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Media: July 2024 • 45th Anniversary of Disco Demolition: A Loop Insider’s Story

| June 30, 2024

Disco Demolition, July 12 1979

 

In the heyday of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Loop (WLUP, 97.9 FM) was owned by Congressman Cecil Heftel of Heftel Broadcasting. The president of Heftel Broadcasting was Tom Hoyt. A few photos of Hoyt appear in my book The Loop Files, as do a few stories told by him during his Heftel days, but there aren’t any current-day interviews with Hoyt, and he isn’t pleased about that.

“Frankly, yes, I was disappointed you didn’t reach out to me,” he said.

He was especially offended that I didn’t talk to him about Disco Demolition.

“In my opinion, there’s nobody who knows more about what went on with Disco Demolition than me,” he explained.

WLUP’s Tom Hoyt, circa 1979

Since this month is the 45th anniversary of the most famous radio promotion of all time (July 12, 1979), and my book already has the memories of people who were there like Steve Dahl, Jeff Schwartz, Mitch Michaels, Sky Daniels, Mike Veeck, Lorelei, Paul Natkin, and (promotion director) Dave Logan, I decided it was a good idea to add Mr. Hoyt’s memories. After all, he had the final word that day.

“Nothing would have happened if I had not said so,” he pointed out. “I gave it the green light.”And he says he was enthusiastic about doing it.

“I loved it. I loved the idea. I loved the direction that the Loop was going with (consultants) Burkhardt and Abrams. They were brilliant guys. I mean, they made great suggestions. They suggested we hire Steve Dahl. He had kind of a checkered past and was out of work, but I hired him to be the morning man, and he meshed well with the overnight guy Garry Meier, and it was decided they would work together. We purchased television time, and our spokesperson was Lorelei. I remember meeting her for the first time. She was intelligent and bright. I mean, she had all the right stuff. We had some billboards, we had those Loop T-shirts, but television is really what worked for us.”

He remembers July 12, 1979, as a rather harrowing experience.

“The night of Disco Demolition, my wife Bobbi and I went to Comiskey Park. There was an outside elevator that took you up to the roof, and you had to go across a catwalk on the roof to get into the press box and to Bill Veeck’s private box. I remember (Loop General Manager) Les Elias was there, but I don’t remember who else was in there. But we were watching this whole thing unfold, and it was like, oh boy, there are **so many people. Some of the accounts in your book said I was a businessman, and I was trying to be protective, and that I was worried. Yeah, you better believe it. Because we had told Mike Veeck that we didn’t have a clue what was going to happen, and neither did he. So, I said, “Just to be safe, you better have extra security.” He said, “Don’t worry about that.” Well, ‘don’t worry about that’ turned into ‘not enough security.’”

Tom Hoyt, 2024

“So sometime during the mayhem in between games, Harry Caray came into the box and bellowed, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ Well, everybody looked at me. Harry told me I had to come on television and apologize to the people of Chicago. Well, first of all, what was occurring on the field was not our fault. There wasn’t enough security to keep the people in the stands. That was really on the White Sox. Not us. Harry looked at me and waited for my response. I was wearing a Greek sailor hat, that famous loop t-shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. And I said, ‘Harry, look at me. How credible would this guy with a Greek sailor hat and all this stuff be? It wouldn’t make any sense. I’m not gonna do it.’  With that, Harry stormed out.”

It was not his only confrontation of the night.

“When it was time to go,  Bobbi and I crossed the hall to go down the elevator, and the visiting players were there, getting their bus. Sparky Anderson came over to me and said, ‘Who are you? Did you have anything to do with this?’  I said, ‘Yes, sir. I did. I’m the president of the company.’ Bobbi was cringing; she was worried. She was only five foot one. And this guy was just like maniacally going off, screaming at me. Finally, I said to him, ‘We didn’t expect this. Nobody did. We’re leaving now.”

There was still one person Hoyt hadn’t spoken to—and that was the owner of the Loop—Cecil Heftel. Hoyt had no idea what to expect.

“Cecil always called me early in the morning at home. Not every day, but at least three or four times a week. He was a real early riser, but that next morning he called me around 5:00. When I got on the phone, I braced myself, but he was laughing like crazy. He had read the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and The Washington Post. He was thrilled. “It’s unbelievable! We are on the front page of all these newspapers. Oh, my God!” He went on and on. I said to him,  “Yes, this will help us with our ratings, and we will raise our rates. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news. There will never be another one.”

And there hasn’t been.

-Rick Kaempfer

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