Airwaves: May 31, 2013
The Doctor is In
His program -- indeed, his identity -- has its roots at former Los Angeles underground station KPPC (now KROQ, 106.7 FM) and is tied to a song by an artist called Nervous Norvus (real name Jimmy Drake) called Transfusion, released in 1956.
In the song, Drake sings a cheery tune of careless driving, each verse ending with the sound effect of an car crash and lyrics talking of receiving a transfusion. Each verse ends with a promise of better driving; each verse starts with more bad driving.
For about six months prior to his being hired by the station for his own show, Barry Hansen would make weekly guest appearances on KPCC's "The Obscene" Steven Clean's show to play songs. One day in 1970 he played Transfusion; Clean thought it weird enough to muse that Hansen had to be demented to play it.
On that day, Dr. Demento was born.
Once he was officially hired, his show was a actually a rock oldies show, but the novelty records he added began to get traction. Soon the show evolved into an all-novelty song program. Remember, these were the days of creative programming especially on the freeform FM stations. Nothing like this could happen today.
The days of KPPC would be numbered, however, with the entire air staff being fired in October of 1971. Hansen took his show to KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM) in early 1972, where it ran every Sunday night until that stationÕs demise on Valentine's Day, 1987. Hansen later did live, local shows for KLSX (now KAMP, 97.1 FM) from 1987 to 1992, and KSCA (101.9 FM) from 1994 - 1997. A syndicated version was heard on stations across the country from 1974 to 2010, when the program left radio for good, a victim of media consolidation and changing tastes ... the novelty of novelty records had apparently run its course.
I have fond memories of the Dr. Demento Show, and in fact was the reason I tuned into KMET as a young man; I was an AM fan far longer than my friends and continued listening to KEZY/1190 and The Mighty 690 even after adding an FM converter to my 1974 Vega. Dr. Demento was my reason to listen to KMET.
Who could forget the comedy of Star Drek? Anything by Weird Al Yankovic, who began his own illustrious career with the parody of The KnackÕs My Sharona with a hit (recorded in a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo menÕs room) called My Bologna? Dead Puppies? Shaving Cream? Pencil-neck Geek? Existential Blues? Anything by Tom Lehrer (Vatican Rag, anyone)?
My favorite part was the top-10; funny-5 when the syndicated version started being played in 1983. But it it was obscure and offbeat, Hansen, er, Dr. Demento would play it. So popular was the good doctor, especially here in Los Angeles, that it was a no-brainer to bring him back to the air for one night when The Sound (100.3 FM) paid tribute to KMET for a day a few years ago.
So where is he now? Living in Lakewood, still playing novelty records and producing a new show every week. But like many other DJs who were pushed to the curb as part of the great media consolidation push, he can be found on the net. So instead of hearing the programs on your FM radio, you just point your computer browser to www.drdemento.com.
Individual shows cost $2; monthly and yearly memberships are available. Kind of a drag that you have to pay, but cool that heÕs still doing the show. Even cooler are the archives of shows that can also be streamed as well, including many original KMET shows dating back to 1972, and a few KPPC shows and airchecks from the very early days.
I am hoping to land an audio interview of the good Doctor for the series of interviews I am doing with LA Radio Sessions host Michael Stark (laradiosessions.com). If that happens, IÕll let you know.
Copyright © 2013 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.
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