LOS ANGELES | Listen closely, that’s the sound of demented music dying that you’re hearing on your radio.
After nearly 40 years of broadcasting catchy little tunes celebrating everything from dogs getting run over by lawn mowers to cockroaches devouring entire cities, Dr. Demento — whose real name is Barret Hansen — is discontinuing his syndicated radio show.
By summer’s end, the good doctor’s hyperenthusiastic voice will be heard only on the Internet as it introduces oddball classics such as “There’s a Fungus Among Us,” “Fish Heads” and “Dead Puppies.”
For decades Mr. Hansen has been a Sunday night fixture on radio stations across the country, keeping alive the music of political satirists like Tom Lehrer (“The Vatican Rag”), while making a star of “Weird Al” Yankovic, whose first parody hit, “My Bologna,” debuted on the doctor’s show.
“He kept my whole career alive by playing Freberg records constantly,” says Stan Freberg, the Grammy-winning song satirist who, at 83, continues to write and perform comedy music and make public appearances.
Recently, however, the radio stations carrying Mr. Hansen’s show declined to fewer than a dozen. He had planned to stop syndicating it this month until he learned a college station in Amarillo, Texas, had committed to airing it through the summer.
Over the decades, Mr. Hansen, who was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame last year, has kept his playlists contemporary. But it was changing radio formats that did in his syndicated show, said Mr. Hansen, 69, music writer and ethnomusicologist. His college master’s thesis was on the evolution of rhythm and blues.
“With the increasingly narrow casting, as they call it, of radio where stations will pick one relatively restricted format and stick with it 24 hours a day, especially in the music area, my show just got perhaps a little too odd of a duck to fit in,” he said.
The program has always been built on Mr. Hansen’s personal music collection, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands and includes every recording format from antique wax cylinders to modern-day digital downloads.
When he started putting them on the radio in 1970, it wasn’t all that unusual for a pop station to play a record by blues-rocker Eric Clapton, followed immediately by one from crooner Frank Sinatra. But those days of radio appear over, says broadcast veteran and University of Southern California’s writer-in-residence Norman Corwin.
Political talk-radio and niche-music formats “do have a huge following, and a huge influence,” Mr. Corwin said. “But the variety programs are gone. That’s a shame.”
They’ve gone to the Internet, said Mr. Hansen, who has been doing a separate Web show there for several years. On the Web, he said, he can play even a wider selection of music, including tunes too raunchy or outrageous for FCC-regulated terrestrial radio.
“I prefer to think of it as just transitioning to a new medium rather than it coming to an end,” he says of the show, which will mark its 40th anniversary in October.
“It’s kind of like when we changed from cassettes to CDs,” he said in that distinctive Dr. Demento voice.
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