My Appointments with Dr. Demento
This past Friday, a well-known radio announcer turned 80 years old. I emailed him a birthday greeting that day but then felt inspired to write this tribute since he helped get my music heard by a wider audience.
Barret “Barry” Hansen was born on April 2, 1941, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Barry moved to California and earned a master's degree at UCLA plus worked a variety of jobs in the music industry. Eventually, he created a radio show featuring novelty songs and other unusual recordings. A colleague who called Barry “demented” for playing stuff like that inspired a new nickname. The Dr. Demento Show was soon heard throughout the United States and abroad on Armed Forces Radio. It’s probably best known for launching the career of parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic.
The first time I heard of Dr. Demento was in 1982. I became an announcer for KMSC, the radio station at Moorhead State University in Moorhead, Minnesota. During my shift, I played promos for the Dr. Demento Show but didn’t listen to it then. KMSC could only be heard on campus and I still lived at home. Also, KMSC aired Dr. D’s show on Wednesday nights when I usually worked at a roller rink.
It wasn’t until moving to Minneapolis myself when I started listening to the Dr. Demento Show, which aired Sunday nights on KJJO-FM. By 1986, I assembled a home recording studio to create original electronic music. Many people thought Dr. Demento would play my stuff. So I mailed him one of my demo tapes. Dr. D wrote a reply saying he liked what I did with my synthesizers but needed material that was more humorous. A few months later, I sent him “Let’s Blow Up the Tow Truck.” That song and a follow-up called “Hangover” became #1 requests and continue to be favorites on his show.
One day in July 1987, I unexpectedly received a phone call from Dr. Demento. He was writing an article about my music for his Demento Society newsletter and wanted more information. During the next two years, we talked on the phone a few more times. I had considered making a trip to California to personally meet him but that wouldn’t be necessary. In June 1989, Dr. Demento returned to Minneapolis to visit his mother and left a message on my answering machine suggesting we get together. We ended up recording an interview in my studio that he later aired on his program. Dr. D also invited me to attend a gathering of his family members.
Two years later, Dr. Demento conducted a national tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his radio show. One of his stops was Minneapolis. By this time, I had become a Christian and stopped pursuing a secular music career. Nevertheless, I went to see Dr. D at a record store where he signed autographs and talked with fans. I was placed on the guest list to attend a live appearance of him that evening at a local nightclub.
Dr. Demento and I met again the following year when he made another visit to Minneapolis. I put together a recording titled “Too Much TV”, a fictional story composed of television show titles that originated as a Toastmasters speech. I played it for Dr. Demento but found out he already aired a similar recording on his show.
It wasn’t until 2015 when I got another new recording (“Seal Dog Theme”) played on the Dr. Demento Show. Five years earlier, Dr. D ended the syndication of his program. He now produces an online version. Although I periodically check his playlists to see when my songs have aired, I avoid listening to the online programs mainly due to cuss words that no longer need to be censored.
I hope Dr. Demento had a happy 80th birthday. More importantly, I pray that he and fans of his reading this will recognize the importance of being ready for eternity. While God wants us to enjoy ourselves on earth (Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart does good, like medicine”), we will all someday stand before His throne to give an account of our lives. Hell is no laughing matter. I don’t want to see my fellow Dementoids and Dementites going there.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” - John 3:16