In riveting narratives punctuated by convincing details, his guests spun eyewitness accounts of past lives, contacts with aliens, time travel, crop circles and other ostensibly inexplicable phenomena, most of which were accompanied by a knowing affirmation from the host himself.
He had reason to be credulous. One summer night, he recalled, he and his wife were driving home when a 150-foot-long triangular craft silently hovered over their car before disappearing.
“It really doesn’t matter that much to me if anyone believes me,” Mr. Bell explained later. “Thousands of people seeing the same thing cannot all be wrong.”
Just how much Mr. Bell believed was a matter of conjecture.
He once described his program as “absolute entertainment.” When he was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2008, his former business partner, Alan Corbeth, said Mr. Bell had thoroughly understood “how to create theater of the mind.”
On one memorable program in 1997, a man who said he had been discharged for medical reasons from Area 51 — the storied Nevada air base that has long stoked rumors of unidentified flying objects — was mysteriously cut off in mid-interview.
“What we’re thinking of as aliens, Art, they’re extra-dimensional beings,” the man started to say, his voice choking. “They’ve infiltrated a lot of aspects of, of the military establishment.”
On another program, Mr. Bell introduced his guest, identified as Alex Collier, by saying he had been “in contact with a human race from the constellation Andromeda, located in our galaxy.”
“His experience has been both telepathic and physical,” Mr. Bell added. “His relationship with the Andromedans has been based on trust and friendship. Alex’s free will has never been violated, and his experience must not in any way be associated with abduction.”
In 1998, Mr. Bell received the ignominious Snuffed Candle Award from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a group, co-founded by Carl Sagan and based in Amherst, N.Y., that promotes scientific inquiry and critical thinking. The group cited him “for encouraging credulity, presenting pseudoscience as genuine, and contributing to the public’s lack of understanding of the methods of scientific inquiry.”
To which Mr. Bell replied: “A mind should not be so open that the brains fall out; however, it should not be so closed that whatever gray matter which does reside may not be reached. On behalf of those with the smallest remaining open aperture, I accept with honor.”
Arthur William Bell III was born on June 17, 1945, in Jacksonville, N.C., while his parents were stationed at Camp Lejeune there. His father, a Marine Corps captain, was descended from one of the original settlers of Stamford, Conn., in the 1640s. His mother, the former Jane Lee Gumaer, was a Marine sergeant.
At 13, Art became a licensed amateur radio operator. He was an Air Force medic during the Vietnam War and later a disc jockey for an English-language station in Okinawa.
There, he was said to have set a record for continuous broadcasting — 116 hours and 15 minutes — to raise money to ferry stranded Vietnamese orphans from Saigon to the United States for adoption by American families. (He also claimed a record of 57 hours of uninterrupted seesawing while broadcasting.)
Mr. Bell enrolled as an engineering major at the University of Maryland but dropped out to return to radio, first as a disc jockey in California and Nevada. Students of numerology were mindful that he began his political talk show in 1984 — and also that he died on a Friday the 13th.
Mr. Bell is survived by his fourth wife, Airyn Ruiz; their children, Asia and Alexander; and three children from his earlier marriages, Vincent Pontius, Lisa Pontius Minei and Arthur Bell IV.
His “Coast to Coast” show was syndicated and broadcast from 1989 to 2003, followed by episodic returns on satellite radio and online with a program called “Midnight in the Desert,” which he canceled in 2015 after he said shots had been fired at his home.
Mr. Bell said he kept a .40-caliber Glock 22 in a desk drawer of his isolated desert home.
“If I had a problem out here,” he told Time magazine in 2012, “well, the police would arrive just in time to draw the chalk outline on my floor.”
While some critics accused him of laying the foundation for right-wing conspiracists on talk radio, Mr. Bell’s politics were not easily pigeonholed. He described himself as a libertarian, but his passion was directed less at politicians or ideology than at debunking scientific doctrine and preaching apocalyptic prophecy.
“He was different, fed up with the government not because of some tax increase or a bad vote but because of what they were hiding,” the journalist Jack Dickey wrote in Time magazine in 2013. “Where others had rage, he had skepticism, and lots of it.”
With the horror novelist Whitley Strieber, Mr. Bell wrote “The Coming Global Superstorm” (1999), in which violent climate disruptions lead to a global deep freeze. The director Roland Emmerich adapted it for the 2004 film “The Day After Tomorrow,” starring Dennis Quaid.
(Writing about the film in The New York Times, Andrew C. Revkin noted, “Most experts on climate change say a switch from slow warming to an instant hemispheric deep freeze like the one posited in the book is impossible.”)
Mr. Bell wrote several other books, including “The Quickening: Today’s Trends, Tomorrow’s World” (1997) and a memoir, “The Art of Talk” (1998).
His spoken words had a much wider reach, however. “His Marlboro-Lights-weathered voice blanketed the continent after dark, reliably chilling his audience,” one reviewer wrote.
Mr. Bell acknowledged that he had a certain hold on his nocturnal audience. As he told The Washington Post in 1998, “There is a difference in what people are willing to consider, daytime versus nighttime. It’s dark, and you don’t know what’s out there.
“And the way things are now,” he added, “there may be something.”
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