash away the very end of the show.

Nothing can compare to Art Bell, but the show has continued through all of his retirements, returns, and most recent and apparently semi-permanent retirement.

Eventually taking the torch from Art Bell was George Noory, a very different yet still successful host of Coast to Coast AM. Under his guidance, the show was much more like listening to Santa Claus investigate the paranormal, a kind fluffy pillow of a voice and an almost infinitely credulous attitude towards any topic, answering even the craziest comment with a revelatory drawn out, “Sure!”.

As I find myself fiercely skeptical about most everything in the world and only looking for entertainment…imagination…the discussion of new ideas…this yes-man approach was not really my cup of tea. However, I was still able to enjoy the show as the topics and format of continued to intrigue me and Noory’s softly loving cartoon persona eventually won me over after an eye-rolling fashion.

In recent years, however, I’ve found it harder and harder to listen to Coast to Coast AM. Wherein the past, Noory would answer with a soft “Sure…”, his response to subjects seem more and more to take the nature of, “Of course! I can’t see how it could be any other way.”

What had been a theatrical, but transparent forum for incredible ideas has now largely transformed into an almost completely unfettered mouthpiece for sidewalk evangelists. Wherein the past Bell would offer at least a wry comment or accusation, Noory largely just functions as an avuncular echo chamber.

When this reacts with my skeptical nature, it produces a terrible boiling of the blood and I often eventually have to turn the show off as it quickly just becomes a mouthpiece for bullshit without any scrutiny whatsoever, a key ingredient of the show’s entertainment in the past, listening to guest sputter or spontaneously seize the moment when their theories were questioned.

At times, in that it seems Noory takes this approach with some subjects more than others – particularly those having to do with a rationale for the existence of a god – it seems the show has an agenda beyond simply providing the crazy entertainment that the fans desire.

In reaction to this, I’ve begun to more and more prefer Ian Punnett who host’s Saturday nights and other fill-in slots. He is much…MUCH more skeptical, perhaps to a fault, very harshly going after guests in some cases or at other times, seemingly amazed at the mere assertion that anyone do a show on that night’s given topic, in essence objecting to the very nature of Coast to Coast AM. Although he is not as talented as Art Bell or George Noory in building intrigue out the night’s thin air, I think he’s found a more comfortable middle ground and have come to really appreciate his scrutiny against the backdrop of the magical and dramatic ideas put on air.

Regardless my preferences, objections, and turning off of Coast to Coast AM, I still find myself turning it on fairly often, if only to turn it off. If you’ve never taken its dial for a spin before, it is still much suggested that you give it a whirl as you’ll experience nothing else like it elsewhere.

I can’t quite ascertain whether the hosts have gradually changed or my patience and tolerance for unabated bullshit has simply worn tissue thin once more over the last few years. I’d be curious if other long-time listeners of the show have noticed such changes or had similar objections as well.

The Sporadical skeptically promotes the following:
SKEPTIC Reason Penn and Teller Frank Zappa