Mike Siegel, a veteran talk radio broadcaster who for the past several years has been a regular fill-in for syndicated radio hosts around the country, has been named as the replacement for popular overnight host Art Bell.
Kraig T. Kitchin, president and chief operating office of Premiere Radio Networks, told The Times exclusively Monday that Bell, who collaborated with the network on the selection, will introduce Siegel on his show tonight and that Siegel will begin hosting "Coast to Coast AM" on April 27, the night after Bell does his final broadcast.
For the past two weeks, Siegel, who is based in Seattle, has filled in for Bell on Friday nights and did the weekend show as well. "Coast to Coast" is heard here on KABC-AM (790) from 10 p.m.-3 a.m., and on weekends at the same time.
On March 31, Bell, whose popular show deals with the paranormal and unexplained phenomena from global super storms to Japanese volcanoes, announced that he was reluctantly relinquishing his radio duties permanently because of the ongoing torment he and his family were suffering over his son having been kidnapped and raped by a substitute teacher in 1997. That same year, Bell was also falsely accused of being a child molester.
"We chose Mike early last week," Kitchin said, "because he has the blend of the greatest curiosity for the issues we want to explore in the program, and because he will be able to stand the test of time of almost 25 hours a week of programming."
Among the half-dozen A-list names that Kitchin identified April 1, Siegel stood out for two primary reasons, the executive said. "He had very successful ratings in every market he has been--Seattle, Miami, Boston--and his ability to identify to Art the essence and reasons why listeners [tuned in]--that [Bell's] was a club of listeners, third-shift employees, who sometimes feel alienated."
In a brief interview Monday before doing afternoon drive at KIRO-AM in Seattle where he is filling in, Siegel, who has 28 years of radio experience and has also been a practicing lawyer and a professor of communications at Emerson College and Fitchburg State, said: "I feel great. I'm the right person at the right time. I understand the audience, the business, worked in larger and smaller markets. And I have an inquiring mind."
Siegel said Bell's format and issues will essentially remain the same. "Finding the truth, telling the truth, dealing with mysteries, life issues . . . how technology changes might be invasive of privacy. The audience Art created is an enormous audience. You don't argue with success, you build on success."
As Bell's fill-in, noted Kitchin, Siegel has been talking about a range of issues from time channeling--transferring oneself to a time in the past or future--to trade with China.
Although the time slot for "Coast to Coast" stays the same, Siegel will do a live show from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. with the first hour rebroadcast from 2-3 a.m. The same will hold true for the weekend hosts. For several months Siegel will broadcast from his home studio in Seattle, and thereafter either from Los Angeles or Medford, Ore., where Bell's show is produced.
Kitchin said that evening host Ian Punnett of WGST-AM in Atlanta, a Presbyterian seminarian, will be the permanent Sunday night host for Bell's show. The Saturday night slot, Kitchin added, will rotate among a variety of hosts with Peter Weissbach, afternoon drive host of KOMO-AM in Seattle, as primary anchor. Both Punnett, who is currently syndicated by Clear Channel, and Weissbach had been on Kitchin's A-list. Premiere--the nation's leading syndicator of programming whose roster includes Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Jim Rome, Phil Hendrie, Michael Reagan and Rick Dees--is a subsidiary of Clear Channel.
"We identified more than 100 candidates," Kitchin said Monday. "More than 80% were experts on the paranormal. The other 20% were seasoned broadcasters. We decided that a talk radio broadcaster with real maturity and a very developed curiosity would be best for 'Coast to Coast AM.' . . . Art feels a connection with Mike and believes he is the best person to carry on his legacy."
Bell and Siegel, who have been in touch with each other by phone, will meet for the first time today at an undisclosed location.
An activist and sometimes controversial host, Siegel--at 55, a year older than Bell--played the lead role in advocating a consumer boycott against Exxon after the 1989 Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. He urged listeners to cut their credit cards in half, while personally delivering a pile of protest letters to Exxon's chairman in New York. The same year, he walked with striking Eastern Airlines employees and also was active in talk radio's famed movement against congressional pay raises.
However, in 1996, Siegel was fired from Seattle's KVI-AM after repeating an unfounded and damaging rumor about former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice.
Asked about that, Kitchin said: "It does not bother me. Every talk radio personality will have an issue or two in their lives that is controversial in nature because they take a stand on an issue. It was not Mike that made [the remark], but a guest. He did not stop the guest. [Former] employers went on record. KVI's Shannon Swed said he would hire Mike back. And Brian Jennings of Citadel Communications regularly uses Mike Siegel."
Neither Swed nor Jennings could immediately be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Premiere noted in a press release that Bell is looking forward to "an anonymous lifestyle as he retires not only from radio broadcasting, but also all other forums of media including book publishing [and] television."