I first heard Art Bell in 1997 ago when my grandmother in Tennessee died, and I flew there for the funeral.

Someone got the idea that the grandkids should carry the casket, and since there were only four of us we recruited two older cousins from Nashville. We buried my grandmother, who made the best fried chicken in the world, in a cemetery where Ray Stevens had once shot a video.

I needed a place to stay for a week, so one of my relatives let me into granny’s house in Dowelltown. It hadn’t changed since she had gone to the hospital in Smithville a few weeks before.

I really didn’t need a key, since there was a store over the hill and if I had to shop for 30 minutes I could just leave the door unlocked (Dowelltown is pretty small – there’s probably one break-in a year and the “post office” is someone’s garage).

So I watched television stations I couldn’t get in Lake Charles, such as WGN in Chicago – and when I went to bed – listened to a special radio granny had that broadcast books-on-tape.

Granny had glaucoma for years and couldn’t see to read, so she’d listen to these broadcasts.

Well, the station stopped reading books at midnight, apparently latched to the concept that all elderly folks turn-in by 10 p.m. – so I flipped on the regular radio and came across an AM channel playing “Coast to Coast with Art Bell.”

The show was entertaining, to say the least and it soon became clear this was not your average talk show. Was it some kind of April Fool’s joke?

After I returned home, I discovered the show on KLVI in Beaumont and over the weeks listened to Bell and his guests discussing ghosts, werewolves, vampires, exorcists, aliens, people abducted by aliens, people impregnated by aliens, Bigfoot-sighters, Nessie-seers, Yeti-chasers, witches, “the face on Mars,” “remote viewing,” Project Blue Book, the JFK conspiracy, the MLK conspiracy, Cryptozoologists, black magic, white magic, the Boggy Creek Monster, the Sea Cow – and images of Jesus from a barber’s pole Kentucky to a bale of hay in Switzerland.

Was Elvis really dead? Was Jim Morrison the night manager at a Dairy Queen in Florida? Why did Farmer Jim’s cattle have no bone marrow?

What about the Chupacabra problem? Did Nostradamus predict the Amityville Horror?

Then there were “the lights” shows. Anytime someplace has spooky-looking lights, it gets a name: The Phoenix Lights, the Mexico City Lights etc. Where did they go, and did they leave with a travel brochure? Why do they call it “Area 51?” What’s the government not telling us? Why isn’t it on a map?

But it wasn’t April Fools. These guests, i.e., people, were supposedly real.  And it was the perfect show for me, Mr. Night Owl. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep, but with Art I always had something to ponder before drifting off, no matter how wacky it sounded.

Bell, to maintain his credibility (and my sanity), constantly had to mention he took no opinion of his guests’ claims. He would let the listener decide if James Dean haunted the Roosevelt Hotel, of if Arnold Stang and Stubby Kaye shared a psychic connection with Edgar Cayce.

Art retired – then returned a couple of times, and was replaced by several hosts who to me, despite their best efforts just couldn’t deliver that special “Art Bell craziness.”

I’m told he still does some occasional guest-hosting on the present “Coast to Coast.” I’m out of the habit of reaching for the dial, but maybe some day, perhaps even this week on April Fool’s, I’ll get it back.

It would be the perfect day, or rather – night – for it.

I don’t care if some crazy lady claims she was abducted by eight-foot tall humanoids in Tempe, Ariz., or a man saw a “Grey” playing slots at Caesar’s Palace. I need Art back!