March 9, 2018 marked a milestone in Chicago radio history: the final broadcast of hard rocker WLUP 97.9 FM. Many Forest Parkers were Loop fans in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They wore black T-shirts and chanted, “Disco sucks!” I was still devoted to disco and had the polyester shirts to prove it, but I could not escape the Loop craze.
On July 12, 1979, I was working at Forest Park National Bank. My co-worker, Mark Connelly, told me about “Disco Demolition” being held at Comiskey Park that evening. To a Sox fan, it was irresistible. Free admission with a disco record to a double-header against Detroit! This meant sacrificing one of my Donna Summer albums but I was going.
When we got there, I was shocked to see 50,000 Loop fans, wearing black T-shirts, cramming into Comiskey. They didn’t look like baseball fans. We found seats and watched the crowd going increasingly crazy. Disco records were flying onto the field like Frisbees. The Detroit fielders put on batting helmets, as debris rained down.
I feared a riot. After Detroit won the first game 4-1, I told Mark I was leaving. He suggested I might get killed going home, but it seemed safer than staying. So I wasn’t there for the big explosion and fans storming the field.
Afterwards, critics accused the crowd of bigotry. They claimed disco was associated with African-Americans and gays and The Loop gave disaffected white teens a chance to unleash their anger against it. One critic likened it to a Nazi book burning. Their views made sense to me at the time but I’ve since learned that disco died a natural but horrible death in the early ’80s, a victim of overexposure.
As disco declined, The Loop peaked in popularity. It wasn’t just hard rock that attracted listeners. The station had colorful personalities: Jonathan Brandmeier, Kevin Matthews, and DD organizer, Steve Dahl. I didn’t embrace the music, or the wacky DJs. But there was no way to escape Loop commercials and posters.
Matt Cormack, who now lives and works in Forest Park, couldn’t resist the lure of one of these posters. In August 1984, he and his friends came upon a CTA bus bearing a poster of Lorelei, The Loop’s original “rock girl.” Lorelei was first in a line of scantily-clad spokeswomen.
Matt slipped the cardboard poster out of its metal frame. It was 10 feet long and 3 feet wide, so he had quite a time carrying it home on the CTA. It was even trickier for Matt to load it into his ’74 Nova to drive it to Western Illinois University. The poster decorated his dorm room for the next three years, surviving countless alcohol spills. When Matt graduated, his buddy offered 50 bucks for it and Lorelei still hangs on his wall in New Hampshire.
Lorelei faded from the scene and hard rock declined in popularity but The Loop stubbornly clung to the format. It became a dinosaur, playing T-Rex songs in a swamp of hip-hop, rap and techno. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd: The Loop played a brand of rock that wasn’t being produced anymore.
Still, I was glued to 97.9 during the final broadcast. The station was shifting to Christian rock the next day. Dahl spoke of The Loop’s huge impact on rock-and-roll history. He said the station’s final song should be AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”
Instead, he ended the broadcast by telling his wife, Janet, he loved her. A quiet ending for the man who triggered an explosion that rocked the music world.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com