Sometimes a promotional stunt can work too well.

On a July evening in 1979, a melee ensued at Chicago’s Comiskey Park that resulted in six people being injured and 39 being arrested for disorderly conduct.

Why? During a stunt called Disco Demolition Night, thousands of attendees stormed the diamond following the first game of a double-header between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers.

With many rioters amped-up on beer and drugs, rowdies tore up turf, set infield fires, climbed foul poles, upended the batting cage, and (literally) stole the bases. Police in riot gear intervened, and the White Sox had to forfeit the second game.

The year before, irreverent Chicago radio DJ Steve Dahl had helmed the highly rated Steve Dahl’s Rude Awakening show on Top 40 powerhouse WDAI-FM.

But near the end of 1978, WDAI switched formats from rock ’n’ roll to disco music — and fired Dahl on Christmas Eve. He was devastated and immediately focused his anger on a music form that he had always despised.

Disco, pioneered by gays, Blacks, and Latinos, had risen from the 1970s underground into the mainstream following the success of such recording artists as Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, and KC and the Sunshine Band, as well as the commercial clout of the film and soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever.

In March 1979, still distraught about disco’s influence, Dahl landed a morning gig at Chicago album-rock outlet WLUP-FM. He and the overnight DJ there (a fellow disco-music hater) were soon loudly demolishing records during their on-air shifts.

With some other radio pals — and the son of the White Sox’s owner — Dahl created a promotion idea that he thought could grant him heroic status: He would destroy disco music forever, while at the same time raising the often-pitiful attendance figures at Comiskey Park. (The 52,000-capacity stadium usually drew crowds of about 16,000 on any given White Sox game day.)

Set for July 12, the DJ’s scheme was labeled Disco Demolition Night.

The admission charge that night was a disco record and 98 cents (WLUP-FM’s frequency was 98.0). Dahl’s scheme had called for the collecting of the records, piling them into a dumpster in center field, and blowing everything to smithereens.

Dahl hoped the stunt might draw a few thousand extra folks to the park. Wrong. On the night of July 12, Comiskey Park sold out, with 40,000 restless souls milling about outside.

With the first game over (the White Sox lost 4-1), Dahl, in military regalia, circled the playing field in a Jeep before whipping the crowd into a frenzy with chants of “DISCO SUCKS!” The “fun” began when a powerful explosive charge set off in the dumpster rocketed thousands of discs into the sky.

Dahl’s escapade didn’t end disco’s reign, any more than Buddy Holly’s death marked “the day the music died.” By the early 1980s, disco’s popularity had faded — but because of changing musical trends and not one rock jock’s stunt gone awry one Chicago summer evening in 1979.


Although Randal C. Hill’s heart lives in the past, the rest of him resides in Bandon, Ore. He can be reached at

Have questions?

We are just a click away!