By Jonah Engel Bromwich and Bonnie Wertheim from the NY Times.
But those subjects would have seemed almost passé to the radio host George Noory and the curious nocturnal listeners who tune in to his radio show, “Coast to Coast AM.”
Mr. Noory, 66, has been hosting the nationally syndicated program for 14 years from his studios in Los Angeles and St. Louis. With three million weekly listeners, “Coast to Coast,” which is broadcast every night from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Eastern time, is carried by more than 600 radio stations in North America and is by far the most popular overnight radio program in the country, according to information from Nielsen.
Given the size of its audience, the show might be expected to cover topics squarely in the mainstream. But Mr. Noory’s listeners, whom he refers to as “the night people,” tend to focus more on fringier fare, whether it’s U.F.O. sightings near Area 51 or the myriad conspiracy theories that Mr. Noory’s predecessor, Art Bell, established as signatures of the program.
Not his listeners.
“Skepticism in my view is very healthy,” said Mr. Noory, who considers himself a libertarian. “I think everybody needs to be skeptical about just about everything, until they have either done their own homework, done their own research or accepted information from sources that they trust, like The New York Times, or like The Wall Street Journal, or like Matt Drudge, if they trust him, as well.”
Mr. Noory worked in television news for 34 years, as a reporter, a producer and an executive at stations in Detroit, Minneapolis and St. Louis. But his interest in unexplained phenomena developed early. He has said many times that he had an out-of-body experience when he was 11, and described the episode again in a recent interview.
“I was bouncing up on the ceiling looking down on my body,” he said.
“Coast to Coast” began in 1984 as a talk radio program broadcasting from the Las Vegas station KDWN. Mr. Bell, its founder and first host, had originally been a D.J. He switched his focus to talk radio at a time when music listeners began to favor higher-fidelity FM stations, forcing many AM channels to switch formats. When “Coast to Coast” went national, in 1992, he started to receive calls from listeners about their paranormal experiences. Those calls soon became the show’s trademark.
When Mr. Bell left the show, he advised Mr. Noory not to imitate his hosting style, which gave listeners the (accurate) sense that he was broadcasting from a compound in the desert. He was isolated from his audience and occasionally confrontational with callers.
On one call from a man claiming to have worked for Area 51, Mr. Bell made his suspicion known right away: “Well, look, let’s begin by finding out whether you’re using this line properly or not.” And on Oct. 13, 1998, Mr. Bell signed off by saying: “This is it, folks. I’m going off the air and will not return.” When Mr. Noory took over, after his forerunner returned and vanished from the show a few more times, listeners noticed a shift in tone, from skeptical and sometimes critical to open-minded and kind.
“Art was a little more, if he thought you were loo-la, he would tell you,” said Veronica Costin, who started tuning in during the 1990s. It became a ritual for her: drifting off in her San Antonio bedroom to the sounds of faraway voices.
“There’s a community,” she said. “We’re all there in that dark. We’re all there in that quiet.”
Mrs. Costin and her husband, who died in December, listened to “Coast to Coast” every night, even as his health was deteriorating. The possibilities that the show raises, like the afterlife, have been a comfort for Mrs. Costin in her grief.
“My husband is dead,” she said. “I cannot give you anything you can write down on paper and prove, but I know he is not gone.”
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