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Dr. Demento – a Comedy Music Original

By Kent Johnson

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 30 years, you’ve probably heard the name Dr. Demento, even if you’ve never heard the Good Doctor’s radio show (or maybe you thought he was a practicing physician?).

Anyway, Dr. Demento is host of his own weekly-syndicated and wildly popular radio show, appropriately-named "The Dr. Demento Show." On the air for over 35 years, Dr. Demento has describes his show as "Mad music and crazy comedy from out of the archives and off the wall. Rare records and outrageous tapes from yesterday, today, and tomorrow."

The Dr. Demento show is heard on over 200 radio stations in the U.S., and is carried abroad on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Legend has it that the show got its name when Barry Hanson (aka Dr. Demento) was playing "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus on the radio one day, and someone said, "You've gotta be demented to play that!" Soon after that, the DJ before him announced, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Dr. Demento!", and the name stuck.

The show has been wildly popular ever since. In fact, Dr. Demento is credited with making Weird Al Yankovic a household name. "Weird Al" had songs aired on The Dr. Demento Show eight years before he became world famous with the Micheal Jackson parody "Eat It.” At one time he had the most requested song of all time on the show ("Another One Rides The Bus"), and is still the most requested artist.

So who is this Dr. Demento, anyway? His real name is Barry Hanson. Born in Minneapolis, MN in 1941, Barry grew up and eventually earned a master’s degree in music from UCLA. Barry began his broadcasting career by hosting his own radio show at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Barry’s also a writer, and he once served as an editor for The Little Sandy Review, a folk music magazine that was one of the first to write about up-and-coming artist like Dylan and Frank Zappa. Barry’s reviews have also been published in Rolling Stone magazine.

Barry got his big break when he was invited to sit in as a guest on a 50s rock'n'roll oldies radio show on KPPC-FM in Pasadena, California in 1970. His DJ friend Steven Siegal invited him to bring in some eclectic rock ‘n roll singles for the upcoming week’s show, and Barry did just that. His obscure music was a hit, and he soon went from an on-air guest to having his own Sunday night show, and the seeds of the future Dr. Demento Show were sown. According to Barry, “everybody liked the obscure blues and doo-wop records well enough, but every time I played 'Transfusion' by Nervous Norvus, the phones lit up like crazy." 

Realizing that he was onto something, Barry started tweaking the format and playing songs that went way beyond conventional rock ‘n roll fare. Barry eventually left KPPC-FM, and in 1971 (along with Siegal) he landed at KMET-FM in Los Angeles. Once again he had his own Sunday night show, and soon landed his first special guest on the show, Frank Zappa. Needless to say, the show quickly became a hit, and Barry (now firmly established as Dr. Demento) stayed on with KMET for next 15 years.

In the mid 1970's, the show started picking up subscribers from radio stations around the country. The list soon topped 100, including a New York City affiliate that put Dr. Demento in the national spotlight. Soon Barry was making network TV appearances, he was featured in large print magazines, and before long The Dr. Demento Show was being syndicated on more that 200 radio stations across the country.

The rest, as they say, is history. The good doctor owns some 200,000-odd records (some very rare and odd indeed) and he’s been known to make hits out of songs that are a half-century old. He’s almost single-handedly made novelty records into a high art form. Today Barry stays busy on a variety of projects, including comp work on collections from John Fahey and Spike Jones, and a “Weird Al” Yankovic box set from Capitol Records.

Little known fact - Dr. Demento has been a libertarian for years, and has dee-jayed parties at Libertarian Party national conventions.

You can contack Dr. Demento at the following address:

The Demento Society
P.O. Box 884
Culver City, CA 90232


Dr. Demento Music -- Because It's Good To Laugh!


We feature a number of Dr. Demento artists here at Picklehead Music.
Click Here to visit the Dr. Demento page for more on these unique and unusual musical talents.


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