When Dr. Demento Ruled the Airwaves


As music educations go, Barret Hansen has compiled an impressive scholarly background. He holds a BA and MA in classical and folk music from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and the University of California, Los Angeles, respectively. In high school, he was a disc jockey for dances like sock hops. In Portland, he was station manager for the campus FM channel. His UCLA thesis was on the growth of rhythm and blues music from 1945 to 1953. Out of college, he took a job reissuing vintage blues, gospel, and rock songs. All of this experience has perhaps made Hansen uniquely overqualified to assume the radio persona of Dr. Demento. From 1970 to 2010, Hansen’s aural alter ego spent between one and four hours on Sunday nights curating a selection of comedy and novelty song tracks, from the holiday classic “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” by Elmo and Patsy to the work of a teenager named Alfred Yankovic, who wrote a song about his family’s Plymouth Belvedere titled “Belvedere Cruising.” While other disc jockeys were spinning hit records and adopting cool personas, Dr. Demento seemed content to fill the niche of the weird.

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