Radio Waves: July 15, 2022

The Doctor is Still In

If you grew up in Southern California in the 1970s, you likely listened to the legendary KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM). And if you listened to KMET, you likely listened to one of the most famous programs to ever originate from album-rock radio, Dr. Demento.

Born Barret Eugene “Barry” Hansen, Dr. Demento wasn’t heard only on KMET. In fact, his show launched on KPPC (now KROQ, 106.7 FM) after a time in 1970 playing some of his personal record recollection as a guest on Steven Segal, known on the air as The Obscene Steven Clean, on KMET and later KPPC (now KROQ, 106.7 FM).  Those personal records included unusual recordings, novelty songs and just strange and unusual songs dating back to the earliest 78 RPM records.

It was Segal who gave Hansen the name “Dr. Demento.”

“I had no warning of this,” Hansen says, explaining that it came about roughly the third time he was a guest in hour-long expanded segments that began in October. “He just decided he’d start calling me Dr. Demento.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

He got his own two-hour shift on KPPC at the end on 1970; He moved to KMET in 1971, where for four hours he’d play his version of hits … from artists such as Spike Jones, Jimmy Durante, Ray Stevens, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer, Nervous Norvus, and of course “Weird Al” Yankovic.

He remained at KMET until the station changed formats in early 1987. After that he could be heard on KLSX (now KNX-FM, 97.1 FM) and later KSCA (101.9 FM), where it remained until 1997. The show was also syndicated nationally in a two-hour format from 1974 to about 2010, when it became available only on the internet.

But it was at KMET where he truly shined. The first three hours of the program included various records, not always funny but always interesting, the last hour devoted to the “top-10” where you’d hear such classic recordings as “Star Drek,” “Pencil-Neck Geek,” “Dead Puppies,” “Shaving Cream,” “Fish Heads,” and many more. 

Hansen was instrumental in bringing teen-ager Yankovic to a national audience when he played “Belvedere Crusin” on his show in 1976.

As mentioned, Hansen still makes his show available on the internet with new programs weekly at https://www.drdemento.com. He participates in the official Facebook fan page for the show at https://www.facebook.com/groups/drdemento. It is on Facebook where I asked his legions of fans for their memories of the show and the good Doctor himself.

“Found the good Dr. late at night by accident when I was about 12/13 years old. Right around the time Weird All came out with My Bologna. Was hooked on both of them immediately (my local radio station played Ray Stevens, so I was big into the comedy stuff with nothing on other than that)” — Ginger Boyles

“When I was 7 or 8 years old, I had an uncle that sent my family a few cassette tapes of the Dr. Demento Show that he had taped for us (it wasn’t on any of the stations in our area at the time). No one else in my family was interested, so they quickly became mine. The first tape I listened to was the show that first aired Weird Al’s ‘Another Rides the Bus’. I was instantly hooked. Those tapes quickly became what I listened to whenever I could. 

“Looking back, I’ve realized that I had been listening to a radio show that showed me that I wasn’t the only weird person around. It was okay to not fit into the normal mold of society. Shortly after, a local station started airing the show. Not only did his show entertain with it’s rich history of parody and novelty music, but I know it influenced my sense of humor in my formative years. A large amount of credit (or blame) is due to Dr. Demento and his efforts in shaping me into who I am today, someone who is comfortable with being a little off kilter.” — Joshua Hesselgrave

“Sunday nights at midnight….difficult for a jr high girl sometimes…but the desire to possibly hear ‘Fish Heads’ or ‘Dead Puppies!’”  — Holly Hammond

“I helped run a coffee house in Allendale, NJ called The Grotto in the mid to late 1970s. We had live music, but when the Doctor came on the radio, that stopped and it was time to get demented!” — Seth Bogdanove

“Before Dr. Dememto would get to the Top Ten Countdown, he would play records and songs that had a theme running thru them.  I remember once he played several versions of  ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’ … he pointed out words and lines were changed in the different versions. And even played a song that could have been the genesis of the song.” — Robert Stone II

“I did a fake stupid hillbilly voice to request a song because I thought it would improve my chances – it did and I got a t-shirt” — Beaux Peterson

“I have a hand written letter from Dr. D. I’m sure a lot of other fans on here still have theirs as well.” — Cindy Lee

“A few of my San Pedro High friends recorded a song to the tune of ‘Rocket Cathedrals’ by Be Bop Deluxe. Their group name was ITZ… The song was called “Vinnie the Hippo” and it was about portly SPHS language teacher. They circulated a petition, and it ended up being played on the air!” — Jeff Steybe

“I remember seeing him at the Capital Records swap meet. Dr Demento would be going through bins and bins of records looking for cool stuff for his show.” — Dean Case

“Sunday night was a thing. My older brother and I would listen; we had this really old FM tube receiver that kinda glowed in the dark from the tubes and a couple of speakers hooked up to it. Sometimes with friends over, sometimes not. It was appointment radio in those days.” — Bob Orabona

“I remember listening to him on the radio, I enjoyed his Christmas shows the most, I really miss those! I joined the fan club, and I have all of his CDs.” — Russell Cinque, Jr.

I, too, have many memories, including the jingle used for the top song of the night: “It’s time for number o-n-e! This is it, here it comes NUMBER ONE!” 

If you’d like to get up-close and personal with the good doctor, head over to https://bit.ly/3NTWfba where you’ll find a long-form career-spanning interview Mike Stark and I did for LA Radio Sessions. You can get a lot of inside information on his record collection, his radio career, and much more.

And don’t forget to stay demented!

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