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Tag Archives: Coast to Coast AM

Hello Caller. How Can You Help Me?

11 Aug

August 10, 2018

Radio is intimate and personal. There’s a live voice on the other end of the speaker. You close your eyes and you see him or her, not as they want you to see them, but as your imagination wants you to see them. Radio fosters a sense of community that television is simply unable to.

Art Bell, founder and former host of Coast To Coast AM had a fantastic rapport with his listeners. Five nights a week, from 1am to 5am Eastern Time, he took callers on a journey of the weird. UFO’s Big Foot, time travel, all of it was on the table, and none of it was laughed off and no callers were insulted. Listeners came to know Art Bell. He spoke to them about his life, his family, his daily chores. And he listened to callers when they spoke to him, really listened and cared. To millions of people he was a friend, or even an extended family member.

So when Art’s wife died in 2006 it hit hard.

Art’s wife Ramona was not a presence on the show. She was rarely on the air, even though she was often in the studio. Art broadcast out of a studio he built on his own property in Nevada. One year on New Year’s Eve Art posted a photo of the two of them celebrating in the little homemade broadcast center, both wearing party hats, she sitting on his lap as the ball dropped. Listeners knew her through Art, and when she died, swiftly and unexpectedly at the age of 47, Art took it hard, badly, and the listeners took it hard too.

Art had taken a step back in the previous years, becoming the weekend host of Coast To Coast AM while letting someone else take the bulk of the week’s shows. Anyone would be forgiven for taking some time off the air to grieve, to work out what comes next. Anyone else.

Art had been a broadcaster his whole life. And if he suddenly left the air now, it would be a double loss for him; first his wife, then the thing he loved almost as much. He needed to be on the air, to talk to the audience, to share his grief, and theirs. Those shows in the days and weeks after his wife’s death were therapy for him. But as entertainment they were awful. Painful to listen to at times.

Art would have guests but he was woefully distracted. He talk to them and listeners could hear that Art was not really committed. His mind would wander and he’d ramble off topic. Each show began with a monologue, but during this time Art would not talk about the events of the day. Instead he’d wonder aloud how he could go on. He decided that he no longer needed two cars and tried to sell one over the air. He asked listeners if anyone was interested in an old blender or other things around the house he figured he no longer needed. He asked callers who were in the area to come over and take things off his hands. He debated the best way to dispose of his wife’s clothes. He considered selling his house and asked callers to send him offers. He was talking into the microphone, but he was really talking to himself. He was working things out. He was mourning.

During this time he had a guest who was blind since birth. She began to describe a car accident she was in during college. Art was clearly somewhere else. He truly tried to give his attention to his guests, and when he was on top of his game he was one of the best interviewers on the air. But on this night there would be long pauses when Art didn’t realize the guest had stopped talking. He asked questions he’d already asked. And when the blind guest talked about the car accident, after a long pause, Art asked “were you driving the car?”

There was another pause, an uncomfortable one. The guest finally said “no, I’m blind.” And then another pause, followed by Art murmuring an apology. The whole exchange, the whole show, in fact the whole month or so following his wife’s death were all cringe-worthy listening. The producers of the show never should have let Art on the air. The shows were terrible. But in a larger sense, it was the right thing to do.

It was therapy. Live on the air, real self-help. Over the course of each five-hour show, the listeners would be witnesses, and through their calls and offers of love, support, and advice, be part of, the therapeutic journey of one man coming to grips with the loss of his true love.

It eventually worked out. Art gradually came to terms with his loss, and he even found new love with a new wife. And the listeners haeard every bit of that journey too.

But as radio goes, and as entertainment goes, those shows were both powerful and awful.

 

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My Facebook Finale

27 Sep

September 27, 2017

About a month ago I left Facebook.

It was getting annoying. There were constant fights and disagreements. And I don’t mean over politics. An argument started in a thread where one person said that he didn’t like an old movie from the 1950’s. I merely said that I thought it was OK but I expected more. That’s it. I was then challenged by a couple of college film students who said that I did not understand the differences between television and film, and did not understand the intent of the film, nor did I understand the art of filmmaking in general.

I remind you, this was my comment: “It was OK but I expected more.”
And this is the film: Our Miss Brooks

Would any of you get into a fight over this?

I believed, and rightly so, that there was no point in Hell in getting into a debate over a film as mediocre and forgettable as that, so I bowed out of the argument with what I thought was a classy and witty riposte: “Screw you, assholes.”

OK, I didn’t really say that, but I did abruptly leave the thread in the dust. Why bother? And that was only the last straw. In the days leading up to it, there were huge fights (which I tried- sometimes successfully- to stay out of) over things like comic books and people’s user names. It was all nonsense, all pointless.

But what really got me to leave was that I was stooping to their level. I’d leave snarky comments. I’d get drawn into the arguments. I realized I was as bad as everyone else who trolls online and decided to just stop. I did not make a single comment, or even like anything, for a month. I went on Facebook only briefly to check in on the one or two legitimately scholarly things I look at, and to see what my friends were up to, but I was off and on quickly.

However, you can’t eat just one potato chip, you can’t stop at one lick of a Tootsie Pop, and you can’t avoid clickbait forever. So I decided to go back online and see what happened.

What happened is that after a few days I decided to leave again.

Why? Because who expected to get into an argument over whether the Earth is flat on my first night back?

I tried. I really, really tried, but there were so many people saying so many stupid things it hurt. I don’t mean ignorant or misinformed things, I mean genuinely stupid things.

  • “The Earth ain’t round because I put a Pokémon toy on this baseball and it falls off.” And there was video to prove it.
  • “If I had a really really strong telescope I could see France from my house in Michigan so the Earth has to be flat.”
  • “If the Earth was round we could just walk around it all the way but no has CAUSE IT CAN’T BE DONE.”

And I took it seriously! I know some science. I was a science major back in the day. I debated it scientifically, explained gravity, described the difference between the Earth and a baseball (it’s a lot bigger and heavier) and just generally used a mix of common sense and science to point by point debate a whole bunch of people who are in imminent danger of sailing over the edge of their brain cell.

It didn’t go well. People who believe the Earth is flat tend not to appreciate the scientific method.

I also made an innocuous comment, intended as a mild joke, about a series of comic book covers someone posted.

How was I supposed to know the artist was following the thread?

For the record, yes, the later covers were more or less the same. (More skin less clothes, but the same focus on the face.) The artist was nice enough to not call me out, and seeing he was in the thread I complimented his art (he really is good.) But I never went back to that thread.

So that was my great non-Facebook experiment. I still believe the Earth is round so it must have been a success.

 

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