So here we are July 12th 2021. 42 years ago tonite an event happened at Old Comiskey Park that changed the face of radio forever. I’m of course talking about Disco Demolition. Steve Dahl had been working at WDAI when he was fired on Christmas Eve 1978 because the station was changing it’s format to disco. Less than 3 month later Steve was doing mornings on The Loop and started his disco sucks campaign blowing up disco records on the air and having lots of fun doing it. The station, The Loop, was itself a phenomenon that took off like a rocket in March of 1979 and took Chicago by storm so that by the summer of 1979 we had already accumulated a large and growing audience (although even then we didn’t realize what power we had created). The White Sox were not a good team and were having major problems putting fannies in the seats. Promotion guru and sales manager Jeff Schwartz took an idea to Mike Veeck about a teen disco demolition night at Comiskey. Mike liked it and took it to his dad then owner of the White Sox, Bill Veeck, who was always doing fun promotions to try to increase attendance at home games and the night was set. $.98 and a disco record got you in the park and I have to tell you none of us had any idea of what was to come. In a meeting the afternoon before the the two games General Manager Les Elias, Jeff Schwartz, Program Director Jesse Bullet, Dave Logan, Mike Veeck and myself all wrote our estimates on blackboard of how many people we thought we might attract that night. The biggest number was 28,000. The Sox were averaging between 8,000 and 14,000 per night. Old Comiskey held about 42,00 and I swear there was 50,00 in the park that night and another 30,000 outside. I did play by play with Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall during the first game (a bucket list thrill) and spent a good deal my time with them trying explain who all these peeps were and why they were here. Now we’re between games and the Demolition is about to take place. Steve (dressed in fatigues), Garry Meier and Lorelei are “jeeped” out on the field where a huge container of the disco records collected at the gates were brought. Steve does some vocal shout outs and the disco sucks chants start. They then blow the container full of records and it’s a huge explosion. People had kept some of their records and were throwing them on the field like frisbees which made for more mayhem so Steve, Garry and Lorelei got in the jeep and off the field. That’s when the real mayhem started. People began coming out of the stands and running on to the field. More and more and more until there were thousands of rockers on the field going wild. Mike Veeck came to me and said “help us try to get these kids off the field”…so I went to the public address booth and started a chat of “back to your seats” it was having some affect when Harry came back to the booth from the Bard’s room and took the mic and started to sing “Take Me Out The Ballgame”….the kids weren’t having any of that and stayed on the field. It took the cops to get all the rockers off, but the damage had been done. The field was in disrepair and they could no longer play the second game. It was initially postponed, but was forfeited to the Tigers the next day. The media went wild about it and local tv anchors like Bill Curtis and Walter Jacobson called it a “Disco Riot’. To me that seemed bit overstated and harsh, but hey everybody’s got an opinion. The post demolition affect was astounding. Huge backlash from some advertisers, but also simply so much publicity for the the station. It may have been mayhem, but many have called it the greatest radio station promotion in broadcast history. Our ratings doubled in the next 3 months so you tell me. So happy anniversary to all you Disco Demolition veterans! This is the Readers Digest version of that night. If you’re interested in more detail and insight check out my book:
Doin’ The Cruise: Memories From A Lifetime In Radio and Rock & Roll.