🐰Audio Autopsy, 1970: Before Dr. Demento, He Was Warner Bros. Records PR Writer, Barry Hansen
Years before "Weird Al" sent him a life-changing cassette, Dr. Demento interned at Burbank's Label of The Bunny.
Inspired by a suggestion byof Goatfury Writes.
Enter the Good Doctor’s First Gig
I first became aware of Dr. Demento about the same time he adopted that nom-de-tune, but had no idea he had that radio-based persona (until several years later). I was in Houston, TX, and in high school in the early ‘70s (age 15 in 1970, for a point of reference).
At the time our paths crossed, he was merely Barry Hansen, who had recently earned his master’s degree from UCLA, in ethnomusicology, folk music division. He wrote his master’s thesis on the growth of blues music in the 1940s.
While he toiled out of the promotions and/or PR division of Warner Bros. Records in Burbank in the early ‘70s, I was voraciously reading his work in two printed elements produced by The Label of The Bunny (a nickname for the label whose corporately-attached animation studio gave us Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and all our favorite Looney Tunes for decades….I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Barry was the one to have come up with that “Label of the Bunny” phrase)!
As far as I can determine, he likely worked there from about 1971-1975 or so. Somewhere in that time span, too, was the overlapping of his L.A.-based KPPC-FM/(Pasadena) Dr. Demento radio show, about which I knew little, and I’m not even sure it was syndicated in Houston until a bit later (1974, to be exact, with national syndication by Westwood One Radio Network spanning from 1978 through 1992).
Broadcast syndication of the show ended on June 6, 2010, but the show continues to be produced weekly in an online version.
Hansen’s job at Warner Bros. seemed to be solely a writing one in those early- to mid- ‘70s. He was known to have written the little bio blurbs for the artists who landed on the label’s storied “two-fers,” of which I managed to collect virtually all…maybe two-to-three dozen over the span of their releases.
Actually, the job of collating and annotating these “Loss Leaders” fell, initially, to longtime Warners exec, the late, great Stan Cornyn (1933-2015), who worked for decades for the label, but was in charge of the label’s Creative Services (from 1960 through the late ‘70s) during the time of these amazing sampler albums.
He passed the annotating gig on to Hansen sometime in the early ‘70s. Longtime Warners Art Director, Ed Thrasher and his team, were responsible for the creative artwork on each.
Each two-LP-set operated as a sampler album, with one to two tracks from recent releases of the label’s (and affiliates) vast roster: The Doobie Brothers, Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, Maria Muldaur, Bonnie Raitt, Montrose, Roger Saunders, M. Frog, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, James Taylor, Neil Young, et al!
The label’s grand hope for these “Loss Leader” two-fers? That you’d be willing to pop for the 2 bucks it would take to get the sampler in the mail, end up loving one, two, or eight new artists and their new product, and then you’d happily trundle down to your local record store, and buy your newly-discovered albums’ sounds at regular retail price!
The cost of pressing, printing, and assembling the samplers, they hoped, would be more than offset, now, by the scads of newly-purchased product that would otherwise not have been heard.
The label actually (and proudly) called these albums “Loss Leaders,” a standard term in most industries with product priced to a point where they end up doing what it sounds like…leading the company in losses, but as a strategy for an eventual gain in the future. The idea would be to make available these 2-LP sets by mail, with their ads being placed on the inner sleeves of newly-released albums, like so:
You (the consumer) would cut out the coupon, and send it in with your dough (Check? Yep. Cash? No prob), having checked the boxes of the two-fers of your choice!
The other project Hansen was involved with was the periodical Circular, the weekly promo-only, in-house info piece that was sent only to radio personnel and record industry professionals (my dad was in sales at a Houston radio station, hence my access to promo albums and Circular).
It was roughly the size of a 45-rpm sleeve (about 6”x6”), and was a stapled 6-, 8-, or 12-page booklet, depending on the amount of label news and the number of new releases to tout.
According to afka.net, Circular was a “Promo-only magazine published weekly by Warner/Reprise Records in the ‘70s. 9x9 in size and most issues are 8 pages or more including short articles on new releases, tour itineraries etc. and a column by Dr. Demento [I seem to recall a column, yes, but I still hold with the notion that he also wrote the lion’s share of promo/PR copy within each].
“Lots of original photos not published elsewhere. Circular started out as a 9x12 biweekly (except for summer months when publishing was suspended), but by 1971, it became weekly. In January 1976, Circular was replaced with another in-house [promo] monthly publication, Wax Paper” [which I recall, but its now-12”-square new iteration lacked the overall charm of its predecessor, as well as the contributions by Hansen, who by this time, had moved on].
It’s at this point where Hansen (already six years into his stint as radio’s Dr. Demento) meets up with one Alfred Matthew Yankovic. A quick call into the L.A. County Hall of Records turns up a 1959 birth certificate with no “Weird” evident, either as an adjective or a proper noun. Another hope dashed.
Dr. Demento, of course, is likely best known for bringing song parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic to national attention. In 1976, Hansen spoke at Al’s school (Lynwood High School) where Yankovic gave a self-recorded tape of comedy songs and parodies to Hansen.
The first song, “Belvedere Cruisin’” (above) about the family station wagon, was featured on the show. Positive listener response encouraged Yankovic to record more parodies; in 1980, Hansen then funded Yankovic’s first EP, Another One Rides the Bus, which eventually led to a record deal and pop chart success in the 1980s and beyond. In gratitude, Al has made sure that Hansen has appeared in a number of Weird Al music videos, as well as in Al’s movie, UHF.
To continue the “Weird Al” story, please see Andrew Smith’s recent article on his Goatfury Writes:
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