The Art Of Talk by Art Bell

In two days, radio icon Art Bell returns to the airwaves with a new show on SiriusXM Radio. As a long-time fan (and one-time caller), this is welcome news. I used to work 3rd shift night audit for a couple hotels, which is how I got hooked into Bell’s old show, Coast To Coast AM. C2CAM with Bell at the helm was bizarre, a little spooky, often full of shit, but thanks to Bell’s hosting ability, almost always compelling (something that, unfortunately, can’t be said of C2CAM since George Noory has been host). It is with this anticipation that I decided to read Bell’s 1998 autobiography, The Art Of Talk.

The tone of the book is very similar to his broadcasting style:
conversational, a little bizarre, but drawing you in. His interest in radio started young, as Bell gained his amateur radio license as a teenager. He talks about his unhappy childhood, crediting his radio hobby from keeping him out of a life of crime. Other autobiographical details include a stint in the Air Force, living a number of years in the Orient, marriage, divorce, remarriage, and various jobs in and out of radio before settling into overnight talk radio.

Much like his radio show, he’s able to make topics interesting. I usually don’t care about someone’s vacation stories, but Bell makes his stories pretty riveting. Stories about his radio career are great, as he discusses record-breaking broadcast stunts, groupies, using radio to save orphans from the Vietcong, and broadcasting late-night talk radio from a hotel. He gives his opinion on subjects as varied as movies, sports, books, spirituality, women, and his talk radio peers at the time. It’s also interesting to read his view on how to do talk radio: don’t limit your topics, keep the show flowing, have spontaneity (such as unscreened calls), and be prepared. While not a large portion of the book, he does briefly delve into the paranormal topics he is famous for, doing so in the Bell style that keeps your attention.

Towards the end of his full-time tenure on C2CAM, Bell gravitated away from talking politics, but he does share a good bit of political views in this book. Calling himself “mostly Libertarian,” he supports free enterprise, a flat income tax, 2nd Amendment rights, and abortion rights “for everyone else” while maintaining a personal pro-life stance. His major deviation from libertarianism would be on drug policy, as he supports a “meaningful drug war,” even though he would decriminalize marijuana.

While I enjoyed the book, there are a couple negatives. The potshots about his 2nd wife being “boring” seem unnecessary. Also, Art does not acknowledge a previous marriage and his oldest children, an odd exclusion considering he is pretty open about other short-comings and regrets.

Fans of Art are aware of the traumatic events he has endured since 1998. The book was also published in 1998, so don’t expect to find those details in here. Listeners interested in Bell’s rocky relationship with Premiere Radio are likely to hear Art discuss his side of the story on his first SiriusXM show.

I’m not sure if the book would appeal to anyone outside of Bell’s fanbase. If you are an Art Bell fan like me, then this book is a must-read. Strongly recommended.

(Bonus link: my favorite C2CAM call. Art’s reaction at the end sums it up perfectly.)

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