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A Conversation with George Noory

Coast host with the most

Photograph courtesy of Sterling Tyler Photography/Premiere Networks

 On a recent broadcast of Coast to Coast AM, a night-shift worker at a Missouri lumber mill called to report that something was knocking down 14-foot-boards in the warehouse. “It ain’t no possum,” the man drawled. “And it ain’t no raccoon.” For one thing, it was three feet tall, “a little troll-looking thing, with a big head, and muscular arms…” And, the man added, its head wasn’t just large; it was pointed. And it wasn’t wearing any clothes. 

Host George Noory listens quietly acknowledges the strangeness of the man’s story, but without snark or judgment. In the histrionic world of talk radio, he’s an anomaly: calm, even-keeled, inscrutable. His guests run the gamut from cryptozoologists to psychics to experts on “shadow people.” But Coast isn’t just weird to be weird; it’s about pushing your intellectual curiosity to the edge. Case in point: the December 3 show kicked off with an economist, moved to an interview with a UFO abductee, then finished up with a conversation with science writer Harold Bloom, who chatted about physics and his new book, The God Problem.

When Art Bell stepped down from Coast in 2003, George Noory was already filling in for him; producers courted him after hearing him on KTRS’s The Nighthawk. Despite Bell’s slavish cult following, fans embraced Noory, and his audience continues to grow—Coast appears on 564 stations every night from 1 to 5 a.m. (Locally, you can catch it on KTRS 550 AM.) A former hard news journalist who spent most of his career in St. Louis, Noory now splits his time between Missouri and Los Angeles.

Actually, I wanted to start with kind of a funny local angle. So apparently you once had a restaurant in Brentwood, where our office is—Café Marrakesh and Oasis Bar?

I did. Back in 1986, in addition to all the stuff I was doing in broadcasting and communications, I had the grand idea to open up a restaurant. And it lasted whole year. [Laughs.] It was a different lifestyle. It was part-time for me; it wasn’t my career. But I had a great time. And it was really busy. I’ll tell you what happened—when they started widening Brentwood for the Galleria? It killed me. Because that was our only access to valet parking, and it just wiped us out.

Did you see yourself doing Coast to Coast for a decade?

Well, yes and no. My career has been in broadcasting since I was 19 years old. I started in Detroit, and then I made my way into St. Louis through various routes, including Minneapolis. And I just fell in love with St. Louis. I turned down jobs to go to New York and Los Angeles, through the networks, and stayed there really, for all of my life. Now I split my time between L.A. and St. Louis, but spend most of my time in Los Angeles. And you know, when I went into this, I was resurrecting my career. I wanted to get back into broadcasting in 1996. And I watched a movie called Talk Radio, with Eric Bogosian. And I said, that’s one facet of my career I have not done yet. And I said, I want to go into talk radio. So I called up some folks, there was an exodus from folks at KMOX, so they needed people there. And I went, and I started filling in. I was doing news, and filling in for the late Jim White, late night. Tom Langmeyer, who was the general manager at KMOX and then went to WGN in Chicago—he’s just left there—always will tell people at an event, “The biggest mistake I ever made was the day I called George Noory into my office”—this was after I was filling in for Jim White—“and I said, ‘Lay off the UFO stuff. There’s no future for that.’” [Laughs.] I was at KMOX from 1996 to 1997, filling in, and then Tim Dorsey hired me at KTRS. I did my local Nighthawks show for a number of years there, and then once I got syndicated through Coast to Coast, they’ve continued to be my affiliate in St. Louis, so I’ve literally been on the air on that station for going on 16 years.

What was Nighthawks like, in comparison to Coast?

It was pretty similar. And I think that’s one of the things that caught the eye of the network. We were doing well, our ratings were really high, and we were doing it on a local basis, but I interviewed many of the same guests that were on Coast to Coast. I knew them, and I had the same flavor, and the same pacing. I started filling in when I was still doing my local show; there were many days when I was on the air for eight, nine, 10 hours a night. And one day, Art Bell decided to retire, and the network said, “Come aboard. Let’s do this.”

And you still broadcast from here sometimes, right?

Whenever I’m in St. Louis, I’m still doing my show. There’s no downtime for me. We’ve got a studio now in Hawaii, so I can do some shows from there. That’s the luxury of technology. My weekend people, one lives in Dallas, the other one lives in Las Vegas. Another lives in Minneapolis. So you can just about be anywhere.

And now you’re adding a new television show to the mix, too, Beyond Belief.

Yes, I do a lot of television. I’m on the History Channel now on a regular basis, for Ancient Aliens, and I’ve been on Sci-Fi. I was approached by this company [Gaiam TV], who asked, can you do a show for us? It’s going to be Internet-based, which is different for me. It’s also subscriber-based. I said, you know, let’s give it a try and see what happens, as long as it doesn’t conflict with my radio schedule. We’ll be taping in front of an audience on any given Sunday, once a month. We’ll do four shows, as a matter of fact I’m often to Denver to do those. It’s going to be like Coast, except that people will be able to physically see me, and see the guests, and we’ll interact with a live audience.

I read through the profile that The Atlantic did on you in 2010. One of the things they touched on is this very close relationship you have with listeners.

My strength with my audience has been this one-on-one feeling, of not only saying I care, but truly caring about what they do, and how I do it. I broadcast live on holidays. I will be live on Thanksgiving, on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day…it was a pledge I made 10 years ago. There are lots of lonely people out there who don’t have family. And they look at radio, and this show in particular, as their vehicle, as their family. So I’ve always made a pledge that somebody, one of us, is going to be live on a holiday. We’re not going to take time off, we’re not going to run canned programming as most radio talent does around the country. This TV show, once I read a certain subscriber level, I’m setting up a foundation where needy Coast to Coast listeners are going to get checks from me. I don’t think any talent has ever done that. But I’m going to do that. It’s just something that I think is important. I’ve done that before with some of my book sales and things, where we’ve helped people pay their mortgages and electric bills, and it’s just a part of giving back to a vast audience that has given me so much.

Your audience is also amazingly diverse.

Yes, we’ve got people from all walks of life listening to this program. Thirty-three percent of the public is awake at night. We’ve got doctors, security guards, police officers…you name it. People who aren’t working. All kinds of folks. And they are sharp as a tack. I’ve got to be ready every night, because they will throw a curve ball question at you as soon as you open up the phone lines. And if you’re not ready, they’ll get you! But it’s done in a way where I don’t hang up on people; if the caller is good, they will stay on the line longer with me, if they’re not very good, in terms of being able to carry a conversation, and we get some of those, I’m politely short with them. And we move on. The only people we are aggressive with are people who might be profane. We’ve got that delay system in. But we’ve very lucky with that. In 10 years, I’ve never witnessed a show that has so many people on it that are just good, caring people. We’re going through, and I think one of the successes of the program, we’re going through an incredible time in our lives right now. People are being bombarded by everything. There are a lot of unhappy people out there right now, and I think a lot of folks have turned to Coast to Coast to grow and to basically keep some sanity about themselves.

How does your news background come into play?

It’s helped a lot. It’s helped me on breaking stories specifically. We did a five-hour election show. And it’s the old newsman in me that I’m able to pull out that allows us to do things like that—but with a Coast to Coast edge. One of the things I have to try to do every night is not duplicate what people are hearing all day long, or what they get out of the mainstream media. So even though we may do a topic like the BP oil spill, I want to make sure we do it with our little angle. How could oil be down there from plants and dinosaurs, five miles deep? So we do things like that.

There’s some humor on the show, too. I’m thinking specifically of Rabbi Gershon Winkler, who talked about Jewish shamanism. He was serious about the topic, but was a very funny guy.

Yeah, he was a comedian. And we do things like that; we have fun on the air. And I like it when I get the opportunity to throw in a punchline on the air.

And your bumper music is interesting. Do you get to pick it yourself?

I pick about half of the music, and I try to pick something to reflect the mood of the show…or sometimes, the mood of me. My engineers, every once in a while, pop in a hard rock song, and I say, “Guys! It’s 3 in the morning—half these people are in bed, listening. You’ve just given them all heart attacks!” [Laughs.]

So I have to ask—what about the Mayan Calendar, 2012, end of the world, all of that stuff?

We’re really close—December 21 is right around the corner—and after it comes and goes, what’s next? What’s out there? I’ve always said that the planet is not going to be destroyed; we’re not done for, but I do think the Mayans were very aware of solar events. And it’s very ironic that the sun is doing a lot of very strange things right now. And we’ve warned people—our power grid, our power system, is not protected from an X-flare from the sun. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve dodged a couple X-flares over the past few years that came out of the side of the sun, so it wasn’t facing us directly. Back in the 1800s, a huge X-flare hit us, and though we weren’t that technologically inclined, it wiped out the telegraph system, and everything else. That’s going to happen one day, and if we’re not smart as a society, we’re going to be in trouble. I was at a drugstore about a year and a half ago, and their power was out. They were trying to do things by hand, but most people now have problems subtracting money in their head. So the lines were getting bigger, and the drugstore said, folks, we’ve got to close. And they chased everyone out. So just imagine what would happen if the power grid goes down, and your ATM is down. Or the gasoline pumps, which are electric.

So what is it about the Wildcard Line that makes it everyone’s favorite?

We have a first-time caller line, a line east of the Rockies, west of the Rockies, and we have an international line. We have a Skype line put in now, which was very helpful during the Japanese quake and tsunami. I got calls from Tokyo on that thing. But the Wildcard line is set up for people who just want to get it off their chest, and just talk about whatever’s going on with them. It’s just like Vegas, if you give someone a wild card while they’re playing poker, anything can happen. Our calls are not screened. They are answered for phone quality and whether someone’s inebriated or not, but I don’t know what they are calling about until I go to them.

I wanted to ask about Coast’s open lines shows, too—I think it was during open lines that the guy from the lumber mill called about the imp in his warehouse.

And you don’t get that with a dictated topic. You have to have these moments where this vast audience is just allowed to call in. A woman called me one night, all upset, because she couldn’t find the stars anymore. It was cloudy out. But I decided to play a little game with her. I said they were all burned out. I said, “You know, stars have a certain life to them, and they’re burned out. They’re gone!” She started crying on the air, and she was upset. I went, “My God, what did I just do? Who would believe that?” But she did. There was another time that a lady called me, and said that her husband, who had never come home late before, had been abducted by aliens. She was calling, and she was frantic. And then she said, he’s home now, and he’s nervous and he’s sweaty, and he’s all upset. And I said, Oh, my God. And she said, unbelievable, isn’t it? And I said, yeah—what else happened? And she said, these aliens, they took his wedding ring! And so the guy obviously was out late, took the ring off his finger, and forgot to put it on. And then came home and told her he was abducted. And she was going for it. When we do pure open lines, as we do every Friday, for example, anything goes, and who knows what’s going to come through.

Over the past decade, who stands out in your head, either guests or callers?

You know, they are, for me, all different. But I remember interviewing a guy named Benjamin Creme, who said he represents the Maitreya, who he believes to be the Messiah, but everyone else believes to be the next Antichrist. And while I’m interviewing this guy, people are getting sick. They are sending me messages through my FastBlast system, saying, “I’m getting nauseated.” And I was getting to the point where I wasn’t feeling too good and I had to end the interview early and go to Open Lines. That was weird. I was going to do a show on a Ouija board, and I had three guests. One was opposed to the show, one was in favor of the show, and one just didn’t care. And I was going to do this entire three-hour block on a Ouija board. And I decided not to do it, because people were sending me messages, saying well, what happens if something happens to me, or this or that? I did get emails from people who were upset that I didn’t go through with that topic, and were having Ouija board pizza parties. [Laughs.] But I decided in mid-stream, no, I’m not going to do this show.

Well, I guess Coast in general is all about mental open space, not getting your head stuck to far in one direction or another.

People will call me and ask me, what do you believe? And my answer to them is, one, it doesn’t matter what I believe. It matters what you believe. And that’s what I try to do with the program. Whether I’m interviewing someone on a hard news topic or something else, I try not to inject my views into it. I’m kind of old school broadcasting, where I would rather have the public decide for themselves, rather than have something force-fed from me. So they don’t know. They don’t know if I believe in UFOs. They don’t know if I believe in ghosts. They don’t know if I believe in God. I have my own reasons, and my own views, believe me. But by and large, I try to stay out of it. I try to be more of a facilitator, rather than a dictator.

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