Disco Demolition. An Anniversary Through My Eyes. I Was There And Involved!

Here we are again, July 12th. It’s the anniversary of Disco Demolition Night. 43 years ago tonight history was made. The Loop WLUP FM 98 held a promotion at Comiskey Park between games between the White Sox and The Detroit Tigers. Here’s how the songfacts.com website described the events.

It’s “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park, where the White Sox and Tigers are playing a doubleheader. The plan is to blow up a bunch of disco albums between games, but it goes horribly wrong when fans become unruly and rush the field, forcing the White Sox to forfeit the second game.

The White Sox aren’t having a very good season, but not all hope is lost. At least when it comes to ticket sales. Mike Veeck, the team’s promotions director, figures he can capitalize on the burgeoning anti-disco trend to fill out a couple thousand more seats in the stadium for the White Sox/Tigers doubleheader. 

Disco exploded worldwide two years earlier with the premiere of Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta as an aspiring dancer who shows off his moves to the beat of a groovy Bee Gees soundtrack. As radio stations begin to favor disco over rock, spinning tunes from the Bee Gees, Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, and KC & The Sunshine Band, rock fans look for ways to rebel against the polyester genre. One rock fan in particular leads the pack. 

Chicago DJ Steve Dahl was fired from a local radio station that switched to a disco format and found a home at a rival rock station, where he encourages listeners to fight “the dreaded musical disease known as DISCO.” When Veeck hears of Dahl’s intention to blow up disco records at a mall, he invites him to do it at Comiskey Park. Dahl spreads word of the disco inferno: Any fan that shows up with a disco record will be admitted for .98, a nod to sponsoring station 97.9 WLUP-FM, and can watch Dahl destroy the collection on the field. 

As a result, over 50,000 people show up for the game, most of them rock fans eager to watch disco die a fiery death. Veeck didn’t hire enough security to cover such an onslaught, and thousands of fans rush the field when Dahl triggers the explosion. Not only does the demolition blow a hole in the grass, but fans do their own damage by climbing poles, pulling up bases, storming the dugout, and setting fire to more records. Needless to say, it’s game over for the White Sox, who are forced to forfeit the second game.

A couple of notes to keep things on the up and up. Most of what is described above is relatively accurate, but there are a few notations needed. First off, no one expected the crowd to be anywhere near as large as it was. The Sox typically didn’t draw well even when they were winning and this was not a winning season. At a meeting earlier in the day at The Loop’s offices, in the Hancock building, a group of us including Mike Veeck, General Manager Les Elias, Sales Manager Jeff Schwartz, Program Director Jesse Bullett, Promotions Director Dave Logan and myself all gave our estimates of how many people would show up. The biggest number was 27 or 28,000. So the White Sox were not prepared for 43,000 in the park and another 30 or 40,000 outside still trying to get in. They lacked proper security. Second, the White Sox were responsible for the pyrotechnics! Not The Loop! Remember Bill Veeck was the guy who invented exploding scoreboards. The fact that the explosion on the field left a huge burn hole in right field turf is simply bad planning by the explosive team. In other words we ordered the cake, but they baked it! This has been called a Disco Riot and radio stunt gone terribly wrong, but it’s also been called the greatest promotion in the history of radio. I guess all are accurate, but I will say that it was an amazing event to be a part of. I got to fulfill a bucket list item by doing play by play on the first game between the Sox and the Tigers and I don’t think anyone there felt unsafe or threatened while all this mayhem was going on. I had my 11 year old daughter Jennifer and my 8 year old son Jeff with me. So if you were there I’ll wish you a happy 43rd anniversary and if not you can always go to YouTube for a look see.