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Dr. Demento, the man who brought comedic novelty music to the masses for 40 years disappeared from the airwaves in the year 2010 and has not been heard on terrestrial radio in over a decade since.
Was he abducted by bloodthirsty clowns? Did he join a monastery? Did he move to the planet Meep Morp? In this episode of the Dandy Fun House I’m going to attempt to answer the question on nobody’s mind…
WHERE IS DR. DEMENTO!!!!!????? …Let’s step into the fun house!
Dr. Demento, the maniacal force for all things musically absurd commanded the terrestrial radio airwaves for 40 nonstop years from 1970 through 2010. He helped bring much-deserved attention to such iconic artists as Ray Stevens (who still performs regularly at his own dinner theater, the Caba-Ray in Nashville), Jimmy Durante, Spike Jones, Judy Tenuta and of course the notorious Weird Al Yankovic among countless others. He suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from the airwaves in the year 2010 and I did promise in the show opening that I would attempt to uncover where he went. But before we get into all that, I think some back history on the good doctor is in order. Because you might think of him as just a nasally-voiced, horn-honking, slide-whistling disc jockey. But I can assure you, there’s more than meets the eye to Dr. Demento. MUCH… MORE…!!!!!!!! (Sherman, ignite the Wayback Machine!)
1941 – THE WORLD GETS A LITTLE DEMENTED
Let’s go all the way back to 1941… April 2nd, 1941 to be exact. Minneapolis, Minnesota’s very own Barret Eugene Hansen (whom the world will eventually know as Dr. Demento) comes kicking and screaming into the world although he hasn’t yet been weaned on slide whistles and bicycle horns. There was nothing really unusual or noteworthy about his midwestern upbringing at least until the age of 12 when in 1953 Barret stumbles across a treasure trove of thousands of 78 RPM records at a local thrift store for a nickel apiece, starts spending all his allowance and becomes raptured in music from across the ages falling deeply in love with the recorded art form. He spends the next 7 years immersing himself in sounds transcending cultures and genres straight through his high school years.
1960 – COLLEGE RADIO
Then in 1960 while attending Reed College in Portland Oregon, he was presented with an opportunity to work at the school’s station, KRRC and earned his way up to becoming Program Director and eventually General Manager. While at Reed, he studied classical music and then after graduation, went on to UCLA earning a masters degree in folklore and ethnomusicology.
And like every young adult who spends a fortune in time, energy and money to get through college, he put these degrees to very good use by hanging out with rock and roll hippies and becoming a roadie for the legendary bands Spirit and also Canned Heat. But Barret DID put the relationships he built during this time to very good use and parlayed them into becoming a talent scout for the record label, Specialty Records. He also took a job at the radio station KPPC-FM in Pasadena, California where he began broadcasting his own weekly oldies radio show. As his music industry connections build, Barret Hansen finds himself putting together compilation albums for Warner Brothers as well as writing articles for music magazines like Rolling Stone and Hit Parader. Barret was a very, very busy guy!
1970 – DR. DEMENTO DEBUTS!
Then one day in 1970 while doing his show at KPPC-FM, Barret played one song that would change the course of his life forever. It was “Transfusion” by Nervous Norvus. (I actually had that record when I was a kid. Put a gallon in me Allan!) Another DJ going by “Obscene Steven Clean” called Barret “Demented” for playing it. Somehow the “Demented” label stuck, wouldn’t unstick and eventually morphed into his now iconic nomenclature of “Dr. Demento!”
Barret Eugene Hansen embraced his new handle wholeheartedly and began seeking out and playing the most absurd music on the planet, incorporating them into his oldies show and destiny was set into motion as he officially changed the title of his show to the Dr. Demento Show. The offbeat novelties became so popular with listeners that he altered his format completely to solely concentrate on bringing wacky tunes to the airwaves. Within a few short years, popularity grew and he was picked up and syndicated across America by the Westwood One Radio Network airing mainly late Sunday evenings on FM rock stations.
The 80’s – THE ROBERT YOUNG ERA
In 1982, production of the Dr. Demento Show was taken over by a journalist named Robert Young who oversaw what most consider to be Dr. Demento’s heyday. Under Young’s guidance, stronger relationships were forged with national media outlets and live appearances and interviews across the United States became part of normal promotion.
During the course of the 80’s under Young’s watch, The Dr. Demento Show brought exposure and acclaim to novelty music artists from bygone eras like Spike Jones and Jimmy Durante, mainstays of the time including Frank Zappa and Ray Stevens and also up-and comers like Judy Tenuta, Richard Cheese and we can’t understate his contribution to breaking the career of easily the most successful novelty music artist of all time, Weird Al Yankovic.
It was also during this era that a character named Whimsical Will was introduced to the show who hosted a segment called “Demented News.” But Whimsical Will was unfortunately not included in the nationally syndicated version of the show and was relegated only to the longer 4-hour show on their Los Angeles flagship station.
Producer, Robert Young parted ways with the Westwood One Radio Network in 1990 and along with it, his production time with the Dr. Demento Show. He did later release a book in 2014 about his time with the show entitled “Producing Demento.
The 90’s – DEMENTO PRODUCES DEMENTO
After the departure of proucer Robert Young, Barret Hansen himself took over the production and management in 1992 and cut a syndication deal with On the Radio Broadcasting which allowed him greater freedom of song and segment choices that wouldn’t have been approved under Westwood One and also allowed for bringing Whimsical Will onto the nationally-syndicated broadcast! Yay Whimsical Will! Syndication continued with On The Radio Broadcasting for the remainder of the 90’s until…
2000’s – DEMENTO SYNDICATES HIMSELF!
In the year 2000, Hansen Barret forms “Talonian Productions” and personally takes over syndication of the Dr. Demento Show. One of the hardest-working men in the funny business, he produces 52 shows per year almost never running a repeat. In 2005 Dr. Demento is inducted into the Comedy Music Hall of Fame and in 2009, the National Radio Hall of Fame. He continues bringing dementia to the airwaves for the next decade until 2010 when he mysteriously disappears from terrestrial radio airwaves entirely! Which brings us to the question posed at the start of this show…
WHERE IS DR. DEMENTO!!!!!?????
He took his show online and broadcasts on the internet now. Find him at drdemento.com . What did you think I was going to say? While you’re there, you can also become a card-carrying member of Dr. Demento’s fan club otherwise known as “The Demento Society.” He also has a merchandise store which surprisingly does not sell top hats, but does sell the usual t-shirts and ball caps. But there are also much more interesting items for sale such as skull caps, turntable slip mats, autographed photos, a balsa wood glider, frisbees, a ruler that says something on it I’m not going to repeat here and a blue ribbon which I’m having trouble comprehending who or why anyone would buy a Dr. Demento blue ribbon unless the were… demented!
And now you know! Dr. Demento. Where he came from, how he got here, where he went and where you can find him now! What else you want from me? I’m just a poor, pitiful show host over here! Gimme a break already!
And if you’d REALLY like to give me a break, please consider contributing to the production of future episodes here at the Dandy Fun House by visiting the patronage page at www.dandyfunhouse.com
Supporters gain access to exclusive bonus content and super supporters also gain access to that exact same bonus content PLUS I’ll personally mail you something really dandy from right here at the Dandy Fun House Studios IF you provide me with your mailing address!
That does it for this episode! Come back soon to the Dandy Fun House where everything is always… FUN AND DANDY!
And as the good doctor says at the close of every show… “Stay Demented!”