Today, 41 years ago the Chicago White Sox hosted Disco Demolition Night. The promotion was initiated by a DJ from a local radio station. As the game of the night before was rained out, it was scheduled to take place after the promotion. Little was known about the disastrous effect this promotion would have.
With Disco at its heyday, a local Chicago DJ was a fierce antagonist of the genre. The DJ, listening to the name of Steve Dahl, encouraged people to join his anti-disco organization, the Insane Coho Lips. During his broadcasts, Dahl snapped disco records or dragged the needle across them.
As the White Sox had a Disco Night in 1977, MikeVeeck, son of Bill Veeck and promotions director of the ChiSox was looking to organize an anti-Disco Night. During talks with Chicago radio station WLUP Sales Manager Jeff Schwartz, and WLUP Promotions Director Dave Logan, Mike Veeck was told about Steve Dahl and his intention to blow up a crate of disco records while live on the air from a shopping mall. That idea turned into blowing up a large box full of disco records at the home of the White Sox.
As the White Sox had a below-average season, the event was promoted as a night in which you could enter Comiskey Park for $0.98 if you brought a disco record with you.
The expectation was that about 5,000 extra fans above the average 20,000 would come to see the event. But the crowd that turned to Comiskey Park was beyond imagination. About 50,000 “fans” showed up. Most of them were more interested in the explosion than in the games vs the Detroit Tigers.
Thanks to the promotional activities on WLUP, far more fans than the stadium capacity tried to get into the ballpark. The security personnel tried to keep them out of the ballpark but because they were needed at the entrances, they left the field unprotected. As a result, people started to fling disco records onto the field even though the intention was to deposit them into large bins at the entrance of the ballpark. Detroit Tigers DH, Rusty Staub, urged teammates to wear batting helmets when playing their positions as these records sliced through the air and stuck into the ground.
But next to disco records, also empty liquor bottles and firecrackers were thrown onto the field. Perhaps this was an omen of what was about to come. After the final out of game one, Dahl fired up his followers with the following speech:
“This is now officially the world’s largest anti-disco rally! Now listen—we took all the disco records you brought tonight, we got ’em in a giant box, and we’re gonna blow ’em up reeeeeeal goooood.”
Eventually, he blew up the box that left a big hole in the outfield grass. Hundreds if not thousands of fans went on the field and the event turned into a riot.
As a result, the Tigers refused to play the second game due to safety concerns. The next day, American League President Lee MacPhail forfeited the game to the Tigers in a ruling that largely upheld Anderson’s arguments, MacPhail stated that the White Sox had failed to provide acceptable playing conditions.
After 41 years, Disco Demolition Night remains one of the most controversial events in pop history and regarded as one of the worst promotions in professional baseball. According to the Guardian, back then only Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone stated that there was something very ugly about the vast crowd of white men publicly destroying music that was mostly made by black artists, dominated by female stars and with a core audience that was, at least initially, largely gay: “White males, 18 to 34, are the most likely to see disco as the product of homosexuals, blacks and Latins, and … to respond to appeals to wipe out such threats to their security.”