Dr. Demento is the stage name of Barret Eugene Hansen (born April 2, 1941), a radio disc jockey specializing in novelty songs and pop music parodies. He created the persona in 1970 while working at Los Angeles station KPPC-FM. After Hansen played "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus on the radio, DJ Steven Clean said that Hansen had to be "demented" to play that. Thereafter, the name stuck. His weekly show went into syndication in 1974 and from 1978–92 was syndicated by the Westwood One Radio Networks. It is still on the air as of 2008.
Hansen was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of an amateur pianist. He claims to have started his vast record collection as early as age 12, when he found "that a local thrift store had thousands of old 78 RPM records for sale at 5 cents each". He attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where he was promoted to Program Director of KRRC in 1960 and General Manager in 1961. He wrote his senior thesis on Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck and Claude Debussy's opera Pelleas et Melisande. He graduated in 1963, and later studied at UCLA, from which he earned a master's degree in folklore and ethnomusicology.
After earning his master's degree, he lived for two years "in a big house on a hill" in Topanga Canyon with members of the rock band Spirit ("Fresh Garbage" was a hit for them). He also served briefly as a roadie for Spirit, and for Canned Heat, before being hired as an A&R man, or scout, for Specialty Records. It was while working for Specialty that the Doctor began his weekly radio show. He later worked for Warner Bros. Records.
Hansen married his wife, Sue, on November 26, 1983, in Los Angeles, California. At that time she was a senior training officer at the Union Pacific railroad. Hansen describes himself as "an armchair railfan".
To some people, Dr. Demento is best known as the man who brought rock parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic to national attention (and appeared in a number of Weird Al's music videos, as well as Weird Al's movie UHF). Hansen also played a role in the success of Elmo and Patsy's 1979 Christmas song "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and the continuing success of Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash".
Hansen created the persona in 1970 while working at Pasadena station KPPC-FM. At the end of 1971, he moved to KMET in Los Angeles. From 1972–83, he performed a four hour live show on KMET. The four hour "local" show was divided up into two general segments. The first segment lasted three hours and the "Doctor" played whatever he chose, often thematically. The last hour was devoted to the so called "Top Ten" which was determined by petitions and requests.
His weekly show went into syndication in 1974 and from 1978–92 was syndicated by the Westwood One Radio Networks. From 1979-1980, he also did a separate pre-taped four hour show for KSAN in San Francisco. In 1983, KMET started airing the syndicated show, and then in 1985 he was back live on KMET, but for only two hours instead of the previous four hours. He then moved live to KLSX in 1987, and later to KLIT/KSCA in 1994 (after a one-year hiatus when Los Angeles did not carry the show). The local live show ended in 1997 when KSCA switched formats, although he returned live for a few weeks in 1998 on KLSX again. KLSX then carried the syndicated show until 1999, since which time no station in Los Angeles has carried the show, despite it being home to his biggest fan base.
The show is still on the air as of 2008, syndicated by Hansen's own company, Talonian Productions, whose sole purpose is to produce and distribute this program. The show airs for two hours weekly, usually on a Sunday night, although stations are free to air the show at other times.
The show has, in recent years, fallen on financial hard times. According to Hansen, the show has steadily lost advertisers, and as such, he had to restructure the distribution of the show from the usual barter system to a system in which stations pay a rights fee for the program. In addition, he has stated that "unless the show's financial situation changes soon I will be unable to continue the show much longer". Beginning January 2008, the weekly "Funny 5" was abandoned and was replaced by a monthly Top Ten.
The Dr. Demento Show can also be heard via audio streaming at his official website. Large archives from 1992 to the present, as well as a few select archives from the early 1970s, are available, but the syndicated programs from 1978 to 1992 are not because Westwood One apparently still owns those programs. Some live local shows which aired in Los Angeles from this period are slowly being, with a small per-show fee is levied for this service so as to make the show profitable. As part of the contract between Dr. Demento and radio stations, radio stations are prohibited from streaming the program on any streams the stations provide. Several radio stations have been forced to drop the program because of this policy, thus reducing Dr. Demento's affiliate count, making the show even less appealing to advertisers. A spokesperson for Dr. Demento mentioned in his official forum in October 2007 that the show is working to make "lots of changes" regarding the internet services, including a new webmaster.
Hansen has developed an interest in the roots of rock 'n' roll in R&B and country music, and he has written about it in many magazine articles, liner notes to compilations and new recordings by a variety of artists, and two chapters on early R&B for The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. His shows and public appearances display an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of recorded music in general, from the earliest Edison cylinder recordings onward.
Dr. Demento was inducted into the Comedy Music Hall of Fame in June 2005.
At the end of each year on his syndicated radio show, he counts down the top 25 comedy hits of the year, called the "Funny 25". (From 1972–82, he also did a year-end top 50 countdown for his four-hour live show in Los Angeles, plus a separate pre-taped top 50 in 1979 for San Francisco.) The chart is based on requests, so it is common for classic comedy songs to appear on the chart for many years in a row. Despite that, only four artists have appeared at the top of the chart in two consecutive years; three of those appeared at the top of the charts with two different songs each year, and the fourth is the case of Ogden Edsl, whose song "Dead Puppies" is thus far the only one to appear at the top of the charts two years in a row.
The 1947 song "Pico and Sepulveda" by Felix Figueroa & His Orchestra (actually Freddy Martin & His Orchestra) was frequently featured on Dr. Demento's syndicated radio show. During the early years of his show, this song became so requested, and hence played, that the "Doctor" decided to give the song a special status. From May 1973 onward, the song was played once a month, on the first Sunday of every month, at the end of a set of songs about the Los Angeles area. The Doctor's unidirectional covenant he made with his listeners was that in exchange for playing this same song ad infinitum once a month via this special arrangement, it was thereafter voided from ever being voted upon, requested, and/or played in any monthly Top 10 or annual Top 50 format. Since July 1974, a version of this song by the Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band has been used as his opening theme.
A number of compilations have been released by Dr. Demento, including: