A Promotion That Bombed
Well, a sweltering July has taken hold as temps soar into the mid-90’s in the Shenandoah Valley, and that can only mean one thing…VACATION! Like Major League Baseball, I am taking my Midsummer hiatus, and next week I’ll be headed to my “go-to” vaycay spot, the Assateague Island National Seashore and the quaint island community of Chincoteague. As I always do, I make it a point to miss the annual Pony Penning festivities by a week, while CI and AI are a little less hectic.
Until this year, I didn’t care too much about the MLB Home Run Derby, part of the All-Star Game festivities. Like many this year, though, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with Aaron Judge, the 6-7, 280 pound “wonderboy” of baseball (I wonder if he has a bat like Roy Hobbs in “The Natural” ?). If you’ve been off the planet, the Yankee’s rookie has 30 homers at the break, and has already broken Joe Dimaggio’s Yankee rookie record for home runs in a season. But it’s not just the number of homers that people are talking about, it’s the distance of his prodigious shots, some travelling well over 450 feet. In the Derby, he hit several over 500 feet! Judge is the real deal, and in a season filled with much criticism of the sport, he has been great for the game.
Speaking of baseball, it was this week in 1979 that one of the most ill-fated promotions in sports history took place. It was the brainchild of Chicago radio personality Steve Dahl, and endorsed by colorful White Sox owner Bill Veeck.
In 1979, there were two opposing groups of music lovers. There was the disco crowd, who danced under the mirror-ball to the Bee-Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive”, and emulated John Travolta. And there was the hard core rock and roll crowd, who echoed Bob Seger’s anti-disco anthem “Old Time Rock and Roll”, a hit song released in March of that year.
With that historical backdrop, we take you into the promotional mind of Dahl, a popular Windy City DJ at WLUP, known as “The Loop.” Dahl, who was hired by rock-formatted WLUP after being fired by a rival disco station, cooked up “Disco Demolition Night”, to be held between games of a twi-night doubleheader on July 12th, 1979. Those attending the game would be admitted for 98 cents (WLUP’s frequency was 97.9 FM), provided they brought a disco record with them to Comiskey Park. The records would be piled up on the field and destroyed by an explosion.
Veeck and the Sox expected a slightly larger-than-normal crowd of 20,000 fans as the team was having a down year. Instead, more than 50,000 of Dahl’s anti disco army converged on Comiskey, many there to see an explosion and not a baseball game. The pile of records was detonated, damaging the field and inciting a riot that had to be dispersed by police. In addition, the second game of the twinbill with Detroit had to be postponed, and was later forfeited to the Tigers 9-0.
As a footnote, the second game remains the last American league game to be forfeited. And maybe because of the promotion and the surrounding anti-disco backlash, the genre would recede in popularity as 1979 blended into 1980. Ill-advised or not, Disco Demolition Night is still talked about 38 years later, an event that lives on in sports infamy.
I’ll be back in the Booth in two weeks (provided it’s air conditioned). Until then…GO HORNETS!!!