Sensor Scan: Coast to Coast AM

The Long 1980s are usually seen as the era when the sweeping hegemonic counter-revolution came in and tore down all the radical mainstream institutions and media artefacts people had spent the Long 1960s putting into place. And there is an extent to which this is true, and indisputable. However, by virtue of being in many ways the high water mark of what we now call “traditional” or “old” media, the Long 1980s were also the period where people working in those structures pushed them to their limits and beyond. People have something to say in every era, and there will always be those who call for positive change, and they will make their voices heard in one way or another.

So, put another way, even though the Long 1980s can be argued to be the point where large-scale media consolidated itself to be firmly and inexorably a part of the authoritarian establishment, there were just as many people who freely acknowledged this, yet continued to use their master’s tools against them. Television may have become the boot of the oppressor, but, whether you think it was successful or not, Star Trek: The Next Generation certainly strove to be a force for material social progress, as did its sci-fi colleague across the pond at the BBC (but we’ll get to that soon enough). You can say the cinema of the 1980s swept away the auteur, experimentalist cinema of the 1970s, but there were still films like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Thanks to Nintendo, the video game industry was as energized, inspired and full of life as it would ever be. And, the Long 1980s were really the last time pop music was allowed to be openly radical and critical of the status quo without making a ton of concessions, with people like Siouxsie Sioux, Laurie Anderson and Nena topping the pop charts.

And on the airwaves, on the one hand you had most of the medium being co-opted into the neoconservative revolution leading to a profound shift in the essence of talk radio. On the other, you had Coast to Coast AM.

Though the pioneer of paranormal radio is widely accepted to be Long John Nebel, who for years ran a wildly successful talk show out of New York that dabbled in the supernatural and conspiracy theories, the archetypical, definitive example of the genre really can only be Coast to Coast AM hosted by Art Bell, and later George Noory. Like Nebel before him, Bell was a tremendous showman, bringing a fire and zeal to his performance and quickly gained fame and recognition for his dogged pursuit of a huge swath of different topics, from the expected paranormal gossip and hypothesizing to quantum physics, theology, philosophy, science fiction and flagrantly radical political topics from all angles of the spectrum (which was an early indication of both the strengths and weaknesses of Coast‘s overall impact in my opinion).…

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