Disco Riot Anniversary: A Social Media Perspective

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 4.12.25 PMHe wobbled, stared at me with glassy eyes and mumbled, ” Wow man, I’ve never pissed on second base.” Next he fumbled with his zipper then sprayed his impulse all over his pants, shoes and eventually the intended target. In baseball terms he stole second and in stoner lingo he scored and fried. I still smile when I think of that unknown, fellow rioter on the baseball field from an infamous promotional campaign that is now part of Rock ‘n’ Roll, baseball and Chicago media lore, Disco Demolition.

35 years ago this week, two high school friends, Ralph, Mark and I made a last minute decision while listening to our favorite Rock Radio station to drive 40 minutes from Northwest Indiana to Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, the former home of the Chicago White Sox. Admission to the double header between the Sox and Detroit Tigers was 98 cents (the radio station promoting the event was WLUP, The Loop FM 98) and a 45 rpm disco record, which looked like an oversized CD with a hole in the middle. Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.37.35 PM

WLUP disc jockey Steve Dahl had recently been fired from a rival station after it converted to disco music programming. This promotion carried out his revenge and our disdain for the genre. In between the games, Dahl, dressed in an anti-disco military uniform strutted to a dumpster in center field and fired up 59,000 fans with “Disco Sucks” chants. When he reached his destruction destination, he blew up thousands of records and ignited the mayhem. A giant plume of white smoke and gunpowder smell blended with the blue cloud of burning weed that had been wafting before the first pitch was even thrown. Seconds after that explosion, I heard, “Let’s Go,” and we were off. From center field, our thundering herd flew over seats, sprinted down ramps and hurdled retention walls until we landed on the grass near first base. Our trio slowly wandered and gazed up toward the empty seats marked by Disco Sucks banners while dozens of other knuckleheads set fires throughout the field. For at least a half-hour, everyone disregarded the pleas, “Holy Cow, please get off the field,” from famous announcer Harry Caray. We savored every second of our major league debut until tactical police units arrived on horseback with billy clubs.

It would have been cool to record all that action like we do today with our mobile devices even though I hold onto vivid memories of the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the entire stadium rumbling during the initial rush, which is a great thing. I embrace social media and I’m uncertain what kind of thing this is, but I believe that if Disco Demolition was promoted today, it would not spontaneously combust because of the medium’s ability to spread news so quickly. An audience much bigger than fans of Steve Dahl would control or crash the party for five reasons:

  1. Twitter would be trending with #discodemolition #discosucks and #disco prior to the event
  2. Instagram would be rolling for days with selfies of kids wearing Disco Sucks T-Shirts
  3. Vine and YouTube would be filled with videos of teens destroying disco records
  4. Facebook pages of WLUP RadioThe White Sox would be smothered in disco-hating rants
  5. Organizers would react to the social media conversation and take preventive steps and bring in extra security 

Disco Demolition

Back then, we didn’t take a lot of pictures of ourselves. Now, we watch old footage on YouTube and recall this anniversary through our memories of the sights, sounds and smells that connect a bygone media era to today’s social media. There could even be a lesson as we chronicle so many moments on social media. Before, during or after that selfie, think about pausing for a moment and engaging all of your senses to remember and interpret; not knowing it at the time, this worked for me at Disco Demolition and just might help make your milestones more memorable.

With Disco Demolition, Steve Dahl became a media icon because he was an outrageous visionary who understood the power of being himself. Today, he’s active on social media, has his own network with podcasts and is just as real as he was in 1979.

The opinions expressed in this blog are my own. My Twitter handle is Ronald Petrovich and the days of hating disco are way behind me even though I still fear dancing. 

picture of Ron Petrovich

picture of Ron



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