Dear Switchback Friends,
Brian and I log over 35,000 miles a year driving. Probably more, but like our shows, we never like to count too closely as that means greater accountability to our wives. And so we guesstimate to a degree.
While we are driving, we tend to listen to AM Radio. There has always been something wonderful about that particular medium. Especially in the early days before cell phones, the AM dial still was Lord of the Darkness. We could easily dial up a million stations from across North America while driving from Denver to Chicago. The French-Canadian stations, the Mexican stations and all the other stations stretching from New York to as far as Houston. These distant stations, with their familiar ads for things you’d have in your neighborhood, except it wasn’t your neighborhood, but a neighborhood some 1400 miles away. And then, there was the late night talk. Good late night talk. Non-political, but mind challenging, sometimes spooky, designed to keep you awake late night talk. That was the talk of Art Bell on Coast to Coast.
Art died a couple months back, but he had been off the airwaves for a while. He had a voice that would keep two musicians awake after a long night playing gigs. It was alert, warm, funny, and always bringing up topics that would have you reflexively reaching to turn up the volume.
I think I can vouch that I won my wife Annie’s heart by Art. After a late night show, I was driving Annie home when I turned on Art Bell. You couldn’t get him in Chicago; you had to dial WTAM over in Cleveland and hold your arm out the window to help the antennae get the right reception. Here was this guy talking about aliens, interviewing some “expert” in the field and though his skepticism was just below the surface, the plausibility of things was enough to keep one awake without any stimulants. People would call in from across North America.
“West of the Rockies,” Art would say and “click” - there would be someone with some story about how they were driving down a lonely road and all of a sudden….you can imagine the rest. “East of the Rockies,” would boom out Art and then another caller would come on with some cockamamie story that Art would immediately quash. Art was no dramatic pushover. Art wanted truth, even if it came from the most improbable sources and mythic legends out there. Loch Ness. Bigfoot. Aliens. Ghosts. Chaupacabra. Annie was hooked and became a bigger Coast to Coast listener than me. To this day she listens to old broadcasts on the computer, especially the interviews with Malachy Martin, the priest who was a demon hunter. Scary stuff. Enough to keep one awake and alert and make the miles go by.
One night, Brian and I heard Art Bell interview Eric Burden, the lead singer of the 60’s group The Animals. It was just great radio, with lots of insight into the music business and the struggle to continue to be relevant. After a day of outreach programs and an evening of playing a noisy, smoky bar, that was manna from heaven for our ears.
Art kept us awake, alive, connected with our fellow human beings. He joined people together from across Canada and the US. It was like belonging to some big club.
One night, we drove from Rochester, Minnesota to Lansing, Iowa. We were heading along the river around 2 a.m., listening to Art. He was interviewing a ghost hunter who had made EVP recordings of spirits in a house. An Electronic Voice Phenomenon recording is done on a handheld device, sort of a memo machine that when played back can have these eerie voices of “spirits” talking. When they answer the questions that are posed to them, it gets your attention. Such was the case and we were just about to hear this disembodied voice say some scary thing when a big barn owl flew right into our windshield. We both yelled at the top of our lungs as we lurched to a stop, calmed only by the voice of Art, asking another question.
Last month, I spun the dial as we drove from Cincinnati to Chicago.
AM radio is now dominated by businesses that prefer to push political screed over the Bermuda Triangle. What they are pushing should be as impossible to believe. Except by the constant anger, they want us to not think about the fantastic, but the fanatic. The tiki-torch lit world of just enough subtle hate. Not that this spewing is a specific party doctrine either. Nope, the Party of the Elephant and the party of the Donkey are just so much red and blue. This is about your neighbor. They want you to be riled up and ultimately to look around with fear in a world of black, white, and red.
Music in my opinion is here to bring us together. And so should be talk radio. These blowhards that represent “Opinion Entertainment” are so shameful that they should, like Alex Jones and his lies, be taken off the airwaves. Our airwaves that belong to “We the People.” The right to free speech is only a right if it is used with the responsibility every right granted demands. These guys are nothing new, just a revamped Father Coughlin.
I miss the fun of AM talk radio.
I miss Art Bell.
American Roots & Celtic Soul