Thursday, July 13, 2006

WDAI Disco Demolition Disaster

Disco Demolition Night combines things that like beer & liquor, like amonia & bleach, like neocons & power, cannot be mixed without dire and wildy destructive consequences.

It combines, beer, disco, radio, baseball and the police. It has thankfully only happened once in the annals of history. But it was a doosey.

Our story begins in 1978 as middle America's hatred of Disco was reaching a crescendo. ABC owned Rock radio station WDAI flipped to an all-disco format in December of 1978 and fired popular local morning show host Steve Dahl. Three months later Dahl crossed the street when WLUP made him an offer. But Dahl felt resentful toward WDAI. He hated disco with a passion, and now WDAI would be the focus point of that hate. He created a mock organization called "The Insane Coho Lips Anti-Disco Army" to oppose disco, and promoted it on the air.

His anti-disco antis were nonstop. The day after Van McCoy died of a heart attack he smashing up a copy of McCoy's million-selling single "The Hustle" over the air. At its peak, his anti-disco army claimed to have 7,000 card-carrying members.

Dahl and his on-air partner Garry Meier devised a promotion that involved people bringing unwanted disco music records to the game in exchange for a reduced admission price of 98 cents. They woudl destroy the records at half-time in center field. The sports commentator on Dahl's show was White Sox promotions director Mike Veeck, and son the White Sox owner Bill Veeck. Veeck's father was an innovator in sport promotion, and was open to new ideas. Ultimately it was this trio that are responsible forwhat occurred on Disco Demolition Night.

This promotion encouraged attendees who were not "typical" baseball fans. Veeck was expecting an additional crowd of 5,000 but 50,000 turned out, with thousands of climbing walls and fences in order to get into Comiskey Park and others locked out of the park. Dahl's Anti-Disco Army had showed up in full force: an invasion of drunken, stoned, longhaired teens sporting rock band shirts, carrying their disco records and with signs and banners emblazoned with "Disco Sucks." Trouble arose before the first pitch was thrown.

In 1979 the capacity of Comiskey Park's was under 45,000. Sox officials estimated the overflow audience at 55,000! Another 20,000 were turned away when the gates closed. Police had to block exit ramps from the nearby interstate to keep even more fans from pouring into the area. Despite the beefed-up police presence, some of those locked out began climbing the stadium's two-story chain-link fences and others rushed the turnstiles. It went bad. Ushers were beaten up as drunk disco-hatind men forced their way in. but the worst was yet to come. Apparently in all the preplanning it occurred to no one that records can be thrown like Frisbees, only with much greater distance and velocity.

The first game started at 5:30, and with it the first colley of records began. Fans hurled discs around the stands and onto the field, showering the ballpark in a hail of bad disco. Batboys and groundskeepers periodically ran onto the field to clear the debris, which only further incited the crowd

At half time Dahl came out to center field with a box of a few thousand disco records rigged with a bomb in a mock demolition of disco music. he conduscted a short ceremony. When it exploded, the bomb ripped a hole in the outfield grass surface and thousands of fans ran onto the field, some lighting their own fires and starting mini-riots. things degereated into chaos. Eventually the field was cleared by 80 police in riot gear. Six people reported minor injuries and 39 were arrested for disorderly conduct.

Steve Dahl, currently hosts an afternoon talk show on Chicago's WCKG. Bill Veeck, died in 1986 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. Mike Veeck has since been an owner of several minor league teams and continues to dream up nutty promotional schemes for baseball. PBS station WTTW-TV actually made a documentary of this event you can buy here: