The name Barret Eugene Hansen might not mean anything to you. He’s not Ryan Seacrest or Rick Dees or even Casey Kasem for those of us old enough to remember that last name. In fact Hansen may not even be known to you by his radio moniker, Dr. Demento. But for 40 years, radio was a little more demented. The Dr. Demento show ends its broadcast run this year.
Growing up in the 80s, there were about four stations that I was familiar with, in my hometown. There was the top 40 station B94, which is now a sports talk station. There was/is the classic rock station 102.5 WDVE. There was the AM news station 1340 WCVI which has been defunct for a number of years and is now another station under different ownership. And there was the small easy listening, oldies, and pop station on top of the mountain called 103.9FM WLSW aka Music Power 104. Between the three I received an equal dosage of 80s, Oldies, and Paul Harvey.
But something happened during the rise of popular music in the early 80s. Another musician became prominent as a parody artist, cover tunes like My Sharona, Another One Rides the Bus and I Love Rock and Roll. His emergence on the music scene was, in part, thanks to a goofy radio program called the Dr. Demento Show. Had it not been for the constant airplay and admiration for his parody styling of popular hits, “Weird” Al Yankovic might have remained an architect from Cal Poly.
Now, novelty music and parodies were not unheard of in the 1980s. In fact, Dr. Demento had already been on the air since 1970 playing hits of Frank Zappa, Tom Lehrer, Spike Jones and Allen Sherman. But it was the mainstream success of Yankovic that drew more attention to Demento’s show from the “normal” audience. I began listening around 1984 when I found his radio show being played on WLSW on Sunday Nights. It was a big thrill to me to have my own room, with a radio in it and stay up as long as I could on a Sunday night listening to songs like “Shaving Cream” and “Pencil Neck Geek.” That interest in parodies and novelty songs is probably what cemented my geekness and affinity for comedic absurdity. At the height of home recording, armed with a TDK 60 minute tape and OTR (One Touch Recording) I began taping the Funny Five and other popular songs. While other people were watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, I was frantically trying to record his Funny 25 over the course of four hours with only 60 minute tapes, 30 minutes on a side.
It’s not like I was recording a live concert of the Rolling Stones or Van Halen, but to me, I was in geek radio heaven. As CDs became the norm and dual cassette tape decks became something of a novelty I missed out on the radio show and didn’t even know if it was still playing on the local radio stations. Junior High, High School, College. These were times not spent listening to the radio for the rare chance to record “Stallone Again, Naturally” or “99 Dead Baboons.” There were more important things to do like drink beer and stay up all night doing absolutely nothing. I would still catch myself humming, “Dead Puppies” or “Shaving Cream” but nothing compared to the ravenous appetite for mad music that I had in my youth.
Dr. Demento represented a time and place in my life, alone in my room on a Sunday night with a tape recorder at the ready. I still love those songs and can’t help break into “Fish Heads” once in awhile, much to the eye rolling of my wife who just doesn’t get it. Even as “Weird Al” enters his 50s I feel his music is as good as it ever was and if you’ve ever heard his original music, you’d be surprised at how well the guy can write a song. I’m glad I had the opportunity to listen to him and other novelty and parody artists on The Dr. Demento Show. In fact, Dr. Demento isn’t gone forever. He’s alive and well on the Internet. Radio may have changed and demographics may be more narrow but the one place that equalizes the playing field is the Internet. Anyone, anywhere can find Demento on the air. As long as you have someone paying for the site, the music will be there. No pesky format changes or inability to expand your play list past a four song rotation. It’s a perfect match of madness and technology that speaks to the hearts and ears of geeks like me. Stay Demented!
Here’s a list of some of my favorite songs from the Demento Show
“Existential Blues Parts 1 and 2” Tom “T-Bone” Stankus
“Dead Puppies” Ogden Edsl
“99 Dead Baboons” Tim Cavanaugh
“Pencil Neck Geek” “Classy” Freddie Blassie
“The Ballad Of Irving” Frank Gallop
“Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” Allan Sherman
“Christmas At Ground Zero” “Weird Al” Yankovic
“Yoda” “Weird Al” Yankovic
“Ti Kwan Leep” The Frantics
“Earache My Eye” Cheech and Chong
“Shaving Cream” Benny Bell and Paul Wynn
“The Scotsman” Bryan Bowers
“Wet Dream” Kip Adotta
“Beep Beep” The Playmates
“Star Trekkin” The Firm
“The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” Julie Brown
“Fish Heads” Barnes and Barnes
“They Coming To Take Me Away, HA HA” Napoleon XIV