Steve Dahl: Prank Blew Up In Dahl’s Face

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 21, 1995

As with many of Steve Dahl’s greatest stunts, his infamous Disco Demolition Night started as a joke. When WDAI-FM (94.7) – now known as WLS-FM – changed format from rock to disco, DJ Dahl was out of a job.

“That’s where it really started,” said Dahl, 40. “While I was still on (WDAI), I would be talking about how ridiculous it was to have a 24-hour disco station. Like who’s going to dance to a 20-minute Donna Summer song in the car? Back then, disco was more of a cultural thing than it is today. It seemed like (disco) was trying to take the place of rock ‘n’ roll, which is why I found it kind of irritating.”

The stunt on July 12, 1979, started as a gimmick between promotions executive Mike Veeck (son of White Sox owner Bill Veeck) and Dahl. Fans got a discount on tickets by bringing disco records to a twi-night double-header vs. the Detroit Tigers. During the break between games, the 24-year-old DJ at WLUP-FM (97.9) detonated an explosive charge to thousands of the records. Shortly afterward, 7,000 fans stormed the field, starting fires and forcing cancellation of the second game despite pleas for calm from the Veecks, Harry Caray and Dahl himself. Six people were injured in the rampage; about 50 were arrested.

“At first I thought no one was going to show up,” Dahl said of the event, which brought 50,000 fans inside Comiskey Park as well as 13,000 to 15,000 more who couldn’t get in. “It really drew a life of its own.

“When I got my job at (WLUP), I started playing some of these disco songs and making fun of them, like I would with anything, really,” he said. “And people seemed to relate to it and seemed to be ready to get rid of disco. I’d say that fueled Disco Demolition more than I did.”

Little did his fans know that Dahl and his wife, Janet, danced to an Abba record on one of their first dates.

These days, Dahl is a radio personality at WMVP-AM (1000). A father of three boys ranging in age from 10 to 14, Dahl said he’s irritated by his sons’ musical tastes. The irony isn’t lost on him that, in his bad-boy 20s, he used to raise parents’ blood pressure with his tasteless song parodies about the likes of John Wayne Gacy.

“It’s hell to grow up and grow old,” Dahl said. “Every once in a while I find myself being like my dad in the car. The kids will be listening to Green Day and I’ll turn it off.”

Pausing, he added: “But then later I’ll find myself humming their song.”

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