Born as Barret Eugene Hansen on 2 April 1941 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he is America’s one-of-a-kind radio broadcaster specializing in novelty songs and other unusual recordings. One day, DJ Barry Hansen aired the 1956 novelty song of Jimmy Drake, who is also known as Nervous Nervos. Titled “Transfusion, the song which includes graphic sounds of a car crash, parodies careless drivers who receive blood transfusions. It sounded so gross that DJ Steven Clean joked that DJ Hansen must be demented to play the song. And so was born DJ Hansen’s performing name of “Doctor Demento.”
Ironically, the man behind the demeaning performing name graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree from Reed College in Portland, Oregon which required senior-year thesis, and which has the distinction of having graduates who go on to earn doctorates and other postgraduate degrees. As a requirement for graduation, Doctor Demento wrote a senior thesis on Claude Debussy’s opera “Pelleas et Melisande” and Alban Berg’s opera “Wozzeck.” Fulfilling a Reed College expectation of its graduates, he later went on to earn a master’s degree in folklore and ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Starting his enormous record collection since he was 12, Doctor Demento nurtured an early interest in the origin of rock ‘n’ roll in country and R&B music. He later wrote about the subject in magazines, liner notes to new recordings and compilations by different artists including 2 chapters in the Rolling Stone Illustrated history of Rock ‘n” Roll.
The radio character of Doctor Demento was born in 1970 when he sat in as guest on an oldies radio show featuring 1950s rock ‘n’ roll over KPPC-FM in Pasadena. When he brought some wacky rock ‘n’ roll singles and played “Transfusion” to the public’s surprise and delight, he quickly gained notice and soon got his own Sunday night shift that would later become the weekly syndicated “Doctor Demento Show.” Aired for 25 years on 200 radio stations all over the United States and on the Armed Forces Radio Network, the show played music that included obscure blues such as the 1947 tune “Pico and Sepulveda,” which became the theme song of his show.
A Libertarian for many years, Doctor Demento who performed as DJ at Libertarian parties and national conventions, elevated both new and old novelty records from obscurity to an appreciated art form. He has even made hits out of decades old tunes that no one has ever dared play or heard over the airwaves.