RADIO: Strangeness appears on the night shift

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A woman is calling in to talk about “some teeth that some men found.”

“One of them was six inches and one of them was seven inches,” she reports. “They were some great big teeth.”

The topic tonight is cryptozoology with guest Loren Coleman, who is a member of the International Society of Cryptozoology, the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club and the author of 17 books and more than 300 articles. He is, evidently, an authority on the subject. The show is Coast to Coast AM, a late-night talk-radio show, where both authoritative and not-so-authoritative views can be heard on many such paranormal topics, including reptilian conspiracies, secret societies, UFOs, psychic energy and who really built the pyramids.

Currently one of the most popular shows in its time slot, Coast to Coast AM was created in the mid 1980s by veteran radio personality Art Bell. Since its 1990 syndication, Coast to Coast has spread from a single Las Vegas radio station to almost 500 stations across the United States and Canada. The show is carried in Montreal by The New 940 AM and airs every night between midnight and 5 a.m.

Over the years, the show has gone through various reincarnations and a number of different hosts. In 2002, Bell went into semi-retirement, leaving the show in the hands of George Noory, a fellow veteran of radio broadcasting and an enthusiast of the show’s unusual content. On weekends, the show is still hosted by Bell from his home in Manila, where he lives with his wife, Airyn Ruiz. Ian Punnett, a popular media personality from St. Paul, Minnesota, hosts Coast To Coast Live, a four hour spin-off that airs on Saturday evenings between nine and one o’clock Eastern time, in addition to filling in for Bell when necessary.

Despite Bell’s absence, Coast to Coast has continued to increase in popularity. However, finding the right people to replace Bell has not been easy for the show’s producers.

“They found it hard to find people with the right attitude,” Punnett explains. “It wasn’t that you had to be a believer in all things paranormal, or that you had to have been on ghost expeditions, or seen a UFO. They were more interested in people that could bring the right attitude to the show – the spirit of open-mindedness, who could also be entertaining and informative.”

It is that spirit of open-mindedness which is the show’s hallmark. Despite the controversies that paranormal phenomena are bound to arouse, the idea is to create a forum where these ideas can be freely discussed. As Punnett explains, “For me, it’s all about the way in which the topics make me think. … I love the way that the topics put me out of what might be my usual intellectual comfort zone and I find myself really challenged.”

“When I first started doing it,” Punnett continues, “I couldn’t quite tell whether the caller was brilliant or crazy. Sometimes a caller who sounded out of his head was actually brilliant and was just on to something that I couldn’t understand and… sometimes they’d sound great and then after a few minutes I’d realize, no wait, this person is kind of unhinged.”

While Coast to Coast’s hosts acknowledge the show’s entertainment value, they also try to address serious issues.

“It is entertainment on certain nights,” says Noory” and it’s obvious.”

But “on other nights,” he adds, “it’s irresponsible just to be pure entertainment, when there’s so much happening on this planet today, whether it’s science, or terrorism or tragedies.”

In the wake of the Dawson College shooting, for example, which was perpetrated by a self-identified member of the vampire community, the show featured Michelle Belanger, a writer, speaker and musician representing the vampire and goth communities.

And despite their objective role as hosts, both Punnett and Noory acknowledge a personal interest in some paranormal topics.

“I have seen a UFO when I was a teenager; I have been on Ghost hunts,” says Punnett. “I have been down the road that the show goes down a lot,” he continues. “We can’t think that we know everything. It’s all about keeping an open mind and enjoying the mystery.”

Noory also professes some esoteric beliefs.

“A lot of the people that I’ve talked to about near-death experiences and reincarnation – they’ve had a pretty profound effect on me so far,” he declares.

However, Noory, now 56, doesn’t plan to reincarnate anytime in the near future.

“I want to take this through 2012,” he says. “That’s when the Mayan calendar ends and I’ve always believed it’s a period of enlightenment and change.

“I just want Coast To Coast to stay on the same steady path that it’s on right now,” he adds. “That is, provide information to people, breaking stories and create the mystery of the mind.”