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Media: July 2019

| July 1, 2019 | 1 Comment

On July 12th the Chicago White Sox will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of one of the most famous stunts in radio history. On that day in 1979, WLUP radio morning personalities Steve Dahl & Garry Meier went onto the field of Comiskey Park between games of a White Sox doubleheader with the Detroit Tigers to blow up a crate of disco records as part of their “Disco Sucks” campaign. The event, known as Disco Demolition, became much more.

The White Sox expected a crowd of about 20,000 people and were shocked when the attendance exceeded 50,000 and the capacity of Comiskey Park by a large margin. Young rock and roll fans, drawn by the 98 cent ticket price (to match the radio station’s frequency), and the spectacle of seeing their favorite radio personalities actually blowing up records, brought their disco records and threw them onto the field. After the explosion, fans stormed the area and created a riot, tearing up the grounds, ripping out the bases and destroying the batting cages. The White Sox had to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader because the field was ruled unplayable. Riot police had to be called in to disperse the crowds.

News of this event spread far and wide and made an even bigger star of morning man Steve Dahl. It also caused Dahl quite a bit of trouble at the time but has since become the thing he is remembered for most in his career. He still hears about it all the time some forty years later.

Full disclosure: About a decade after the Disco Demolition, I produced Steve & Garry’s show on the Loop for a few years. I wasn’t there when it happened, but I have witnessed the change in people’s attitudes about it. The fact that the White Sox are choosing to honor the date, for instance, is something that would have been unheard of when I still worked on the show.

I recently caught up with Steve Dahl and got a chance to ask him about the date that will live in infamy for him.

Rick:  Congrats on the big anniversary night coming up with the White Sox. I was living in Germany when Disco Demolition happened in 1979, and it made the newscasts there. That’s how big of a story that was. I know you’ve answered this question a million times, but in retrospect, did you have any idea we’d still be talking about that night 40 years later?

Steve:  I thought I was going to get fired for inciting a riot that I didn’t incite. The fact its part of Chicago music and sports history is something that I’m very proud of.

Rick:  Considering how iconic that night has become, does it surprise you that every time it’s mentioned, the people that were pissed about it at the time somehow emerge? They emerged when the White Sox first announced this anniversary earlier this year. How can they still be pissed at the Sox forfeiting a meaningless game 40 years later?

Steve:  The people who emerge these days seem to think it was homophobic and racist. Most of them weren’t even alive when it happened and have no idea what they are talking about. We were on a radio station owned by a U.S. Congressman (Cecil Heftel from Hawaii). There was no way they would let us do something that would jeopardize the license like that.

Rick:  I remember when you and Garry were celebrating your tenth anniversary together (1989). I called up Jimmy Piersall and asked him to be on the show to talk about your anniversary and what he thought about Disco Demolition all those years later. He nearly deafened me with an angry profanity-filled tirade. Did you and Jimmy ever make up?

Steve:  Jimmy went to his grave, hating me. I’m still in counseling.

Rick:  You’ve probably personally heard a million stories from the many fans that were there that day. What are some of your favorites?

Steve:  I always like hearing about the guys climbing the foul poles, the imaginary base-running, and the couple making out at second base.

Rick:  At one point, you were banned from Comiskey. Now they are celebrating you. That has to make you feel good.

Steve:  I wasn’t technically banned. It just didn’t seem like a good idea to show up for a while.

Rick:  A lot of people have taken credit for Disco Demolition over the years, but you have always been clear that you didn’t deserve the credit for planning it and executing it. If you had to name the most crucial planners/developers of that night, who would you mention?

Steve:  (White Sox owner Bill Veeck’s son) Mike and (WLUP’s promotional guru) Jeff Schwartz.

Rick:  You’ve now had a book (Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died by Dave Hoekstra & Steve Dahl), a documentary, a television special for drunk history, a museum exhibit in Elmhurst, the White Sox special anniversary celebration, and countless articles in newspapers and magazines (including this one). Do you ever get sick of it?

Steve:  I’m working on a laser show.

Rick:  You signed off WLS radio at the end of last year. Do you have any plans on returning to terrestrial radio?

Steve:  I’m happy doing the podcast. Radio doesn’t seem like a place for creativity anymore. It’s too bad, but they kind of brought it upon themselves. Most of these companies have 400+ stations, and they don’t really even know what to do with ten of them.

Steve regularly features some of his classic material on The Steve Dahl Show podcast, including the broadcast the day after Disco Demolition. If you’d like to hear Steve’s current show or the classic bits from the past, check out Steve Dahl Network at www.dahl.com.

– Rick Kaempfer

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  1. Calvin Sneed says:

    Read with interest your column about Steve Dahl, the then 24-year-old credited with “bringing down the world of disco” by burning disco records and albums at a Comiskey Park publicity stunt.

    (I believe you can tell from that description what I thought of the event).

    What your readers are probably unaware of, is that music has variations.. rivers with ebs and flows that branch off into different forms. Disco had more black artists than white artists and more LGBTQ listeners which I had read, made the Chicago event seem almost racist, as I recall. After all, the rock music idolized by the white boys (pardon the expression) in your Comiskey Park picture has gone down only one path and in 50 years, it hasn’t evolved into anything but rock music. But I digress……..

    Consult popular music history. Basically in black musical culture, the combination jazz/church music of the 40’s and 50’s evolved into soul music of the 60’s and 70’s (often with the same artists). From soul music, evolved disco of the 70’s and 80’s…. disco (despite Dahl’s publicity stunt) evolved into dance music, the music of the 80’s, 90’s and into the turn of the century, dance music eventually evolved into rap music, which is where we are today.

    It would be interesting to see Dahl organize a “Death to Rap Music” event similar to his disco stunt. Given the somewhat shady rap artists (carrying concealed) and recording/promoters with names like “Death Row Records,” along with language I wouldn’t let my mama hear, if you got on the radio today and told everybody to burn their rap CD’s, they would probably come out and burn down your radio station. “Burn events” like Comiskey would erupt into race wars.

    Dahl started a movement that was only just a natural progression to the next phase that African-American music was going to progress to anyway. Today… there are enough shady characters in the music business to make him think twice about “burn events.”

    So before you shower Dahl with accolades… he worked in big-market, Number-3-DMA-in-the-country Chicago and like every little fish in a big market radio pond, he was obviously looking for a feather to put in his cap, to make him different from all of the other dee-jays in town.

    He is nothing more than that. Musical history will judge him no differently.

    Just sayin’.

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