Thursday, July 10, 2014

Disco Demolition

This Saturday, July 12th, marks the 35th Anniversary of the debacle forever to be known as "Disco Demolition Night" at Comiskey Park.   

I knew it was coming up soon ... and was reminded again when I received this email link from Robert Feder:  

I hadn't really planned on doing anything special this year (we saluted the 25th Year Anniversary of this travesty ... yet historic event) and I figured there wasn't much need to rehash it all again.  

But since that was back in the old newsletter / pre-website days ... and since there DID seem to be a bit of a buzz surrounding the 35th Anniversary of the Events on 35th Street, I figured, why not ...

Personally, I remember watching the whole thing unfold on tv.  Typically, the cameras didn't stay focused on the "half-time entertainment" going on at the ballpark during the time between two games of a double header ... this "down time" was usually reserved for an interview or two and an update of the other scores from around the league and not centered upon what may be happening on the field ... but on this particular night there was absolutely NO way to ignore what was going on down below the broadcast booth.

It was complete and utter out-of-control chaos ... the fans literally destroyed the field, rendering it unplayable for the second half of the scheduled double-header.  In all my years of watching baseball, I have NEVER seen a major league team have to forfeit a game ... this was the type of thing that happened in Little League from time to time when one team showed up too many players short of a squad ... or an umpire enforced "the slaughter rule" ... but this was Major League Baseball, for God's sake ... and our beloved Chicago White Sox were once again embarrassed before the entire nation.  (Not that this was in any way their fault ... but it was, after all, their promotion ... which got ridiculously out of hand.)

I've talked to fans who were there that night who said they feared for their lives, describing it as a "near riot" ... or worse ... it truly was that out of control.  One told me that they saw Sox Owner Bill Veeck (who scheduled and approved this promotion and was known for his unorthodox ways of drawing fans out to the ol' ball park) wielding a bat at home plate, trying to protect his field ... as fans tore up huge pieces of sod.  Others said he may have been waving his wooden leg in the air, trying to keep the crazies at bay ... who really knows!!!   (Actually, it was Veeck's son Mike who booked Dahl for this "explosive" night of entertainment!)   

I asked Chet Coppock (who was there that night as both a fan and a journalist) and sometime Forgotten Hits contributor Mark Baker (who was also there that night, caught up in the chaos ... at his very first Sox game!) if they would each write something about their memories of that nothing-short-of-crazy evening ... and they both agreed. 

Our original, now ten-years-old piece, seems to be lost to the annals of time (not to mention half a dozen computer crashes since then!!!)  Meanwhile, we came up with this little recap of our own: 

Steve Dahl pretty much made Chicago the "Disco-Sucks" capitol of the world back in 1979 when he staged the Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park that ended up with THOUSANDS of fans storming the field (and forcing our beloved White Sox to forfeit the second half of a double header to the Detroit Tigers.)    

Dahl was a HUGELY (no pun intended) popular Chicagoland DJ at the time ... and when hard-rock FM station WDAI switched their format to all-disco, Dahl bolted to The Loop (WLUP) and began blowing up disco records on the air!  When he invited his listeners bring their disco records to the Sox game (with the intention of blowing them up between games of a double-header), his fans filled the ballpark (something that RARELY happened back then at Comiskey ... even when the Sox were winning!)  

Reportedly, close to 60,000 fans showed up, most of whom only paid 98-cents per ticket in honor of The Loop's 97.9 spot on the FM Radio Dial.  (At the time, the Sox were lucky to draw six or seven thousand fans out to the ball park ... but early word-of-mouth speculated that as many as 15,000 - 20,000 might show up for this crazy promotion, indicating this wacky stunt was a rousing success.)  That moment of patting themselves on the back was short-lived however!  Sox park filled to capacity with at least another 15,000 - 20,000 fans out in the street, unable to get in to the now sold-out spectacle.  

To say that things got a little out of hand would be a TREMENDOUS under-statement!  Thousands of fans stormed the playing field and tore the place up, rendering the field unplayable ... the second game of the double-header had to be cancelled after some sense of order was restored ... and the Sox ultimately ended up forfeiting the game ... earning yet another famous black-mark in Major League Baseball History!  Believe it or not, all of this happened 35 years ago this weekend!!!

Dahl cut an anti-disco anthem called "Do You Think I'm Disco?", a parody of the Rod Stewart #1 Hit at the time, "Do You Think I'm Sexy?", which went all the way to #5 here in Chicago on rival radio station WLS.  (Ironically, WLS and Dahl's old station, WDAI, were BOTH owned by parent company ABC Broadcasting at the time!)  While WLS refused to play Dahl's hit on the air, I've got to give them credit for accurately reporting his record sales on their weekly chart (although they listed the artist as Teenage Radiation, which was the name of Dahl's back-up band ... they weren't about to give any on-air credit to one of their main sources of competition!)    

I remember one particular evening when John Records Landecker was playing the most-requested songs of the day and Dahl's record was SUPPOSED to top the chart ... instead of PLAYING the record on the air, he simply BLEW UP the record on the air ... again, a very fitting tribute to one of Chicagoland's most popular DJs ever.

As a special Forgotten Hits (as well as an anniversary) tribute, we're featuring Dahl's novelty hit today ... which went on to make the National Charts as well, peaking at #58 in Billboard and #61 in Cashbox.   (kk)

My God, did "Disco Demolition" really take place 35 years and five Presidents ago? Were we "so much older then we're younger then that now?" No dice.  Father Time doesn't take prisoners.  

The fact is, Dahl gave Bill Veeck, baseball's answer to P.T. Barnum, exactly what he wanted - a full house.  

Now, much like Woodstock, think about this ... 85 percent of the people in the ballpark had to be kids under the age of 25. Just imagine if you would have had "Dean Martin" night with adults 40 and over. They would have been so damn drunk, so unruly, that the right field foul pole might have ended up on the Dan Ryan.  

The whole scenario in pro wrestling terminology, "Put Dahl over." It gave him elevated celebrity status that has lasted nearly four decades.  

I was at the ballpark for the "Fireworks" and really never felt I was in harm's way. There may have been a few fights, but really this was just a bunch of kids telling middle America that Pink Floyd and Yes mattered, while disco was musical death.  

I've always wondered ... did the Stever really hate the throbbing bass and club sound of Disco or did he just see a glorious, one shot opportunity to heighten the brand of "Steve Dahl."  

Frankly, I love the guy. We worked together at the Loop from '87 to '94. Steve Dahl was and is a radio genius.  

Chet Coppock
Host: Notre Dame Football on WLS
Host: Chicago Blackhawks Heritage Series

I, like many, was a Loop listener and was following Steve Dahl and his radio show.  This was the first talk / comedy radio show I had ever heard ... and I had never heard anything like it before.  Dahl was rebellious and funny and they played good rock music when he wasn't on. I remember the promotion going on at the Loop and thinking it was funny but I had no intention of going until that day. 

A friend of mine (Stacy Levine), a very cool chick who knew a lot of people who got tickets to rock concerts, called me up last minute and asked me to go with her.  She had first row seats next to the dugout right on the wall closer to the home plate side. All her other friends didn't want to go and  I think I was one of her last resorts, which was good for me because I was more of a baseball fan and I wanted to go to Comiskey Park, as it would be my first time there.   

We were in a crowd of mostly Sox fans, but I could see the big crowd from my seat as we were walking in. The first game went on as planned ... I couldn't even tell you anything about the game but I do remember some of what happened after the fist game was over. 

First they started moving this crate onto the field and we could also see some kind of fireworks set up next to it.  Then a bunch of people came out on the field with Dahl wearing a army helmet with camouflage on it telling us he's going to "Blow Up The Disco Records real good!"     

Then the explosion.  Now I've watched this on tape as a close up and I know the people in the right field bleachers thought it was a big explosion but Comiskey was a big park and all the way over where I was sitting it looked about like about a 15 or 20 foot blast and it went on for a little bit and then it was over.  There was a lull in the action for a second and then Dahl goes around the park and was gone. I felt like, Is that all? Kind of anticlimactic ... shouldn't there be more of a celebration? Apparently I wasn't alone in that thinking ... all of a sudden people came over the left field wall and started sliding into second base and then more started coming on to the field and then more and more.  

It wasn't but a few seconds and Stacy was over the wall and gone and the Sox fans we were sitting next to were pissed off.  The guy had a souvenir bat and he was hitting people over the wall with it and screaming at them to get off the field, but soon enough it was a free for all. I wouldn't leave my seat ... I'm just not that crazy and I like baseball. I watched people tear out the bases, ripping up the sod.  One guy had a big piece of sod on like a poncho and he was running around the bases.  Then Stacy shows up out of nowhere and is standing on the baseline yelling for me to come in and I yell back, "No way ... you come out", and then she ran into the crowds and was gone again.    

Then they started ripping up home plate.  I can't remember if they got it but that was when Bill Veeck and four of his body guards came out and took over home plate.  I saw for the first time that he had a peg leg and he was hobbling around home plate with what looked like a cop and some big guys from the ball club and they took over home plate and were going to hold that ground. Then he got a microphone, and in the midst of a complete riot, he tried to get everyone off the field ... but the outfield was on fire with disco records, an upper deck balcony was on fire, and the sod was ripped up in places. Then the cops and horses started coming, clearing the field and moving everyone off.   
Stacy finally came back to her seat and we even waited a little to see if they would play baseball again.  I don't remember much more ... it was 1979 and all of this was quite unexpected, to say the least. I never got to go to any more concerts with Stacy even though we were still friends for many years afterwards.  

I will never forget the day she called me and asked me to go my first Sox game!
-- Mark Baker

35 years later, Steve Dahl is still broadcasting here in Chicago ... although these days it's via a by-subscription-only podcast that airs several times a week.  (I imagine the days of big-bucks broadcasting are now long behind him ... although at least this way he's in control of any money that does come his way via paid subscriptions.)  The real "positive" in all of this is that he now seems to be doing it simply for the love of broadcasting.  (Then again he always DID love the sound of his own voice!!! lol)  Dahl is ... and will forever be ... a part of Chicagoland history and folklore. 

Interested parties can get more information here:  
Click here: Steve Dahl, Comedy Podcasts, Chicago Legend | The Steve Dahl Podcast Network 
(It'll cost you about a hundred bucks a year to listen!) 
You'll also notice a photo of "The Stever" in his "Disco Sucks" T-Shirt prominently displayed on the website, where vintage broadcasts from back in the day are also available.  (Hey, it's his biggest claim to fame ... I say "Go With It!!!")

And, 35 years later, The Loop is still going strong, too ... it continues to rank as one of the premier Classic Rock Radio Stations in the country (and they've been sticking with that format now for nearly 40 years!)  
You'll find more station information (and a "Listen Live" Link here:  Click here: 97.9 The Loop   
(In fact, you'll find them doing a little "Disco Demolition reminiscing" on their website this week, too!)

A pretty accurate description of the night's events can also be found here:  Click here: Disco Demolition Night - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia