Ian Punnett presents "How Modern Day Christianity relates to Coast to Coast" and "Q & A: Coast to Coast Behind the Scenes" from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Edge Life Expo. Admission is free with daily Expo admission. Visit uptowntix or call (612) 604-4466. Complete expo details are at www.edgelifeexpo.com
He’s a husband, a father, a soon-to-be-ordained man of faith – and Saturday host of Coast to Coast AM, delving into the mysteries of humankind with millions of listeners on the airwaves throughout the nation. Ian Punnett, who for more the past three years also has co-hosted a morning drive-time radio program on 107.1 FM in the Twin Cities, will present a keynote talk at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at Edge Life Expo 2005, free to everyone with a daily ticket to the expo.
In his talk, Punnett plans to explore his faith, Christianity, as it pertains to Coast to Coast, a program created by Art Bell to seriously discuss topics that are quickly dismissed as fiction by the mainstream media. Punnett filled in on Sunday nights, hosting upwards of 150 programs since 1998 when Bell first retired and when Goorge Noory officially replaced the show’s original talent. Punnett has been back with Coast to Coast for the past three months, hosting the Saturday night program from midnight to 6 a.m. on KSTP 1500 AM.
Punnett spoke with Edge Life by phone about Coast to Coast, his faith and much more.
Art Bell put Coast to Coast on the map with controversial conspiracies, extraterrestrials and other off-the-wall topics. How does what he did compare with what you present on Saturday?
Ian Punnett: I think it’s the same map. It may be a bit different, because sometimes we go to different edges of that same map. The show has always been built around not about the paranormal, but about exploring what might be.
Punnett: Taking seriously those people who might be dismissed by more mainstream media. So that theme has never changed, whether you’re talking about UFOs or cryptographology or interviewing guests, sometimes professors, sometimes doctors, sometimes just regular people who saw something or experienced something. You’re taking them seriously in a safe place and in an environment that can explore what they have to say instead of invalidating them as people, which is so often what happens.
What subject matter or type of guest really interests you as an interviewer on Coast to Coast?
Punnett: I would say my main interest as an interviewer is from people who are willing to explore their experience and their topic without ever getting defensive or feeling like I have to create for them a situation where they will be 100 percent believed.
It happens sometimes where a guest will not want to be challenged or not want to have to explain something and want us to just take everything on face value. The perfect guests for me are those people who will talk about anything, and they’re willing to talk about it no matter what the subject matter is and they’re not scared of having a conversation about whatever it is that they’re there to talk about.
Now, that having been said, I’m always interested in alternative life experiences. I’m always curious how people are shaped and formed by things that they have experienced, which they’re still processing.
Have you had any yourself?
Punnett: Oh, I’ve been very clear about it. I saw a UFO when I was 18, the summer I had graduated from high school.
I don’t drink and this wasn’t an alcohol-related incident in any way. I was down sitting at the beach with a friend and we looked up and together we saw something, which neither of us could explain. It was a distinct pattern. It developed over a course of a half-hour or an hour and we saw it for a long time. We reported it. We went through the channels to report it to the proper centers and to try to figure out whether it was military aircraft or whatever.
It was never explained and that has been influential on me. I don’t know what it was, but I know what I saw.
How dare I ever tell somebody else that they didn’t see something. I know what I saw. Might it end up being something that could be explained by natural, earth-based science? Maybe, but it hasn’t yet.
So that informs the way I treat other people. I’m willing to talk about what I saw and I’m willing to put myself out there, so that’s why I feel if somebody else is willing to do that, too, then I am obligated to take them seriously.
Part of what you’re going to talk about at the Expo, I understand, will be a behind-the-scenes of Coast to Coast. What do you plan to share during that part of your talk?
Punnett: I’m just going to be open to the people, to the questions – and I get them a lot. I will explain all that I know and hope that that clears up for some the curiosity they have about their favorite show.
How many people listen to Coast to Coast?
Punnett: I’m hearing conflicting numbers. The show has never been bigger than it is right now under George Noory. It is enjoying its biggest audience. I think that’s true for greatest number of stations, as well as the largest shares that the show has ever had in major markets. I’ve heard regular figures of an audience generally that hovers between 12 and 15 million. Now, I don’t have that verified, but the last time I asked, I heard 12 to 15 million, so on a slow night maybe 12.
What are those big numbers attributed to?
Punnett: I think it’s an entertaining show. The bottom line is that it has to be entertaining. It has to be worth taking your mind off whatever it is that your mind could be on.
And it has to be worth the investment that a show like that takes, because we don’t do things in five-minute chunks. We don’t predigest material for you. We demand a lot from the audience, that they be the critical thinkers. You know, they have to listen to it and say, "This is right. This is wrong." Or, have a question and get engaged.
You refer to the audience as critical thinkers. How would you describe your general audience listener?
Punnett: It’s a large audience. It’s slightly more male than female, but we get a lot of women who listen to the show. It’s slightly older than younger, but we hear from everybody down to high schoolers on a regular basis.
It is probably the perfect show for somebody who has sleeping difficulties and/or really loves to challenge their mind and kind of put their head around things that they ordinarily don’t think about during the day.
And that must be true for you when you’re hosting.
Punnett: It is very true. It’s a good point. I really love the challenge of that. I love being engaged with people who aren’t the type of person that I might typically talk to.
Your morning drive-time show is co-hosted by you and your wife. Is that pretty fun to do?
Punnett: Oh, it’s the best. I have two of the coolest jobs in radio. I really do. I mean, Coast to Coast is so much fun. Even though the hours are contrary to a morning man’s schedule, it is so much fun to do that show. The only thing that’s more fun is our regular weekday gig, which is it’s just us talking with people and sorting out life a little bit. For us, it’s never dull. We hope it isn’t for the audience.
The other part of your talk at the Expo is related to Christianity and Coast to Coast.
Punnett: Yes. I get some questions asked of me a lot: "How do I reconcile these two things?" and/or, "How does one think about faith in a modern, scientific world where we are challenged all the time to reconsider the Divine or what is the meaning of religion or any of these topics that come up on Coast to Coast?"
I see them dovetailing very nicely. I’m never conflicted by it. The premise of the talk will be how it is that I live in the tension of that, but never a conflict.
And how do you?
Punnett: It’s too hard to explain in a sentence or two, but a lot of it goes back to knowing that experience is subjective. We all need a little wiggle room to see how we fit into what I think of as a big plan for the Universe by God.
Did you always aspire to attend the seminary?
Did you have family members in the seminary?
Punnett: No. I actually came from what we call a lay clergy tradition, so there was no ordained ministry that I grew up with, although my parents were very involved with church projects. I grew up in a very religious household and kept having this thought that someday I would grow up and be a minister. That was odd to me, because that wasn’t anything I had a model for. I didn’t know any ministers and I was kind of intimidated by the ones I would see in my town.
I just felt like that was my call. At first, I thought it was somebody else’s call, like I’d picked up the wrong phone. But, as I grew older and really studied it and read and gave it much more thought, I knew I was destined for that. There was something about getting a Master’s Degree in Divinity and working on a program at a really accredited seminary program (Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta). I knew it would really improve me, even if it took a long time to do it. It took me seven years to finish a three-year program, because I was in radio the whole time.
I just knew that this was my call, and I’m so glad I did it – and it’s just paying off beautifully for me personally.
You plan to be ordained in the Episcopal Church.
Punnett: Right. I’m in the process of ordination. I have a certain number of meetings I have to go through still and meet the requirements of ordination, but that’s the church in which I serve. I work on the Adult Education Programs of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis. And I volunteer there about 10 to 15 hours a week.
When I’m ordained, there will be an obligation that I will need to meet and that I will gladly work out with the Bishop and whatever church I’m assigned to work in. I really see that as being a very important focus in my life. When it becomes full-time work, I’m not sure, but at some point it will be. I just don’t know what the timeline is for that yet.
Will it change your radio career a bit?
Punnett: In the Episcopal Church and in the Catholic Church, you are assigned a period of what they call the transitional deaconate, so I’ll be a church deacon for about a year. And as a deacon, I’ll serve in sacramental functions and I will work within the church structure on whatever it is the church sees me doing. After that transitional year, then I am qualified to be ordained as a priest, and so at that point I will know more about my career options.
But, I see no reason to stop doing radio, nor does the church. The church has never said, "We want you to stop this." In fact, it’s the other way around. They love it and they’ve always been very encouraging to think about a way to keep my radio work alive and still function within the structure of the church.
That would be interesting, a priest hosting Coast to Coast.
Punnett: Well, it comes pretty close to that with all the work that Father Malachi Martin did, and he never felt as though he was a fish out of water – and he was on the show all the time.
What do you make of the perception now that Christianity is playing perhaps too big of a role in our government?
Punnett: I’m not sure how we can say that. I don’t think we have ever been, nor do I think we will ever be, a theocracy of Christianity. Christianity is not written into our Constitution. It is, however, in the fabric of our culture, so the fact that our government is comprised of people who grew up in our culture, our government will always have a certain flavor of Christianity to it. I think that will ebb and flow. I don’t see it really as being anything greater right now than it’s ever been in the past.
Other than the references to it that go on from the pulpit or even from the Presidential podium, I don’t see a lot of evidence of Christian social justice. I don’t see any evidence of even Christian theology at work in our government’s outlook.
We go back and forth in the polls between our liberal and our conservative impulses, and sometimes our liberal impulses are Christian-based as well.
When we look at the Civil Rights movement and other things, it was all based around religion. There are lots of times when we will always be expressing our faith in one way or another. Hopefully, whether it’s a liberal or conservative view on Christianity, it will be a positive one.
What living person inspires you greatly, and why?
Punnett: (Laughing) I was just joking the other night with somebody. When I first went into seminary, I had to write a model for ministry. I had to explain what minister in my life was a role model for me. I honestly couldn’t think of one, so I put down Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider, where he plays a preacher who saves a small town.
The people who influence me the most are the people I work with who are wonderful, good-hearted, generous people with their time. A lot of the priests I work with fall into that category, but I don’t think there’s any one person who models that for me.
As a radio personality, what would you tell people who are worried about our country right now in terms of the war, in terms of recovering from 9/11, in terms of recovering from the hurricanes?
Punnett: I remember something Art Bell once said and it sticks in my mind. He said it right after 9/11. It was the closing of his show the night after 9/11 happened. He said, "Keep your caps on. We’ll get through this." And I think that’s something that we always need to remind ourselves. We can’t think the worst. We can’t imagine there’s no hope. We can’t operate from a position that is destined to fail. Instead, we must stay with the belief that our best days are yet to come. We may not be able to see them from here, but if we just keep our head down and keeping doing what it is that we know we need to do, we’ll get there.
Thanks for speaking with us. Do you have any final comments?
Punnett: I’m looking forward to this talk. I think one of the things we like most at Coast to Coast and what I enjoy most about my experiences serving within any community, whether it’s radio or at the hospital or at the church, is intelligent people exchanging ideas and growing. I think that’s what this Expo has the potential of being, so I’m looking forward to that.
For more information on Ian Punnett and Coast to Coast AM, visit www.coasttocoastam.com. For more information on A Balanced Breakfast® with Ian and Margery Punnett on FM 107.1, visit www.fm107.fm/bbimp.htm