Dr. Demento ends long radio run

The Doctor is no longer in as far as radio is concerned.

In a move that doesn’t really come as a surprise, Dr. Demento has pulled the terrestrial radio plug on his show after 40 years on the air and just a month short of his anniversary of airing his first show over a Pasadena, Calif. radio station, Chicagoland Radio and Media reported on Saturday. Dr. Demento’s show will live online –  but with a paid subscription model. And if you want to download the show as a podcast, it’ll cost you $3 – and is only available in mono.

The move came after WLUP-FM in Chicago dropped the show three weeks ago, after deciding not to renew its contract. With the exception between 1995 and 1998, WLUP has carried the show on Sunday nights since the station’s inception. 

Chicago was Demento’s largest market, with the show not airing in New York or Los Angeles, where the show is produced.

Dr. Demento – whose real name is Barry Hansen – specializes in novelty music, featuring mostly offbeat songs, comedy music, and weird material you wouldn’t hear anywhere else. One of the more notable artists to come from the show was one Weird Al Yankovic, who came to prominence in the 1980’s with his parody of  Michael Jackson’s Beat It called Eat It, which went to #14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1984.

At its peak, Demento was syndicated to over 100 radio stations in the U.S. When Westwood One stopped distributing the show in 1992, Demento took over syndication himself. But the number of affiliates carrying the show declined throughout the 1990’s, which impacted barter ad sales (where stations gave up some commercial time to the syndicator to sell to national advertisers in exchange for airing the show for free – basically the same manner many television shows are sold in the syndication business.)

In a rather unusual move for radio – and for a bid to keep the show on the air, Demento switched his show’s terms from an all-barter format to an all-cash basis without barter, where stations had to pay for the show – something unheard of for a first-run weekly radio program, and is extremely rare these days for a first-run show in the TV syndication business, where deals are made either on a cash/barter or all-barter basis.

Because of the online paid subscription model, Demento forbid stations from streaming the show, which reduced the affiliate count even more – to the point where as of June 1, 2010, only six terrestrial stations remained.

This marks the second time a major name with a long-running radio show decided to depart from terrestrial radio over the last year. In July 2009, Casey Kasem retired from doing his American Top 10 and American Top 20 Adult Contemporary-based countdown shows, five years after he stepped down from hosting American Top 40.  While Demento and AT 40 both began in 1970, Demento would not enter national syndication until 1974 (Both shows would actually interconnect in 1975, when an AT40 staffer was nearly fired after a controversy erupted over who was the lead singer on Shaving Cream, a 1946 song regularly played on Demento’s show, whose re-release hit #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1975. AT 40 was duped by Benny Bell, who claimed he sang the song on the re-released version, but turned out it was recorded by Paul Winn and was mistakenly credited to Bell when the record was re-released – something Bell really did not fess up to at first.)

Like Demento’s show, AT 10 and 20 – and AT40 late into the Shadoe Stevens-hosted era of the show in the early to mid-1990s, each had their fates decided in part due to affiliate defections and dwindling station counts.

Dr. Demento’s achievements include induction into the Comedy Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Radio Hall of Fame in 2009.  .