You've heard the famous phrase, “What's old is new again.” These days in pop culture, that old adage is proving its mettle – again and again. We usually think back at nostalgia with a sense of fondness and warmth – remembering the good times and conveniently forgetting about the disasters.
Until now, that is.
Nostalgia is so powerful it can apparently transform huge disasters, debacles, and controversies, morphing them into shining, iconic, memorable moments.
Take Steve Dahl‘s (in)famous “Disco Demolition,” an event in sports and rock n' roll that cost the Chicago White Sox a baseball game nearly 40 years ago. What started as a fun stunt in between two games of a doubleheader (go ahead, Google it), turned into an out of control, on the field riot, led by an irreverent disc jockey and his thousands of zealous fans.
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The event was derided by many at the time, and Dahl experienced much criticism. But among his legions of loyal listeners, it cemented his reputation as one of the first “bad boy” DJs to grace the Windy City airwaves. And it brought an aura to his station, WLUP – The Loop.
(Interestingly enough, it was ABC's WDAI who originally brought him to Chicago from Detroit. At the time, they had succumbed to the mirrored balls, leisure suits, and thumbing beats to become “Disco DAI.”)
But that was then.
Next week, the White Sox and Dahl will celebrate this blessed event, in much the same way teams remember their championship seasons. Dahl will (once again) throw out the first pitch. (My suggestion for his walk-up song: “Disco Inferno.”)
Chicago media maven, Robert Feder, recently wrote about the “Disco Demolition.” At the time, Dahl was 24 years-old (think about that), and obviously had no idea what would transpire. The White Sox were playing the Detroit Tigers that day, so I was listening to the festivities in real time, laughing as the Tigers' announcers were trying to figure out what the hell was happening on the field.
Comments on Feder's blog run the gamut, from the many who celebrate Dahl's stunt to those who remain critical and even angry all these decades later. But no matter. The White Sox are already more than 11 games out of first place in the AL Central. Clearly, anything to fill seats at the newly christened Guaranteed Rate Field is a home run.
The team's marketing guru back in those disco days, Mike Veeck (son of then-owner Bill Veeck), commented in a documentary celebrating the Disco Demolition:
“Looking back….years later, it shows you how forgiving history can be, and how unforgiving (news)papers can be the next day.”
The White Sox are even commemorating the event with special T-shirts. Talk about “throwback jerseys,” something that every major sports team exploits. Too bad The Loop is no longer around to cash in as well.
It was an event that shaped Dahl's career. While he already had achieved much success, the “Disco Demolition” was the morning show stunt of all stunts. Despite the heat from the other media at the time, Dahl and WLUP laughed it off – and the station probably raised its rates. Certainly, every other wannabe morning show of the era was jealous of what Dahl pulled off – without getting fired.
Revisionist history about “Disco Demolition Night” strongly suggests that nostalgia – covered by the sands of time – can change the way we remember events. And most often, time heals all wounds. Brian Braiker, editor of AdAge, refers to nostalgia as a “balm.”
In this case, he's not writing about Steve Dahl and disco records. He's talking about the comeback of New Coke.
If you weren't alive 34 years ago, you may not remember the greatest marketing disaster of all time. Coke blew up its iconic soft drink to create New Coke. During that crazy period in the '80s, everything had to be new. And so, the mavens at Coca-Cola boldly introduced a new formula, rebranding it as New Coke.
Even before there was an Internet and social media, it was abundantly clear New Coke was an immediate and total debacle. And it forced Coke to bring back the original product – just 79 days later. As Braiker writes, New Coke “was an idea nobody asked for and, it turned out, nobody wanted.”
But what to now call it – to communicate that New Coke was a thing of the past, and that the original formula was back?
Wisely, their beat-up marketing team ruled out Old Coke. Instead, they chose Classic Coke – a brand name they used for years. As the guy launching the Classic Rock format at exactly that same time, you can imagine how happy that decision made me.
But here we are in 2019, and Coke will soon be celebrating its marketing snafu with “product placement” of New Coke in several episodes of season 3: “Stranger Things.” It just so happens to coincide with the summer of '85 when New Coke had its auspicious debut.
And to celebrate the anniversary of hitting the marketing iceberg, Coke will actually bring back New Coke for a limited run. It will probably be a huge seller this time around.
And as in the case of the “Disco Demolition,” time heals all wounds, with nostalgia functioning as the balm.
It makes you wonder if the White Sox will entice Gloria Gaynor to sing the National Anthem during next week's game.
Whatever the case, one can only hope Dahl gets a cut of those T-shirt sales. He deserves it.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.