The creator of the paranormal/conspiracy theory-themed radio show Coast to Coast AM passed away yesterday.

I enjoyed listening to Coast to Coast when Bell hosted. I hear the show has become politicized now, but in Bell’s time, it was focused on weird and otherworldly subjects instead of political ones. The government was always covering things up, but it was always assumed to be the whole government.

Needless to say, the show was great for a lover of weird fiction. Nothing gets the imagination going like listening to people telling ghost stories late at night, especially on or around Halloween.

The guests and callers seemed to be largely a mix of crazy people and hucksters. Maybe some of them really had seen unexplained phenomena, but it was never easy to tell who was who.

But Bell didn’t judge. He let his guests and callers speak their minds, and unless they were obviously lying as a prank, he wouldn’t silence them. I don’t know what Bell’s beliefs were, beyond the fact that he obviously had some general belief or interest in the paranormal and the supernatural. He would accept his guests and callers on their terms, and let them speak their minds.

I really admired Bell’s interviewing style–he wouldn’t talk over his guests or try to impose his own views on the subject at hand. He would just ask and let them have their say, even if he didn’t agree.

Now, you might argue that all of it was insane, and that Bell shouldn’t have given airtime to such outlandish claims in the first place. But part of what made his show great was the feeling of being able to kick around weird ideas. If you want to try to think of novel ideas, you have to be willing to think of things that sound crazy. And most of them are crazy, but a few might actually be useful.

You would think this sort of attitude would be more common now that we have social media, but in fact the opposite seems to be true. You generally don’t want to try discussing new ideas on Twitter, for example, because it can very quickly devolve into a back-and-forth of argument and ridicule. Instead of being liberating, the censorious nature of social media makes people more careful about what they say. (Unless of course they are a troll. Which creates the problem that thoughtful people are afraid to speak, and thoughtless people aren’t.)

When it was great, Coast to Coast reflected Bell’s personality: eccentric, but very independent and open-minded. Actually, these last two are probably the most important traits for a talk show host or interviewer: a willingness to admit that you don’t have all the answers, and to listen to things that most other people would automatically dismiss. It’s bound to take you to some pretty weird places, but it’s also a good way of learning new things.

More media personalities and hosts should study Bell’s style. If mainstream talk-shows were willing to approach politics and current events as thoughtfully as Bell approached subjects like cryptids and ghosts, they might be more informative.

Some time ago, eurobrat had a post about how the radio program Coast-to-Coast AM had transformed from a show about the paranormal to another conservative talk-show.  I wrote about it at the time, and the other day, for various reasons, I found myself reading up on the program again.

It seems there has been something of a falling-out between the creator and original host of Coast, Art Bell, and the current host, George Noory. Bell himself was upset with the show’s newly-political tone under the Noory regime, and subsequently there has been some back-and-forth and even some competition for the same guests between Noory’s Coast and Bell’s (now defunct) new program Dark Matter.

It’s a good story of the protege who has turned against his mentor–it’s practically the stuff of High Drama.  I don’t know how much stock to put in the Wikipedia articles on this (Noory’s Wiki page in particular does not follow the Wikipedia guidelines for how an article should read) but the Coast article claims:

The Commonsense show [Don’t know what that is–has Thomas Paine got a show now?–MM] has described Noory led Coast to Coast by the following: When Art Bell relinquished control of his program to corporate interests, Premier and ultimately Clear Channel, Coast to Coast was never the same as the show took a turn and became reflective of “the corporate message”

I have no idea if this accusation is true, but the program is definitely owned by Clear Channel Communications, which syndicates, through its subsidiary Premiere Networks, shows like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck.  (Interestingly, Clear Channel itself is owned by Bain Capital–Mitt Romney’s old company. Like any good Coast-to-Coast conspiracy theory, this one has a trail you can follow pretty far up!)

My point, though, has less to do with the political machinations, real or imaginary, that may or may not lie behind the change in the program’s focus.  Rather, I want to revisit eurobrat’s original point that Coast now “sounds like everything else out there”.

As I alluded to in my other post on this topic, “Diversifying” is generally considered a sound strategy, and yet the logic here seems to have been “homogenizing”.  But more and more, I realize how common this is, and to some extent this transformation does suggest Clear Channel is responsible, because it’s exactly the sort of thing a big company does when it takes ownership of something.  It’s sort of like what I wrote about regarding the saga of Electronic Arts and BioWare’s Mass Effect: they acquire something unique and successful just to turn it into a knock-off of something else.

I often have insomnia, and, because I love conspiracy theories even though I don’t believe in them, I used to occasionally listen to the radio show Coast to Coast AM. I always especially enjoyed their Halloween episode, when the show would be retitled Ghost to Ghost AM.  I remember they talked about “Shadow People” on one such episode that was cool.  Everything on the show was so utter madness of course, but I wonder if most of the callers were playing pranks.  (The time “Gordon Freeman” called in being a prime example.)

I bring this up because of eurobrat’s post saying Coast to Coast has now become more of a typical Republican radio talk show.  That’s too bad; although I can’t say that it’s surprising.  “Paranoid style in American Politics” and all that. I wonder if it was just the host who happened to be on that night.  Even then, it’s an odd marketing strategy: “let’s try to be like all the other stuff out there.”

It’s actually a surprisingly common device you’ll see in all forms of marketing.  It’s not a good idea.  Generally, the best way to market your product, whatever it may be, is to differentiate it, not imitate what everybody else is doing.