Rozner: Disco Demolition, the night of living dangerously

  • Fans storm the field at Comiskey Park on Disco Demolition Night, July 12, 1979, after the first game of a doubleheader between the White Sox and Detroit Tigers. The promotion by radio personality Steve Dahl turned into a free-for-all after hundreds of disco records were blown up on the field. The second game of the doubleheader was called by umpires who declared the field unfit for play.

    Fans storm the field at Comiskey Park on Disco Demolition Night, July 12, 1979, after the first game of a doubleheader between the White Sox and Detroit Tigers. The promotion by radio personality Steve Dahl turned into a free-for-all after hundreds of disco records were blown up on the field. The second game of the doubleheader was called by umpires who declared the field unfit for play. Associated Press

  • Barry Rozner's vendor badge from Comiskey Park, where he worked on Disco Demolition Night.

      Barry Rozner's vendor badge from Comiskey Park, where he worked on Disco Demolition Night. Barry Rozner | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/5/2019 10:24 PM

It was one small step for a child.

Yeah, that's all. No giant leap. Not for me, anyway.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The lunatics jumping onto the field from high above Comiskey Park's turf were taking at least a flight of faith from the bleachers, if not their life into their hands.

And in the wake of it all, the surface was showered, impact craters everywhere resulting from explosions, fires, broken records and fans run amok, some of them in lunar orbit after considerable contact with substances legal and otherwise.

It was the night of Disco Demolition, occurring 40 years ago next Friday, 10 years to the week after Neil Alden Armstrong set foot on the moon.

Just a high school kid vending pop in the upper deck that night, my strides were short and careful, too crowded was it to move more than a few inches at a time.

The giant leap was made by Steve Dahl, who went from cult hero to nationally known radio personality -- Howard Stern before there was one -- and a Hall of Fame career that has spanned more than four decades.

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It was his moonshot.

"The further I get away from it, the more it doesn't seem like it was me doing it," Dahl says today. "I was 24 then, and no one was more surprised than I -- except maybe Bill Veeck -- at the events as they transpired that night."

Dahl had considered the possibility that no one would show up. Instead, what followed the greatest sports promotion of all time -- or the worst depending on points of view -- was a revolution of irreverence where no one was immune, no topic off limits, no group or party exempt.

It was equal opportunity mistreatment.

It was the most entertaining radio ever attempted, decades of nonsense perfectly polluting the airwaves, a politically incorrect discussion of everyone and everything.

In a word, radio was fun. Finally.

Dahl changed the tone from Andy Griffith to Peter Griffin, though no one today would be allowed such revelry.

We have lost our collective sense of humor, hypersensitivity ruling every minute of the day, social media enraging and ruining society a post at a time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Radio resides again in Mayberry, never to return to Quahog. That radio show could not be done in this era.

"No, it could not," said Dahl, who continues to offer up a daily podcast at dahl.com. "You can't even use the Betsy Ross flag these days without somebody getting (ticked) off."

That night on the South Side -- the explosion of records in an anti-disco rally -- was just a step off the Lunar Module, a preview of the absurd, melding theater of the mind and madness of the masses.

And quite a loud one at that.

The announced attendance was 47,795, a laughable number even by Bill Veeck standards. Likely, he sold 60,000 tickets, and that's before at least 10,000 broke down a fence and ran up the fire escape into the upper deck, just past the commissary where I was holding on for dear life.

It was unmanageable trying to move and work, as much pop stolen from my tray as I probably sold on a hot and muggy night that was supposed to offer two profitable games, the second ultimately a White Sox forfeit due to a torn up field.

Way I figure it, Steve still owes me money.

A few weeks ago I bumped into newspaper legend -- and Daily Herald columnist -- Robert Feder, and he made a staggering confession as we stumbled upon the discussion of July 12, 1979.

"It's one of those events where if everyone who said they were there was actually there, there had to have been a million people in the park," Feder laughed. "But I was not one of them. I'm the only one in Chicago who didn't attend that game."

It's still that big an affair 40 years later, remembered with some of the wildest Chicago sporting events in history, where so many insist they were a part of it.

But for one little-known disc jockey, the night was life-changing.

"Looking back at it, I'd have to say that it was transformative in terms of figuring out a career path," Dahl said, "but now with 40-plus years of being on the radio under my belt, three fully-grown sons and nine -- soon to be 10 -- grandchildren, the importance of the night has some competition."

Nothing offers introspection like children, the most childish of us forced to grow up with little ones running around.

Still, for the love of Chet Lemon and all that's holy, the memories are vivid, and it was a frightening night to be upstairs, the outfield stands shaking violently due to overcrowding, and goofs climbing the foul poles.

But … it wasn't all bad.

While turning a corner in the darkness of the outfield upper deck, I ran into my high school English teacher, who was wearing a black leather halter and matching mini. That offered a different perspective, an apropos approach to an insane evening that those who were truly in attendance would never forget.

As is everything and in perpetuity, a leather halter top is a good reminder that it's all relative.

And even insanity can be special.

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