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The Day Disco Died in Chicago

By Jul 13, 2004

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the day disco died, when as many as 90,000 people showed up at Chicago’s Comiskey Park to participate in radio disc jockey Steve Dahl’s Disco Demolition.

The “Disco Sucks” demonstration is widely credited for causing the official demise of disco, and 25 years later, Dahl, who hosts a daily radio show on Chicago’s WCKG-FM, is still sending his message.

“People said I did the world a favor by taking one of the most inane music genres and relegating it to karaoke bars for all time,” Dahl said. “I was just doing what came naturally: hating disco.”

The event began as an effort to sell seats to a White Sox-Detroit Tigers’ doubleheader, and turned into a mass anti-disco movement from which disco never recovered. Dahl had been pretending to blow up disco records on the air at WLUP-FM, and Mike Veeck—son of White Sox legendary owner Bill Veeck and the team’s promotions manager—invited Dahl to do it live at Comiskey.

Fans were encouraged to show up with an admission of 98 cents and a disco record that would be blown up by Dahl in center field between the games.

But the promo event turned into a riot.

News reports said that an estimated 54,000 were admitted to the game (Comiskey Park had a seating capacity of about 45,000), while at least 20,000 roamed the parking lots hoping to get in (some even scaled walls to get in the ballpark without a ticket), and another 10,000 were stuck in traffic trying to reach Comiskey Park.

And at some point during the first game, thousands of anti-disco fans rushed the field, burning records, lighting cherry bombs and even knocking over the While Sox’s batting cage. They also ignored then-White Sox announcer Harry Carray’s pleas to get off the field.

After umpires decided the field—which was charred in center field and littered with broken records—was unplayable, the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game. The rare cancellation of an American League baseball game due to fans destroying the field is still listed by ESPN as one of the top 10 most shocking moments in baseball history.

A movie about the Disco Demolition is in development with State Street Pictures, with Jack Black being considered for the role as Dahl.

“Stories about Disco Demolition Night are legendary and the people behind the event have become legends, even beyond the confines of Chicago,” said Jay Sharman, VP-production for TeamWorks Media, whose one-hour PBS documentary Disco Demolition 25th Anniversary: The Real Story premiered yesterday. “The recollections are very vivid and surreal from the people who were behind it and experienced it, and those are the stories showcased in this documentary.”

The Northern League St. Paul Saints, a team that Mike Veeck now presides over, celebrated the 25th anniversary of Disco Demolition on Saturday. The Saints allowed fans to bring disco records to the ballpark in exchange for one Saints buck, and the records were destroyed between innings of their game against Schaumburg.

“Disco Demolition Night has been a 10,000 pound gorilla on Mike’s back for 25 years,” Saints VP Derek Sharrer said. “We think revisiting that infamous event will be a healthy exercise for him. Hopefully, we’ll get it right this time.”