July 12, 1979: The Disaster That Was Disco Demolition Night
One of the most notorious events in sports history went down at Chicago’s Comiskey Park 44 years ago on July 12, 1979.
That’s the date of the infamous Disco Demolition Night promotion at the Chicago White Sox game. Organized as a backlash to the popularity of disco music in the late ’70s, FM 97.9 WLUP “The Loop” radio DJ Steve Dahl encouraged people to bring disco records to the ballpark and have the albums ceremoniously blown up between games of the doubleheader.
No one could have predicted the massive response or the drunken mayhem that ensued.
MLB.com’s Susan Bryson wrote:
“In a nod to the station’s call numbers, tickets were priced at 98 cents for anyone who brought disco records to the ballpark, records that would be blown up on the field between games. The response was overwhelming; Comiskey filled to capacity, and approximately 20,000 people were forced to remain outside. (In a stroke of horrible luck, July 12 was also half-price Teen Night, which had been scheduled before a rainout necessitated this twin bill.)”
As fans piled into the stadium with their records, a disturbing trend was observed. A lot of the records brought for demolition weren’t even disco. There were soul, R&B and funk records tossed in the mix. This wasn’t just a fun night to declare “DISCO SUCKS!” This was a riot of racism and homophobia.
Josh Terry wrote for Vice.com in 2019:
“Disco was a genre mostly created by and made for Black, Latino, and gay people, and other marginalized groups. While Dahl has vehemently denied it as merely a harmless stunt, its execution was racist and homophobic. Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh who attended the promotion wrote at the time, “Your most paranoid fantasy about where the ethnic cleansing of the rock radio could ultimately lead… White males, eighteen to thirty-four are the most likely to see Disco as the product of homosexuals, blacks and Latins, and therefore they’re the most likely to respond to appeals to wipe out such threats to their security.” Pictures from photographer Diane Alexander White documenting scores of uniformly white south side teenagers do little to dispel its toxicity.”
Following the first game, a 4-1 White Sox loss, the records were blown up with explosives, sending debris all over the field. Thousands poured onto the field and caused chaos and destruction until they were dispersed by Chicago police in riot gear. When order was finally restored, the outfield grass was so badly damaged by the explosion and the rioters, Game 2 was never played and the White Sox lost by forfeit 9-0.
Given the sinister undercurrent of Disco Demolition Night, it’s not something that should be memorialized with dignity.
But anyway, check out this cool animated music video by The Baseball Project: