The man who redefined late night radio might once again change the way AM/FM radio stations receive programming – this time, from the Internet.
Art Bell has just returned to radio, delivering the latest incarnation of his late night talk program via the Web at ArtBell.com and via radio apps like TuneIn.
“Midnight in the Desert” airs live, weeknights from 9PM to Midnight Pacific Time (that’s a midnight start on the East Coast) and is free for anyone who cares to listen live, online. But if you wish to download and stream the program on demand, you’ll pay a $5 monthly fee for the privilege.
Plenty of national talk radio personalities have similar subscription models available. But where things get late-night-spooky is the decision made by 20+ AM/FM radio stations in the U.S. and Canada to simulcast “Midnight” live on their terrestrial stations.
A decade ago, Bell’s “Coast to Coast AM” aired on more than 500 AM/FM stations and was far and away the top-rated, late night radio show. He left “Coast” as its full-time host for personal reasons and eventually relocated to The Philippines to be with his new bride. In 2013, Bell returned to radio to host a new show, “Dark Matter” on SiriusXM. But his dissatisfaction with the satellite radio audience size prompted Bell to walk away from SiriusXM, triggering a nearly-two-year “beaching” through a non-compete agreement.
When Bell returned to radio on July 20, 2015 via ArtBell.com and his Dark Matter Radio Network, there were tens of thousands of loyal followers already signed up to stream at TuneIn Radio, with tens of thousands more poised to listen live on the website.
But the supernatural twist of AM/FM stations simulcasting Bell’s show from the Web is what could conceivably change the face of broadcasting.
Can “Midnight in the Desert” outperform “Coast to Coast AM” in markets where both programs air in head-to-head competition?
Can the limited commercial inventory on “Midnight” (six minutes per hour) generate enough of a revenue stream to entice more AM/FM stations to carry the program? Will they be permitted to alter the programming – perhaps drop the built-in, bottom-of-the-hour newscast – to make room for more commercials? (“Coast” broadcasts carry more than twice as many commercials each hour.)
And if Bell’s new program does deliver late night ratings success, will a new category of independent broadcasters appear offering programming content to AM/FM stations? Could long-form podcast hosts clean up their language (for the FCC) and make their shows viable AM/FM programming content?
Years from now, the radio industry may just look back on this Web-to-Broadcast event as one that shook up the way AM/FM broadcasters secure programming content. But for now, third-shift workers, insomniacs and fans of the genre are just pleased to have Art Bell back on the air, engaging and entertaining from the intersection of science and science fiction.