Monday, July 12, 2010

July 12, 1979: Disco sucks

CHICAGO - It seemed like a natural promotion, a simple way to get some more fans in the stands. After a local DJ, Steve Dahl, was fired after his rock station converted to an all-disco format, the Chicago White Sox decided to take advantage of his popularity by having him host Disco Demolition Night.

The idea was simple: fans could bring an old disco record to the ballpark and get a ticket for 98 cents (Dahl's new station was at 97.9 on the dial). Between games of the double-header, Dahl would blow up the bin of disco records, letting the fans
tell the world exactly what they thought of disco music.

The White Sox were expecting about 12,000 people to show up on July 12, 1979, which would have been about double their typical Thursday night crowd. Fans could get in cheap, enjoy two baseball games, and have a little fun in the meantime.

Perhaps the first signs of trouble should have been when more than 90,000 people tried to get into the 60,000-seat stadium; many of those who were turned away simply climbed fences to get in. The city had to close the freeway exits leading to Comiskey Park to prevent the crowd from being even larger.

The next problem came when the bin to hold the records became far too full; organizers stopped accepting records, leading to fans instead treating them like frisbees. The black discs were flying around the stands all night long.

Soon, there was a green haze hanging low over the field. There were "strange people," as described by the announcers, walking around the concourses of the stadium, barely paying attention to the game. Banners decrying disco were hanging on every available open space in the stadium. It was an eerie atmosphere. Then the records blew up. Dahl left the field on a Jeep. All seemed calm.

Until the first fan scaled the wall. Then the next. Then the next dozen.

Soon, thousands of people were on the field, more than were in the stands. The chants of "Disco Sucks" were continuous. Bonfires were lit on the field. The batting cages were dismantled and destroyed. Riot police came out but couldn't get the fans off the field. Once order was restored, the field was in shambles, and would remain that way the rest of the year. The White Sox had to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader.

It was the promotion from hell, the worst one since 10-cent beer night. But at least it led to the death of disco.

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