29 years ago today: Disco Demolition Night

Twenty-nine years ago today, the infamous Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park happened.  The plan was dreamed up thanks to White Sox owner Bill Veek and was executed by a 24-year old up and coming radio jock Steve Dahl.  Dahl was working for WLUP “the Loop” and had just been snatched up from a rival station which was switching their format to disco music (much to Dahl’s dismay). 

Most of you oldsters know the story.  The promo itself seemed relatively harmless.  Bring in a record (y’all remember records?) of disco music that you love to hate, and you get in Sox Park for 98 cents (WLUP number on the dial was 98.3). 

But things got ugly.  People didn’t bring one record… they brought boxfuls.  There were obscene chants from the stands.  Give people a reason to be obnoxious, they’ll take it to the next level.  Pandemonium ensued.  Swindle magazine’s Simon Steinhardt describes the debacle:

After Dahl and co. took another lap around the field, the grounds crew came onto the field to clean up, and White Sox pitcher Ken Kravec began to warm up for the second game. Meanwhile outside the stadium, a mob of disgruntled teens had begun to shake the portable ticket booths. Apprised of the situation, Mike Veeck asked the deputy in charge of the 40 or so police officers on the field to send some of his men out to deal with the delinquents. A couple fans interpreted the departure of the officers as a gift of carte blanche, and ran onto the field to steal second base-first symbolically, then literally. That was all the spark the crowd needed. Pandemonium. Fans came pouring out over the outfield fence almost immediately, while others sprinted down the ramps from the upper deck to join the bedlam. The scene was typical of a World Series celebration (in that era of Chicago sports, the destruction of disco records was the biggest victory imaginable), and with no regard for the game still to be played, people started plucking grass from the field (an anonymous plucker recalls being told, “Hey man, you can’t smoke that!”). They climbed the foul poles, knocked over the batting cage, and started bonfires around the smoldering record sleeves lying on the field. Most of the people on the field were just running every which way, with no idea what to do but too excited to leave the scene. The players stood on the steps of their dugouts watching the chaos, wearing helmets and wielding bats to protect themselves. “I was shocked and amazed,” says Dahl. “And I knew I was in trouble.”

The scoreboard pleaded with “the fans” to settle down.  Bless her heart, Nancy Faust began playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on her organ to change the focus of the event. 

Eventually, the game was forfeited. 

It is interesting to see how this event goes down in history.  I’ve never seen the Disco Demolition Night in much of a positive light.  It was an part of Chicago culture that seems to have brouht the worst out in people. 

However, according to Steve Dahl’s bio, this  whole thing is considered “his most influential contribution to the national music scene”.  At least that’s what it says on on the website where you can buy the 25th Anniversary DVD. 

Perceptions are different, I guess. 

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