40 Years Ago: the Who Tragedy in Cincinnati

•  How we covered it in Philadelphia, where the promoters of the concert were based

•  The coincidental involvement of Harvey Weinstein . . yes, that Harvey Weinstein

•   A week later, the Who played Philly; I talked to Roger Daltrey about the horror

It was probably the biggest – and saddest – news story a radio station in the heyday of FM rock radio could cover. (Until almost exactly a year later, when John Lennon was murdered.)

I had moved to Philadelphia from Cincinnati and WEBN-FM in 1978. At my new radio station, WMMR-FM, I would occasionally trade radio news stories with Craig Kopp and Rick Bird, who had taken over the ‘EBN news department when I left.

On Monday, December 3, 1979, the disastrous event occurred at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. The next morning, I immediately called Craig, who had been up all night, and interviewed him. Then I scrambled to gather more sound in time for our noon newscast. That evening, the Who were scheduled to play in Buffalo so I called the promoters there, Harvey and Corky Productions, to find that they were going on with the show in Buffalo.

Historical footnote: the Harvey in that company was Harvey Weinstein, later to become a Hollywood mogul and a focus of the #MeToo movement.

Corky Berger, Harvey Weinstein

The Who were scheduled to play two dates at Philadelphia’s Spectrum one week after the Cincinnati disaster. The former City Manager of Cincinnati had recently taken a job as head of the Philadelphia Zoo; I called and got his perspective on the type of seating that contributed to the tragedy. I called the Philadelphia-based Electric Factory Concerts who had promoted the Cincy show and were preparing to put on the two Philly shows; didn’t get a lot out of them. Here’s the special report I did. The DJ who tossed to me for the news, Dick Hungate, seemed genuinely impressed at the end. I hope listeners were, too.

The Philly Who concerts the following Monday and Tuesday went off without a hitch, and before the Tuesday show I interviewed a still shaken Roger Daltrey. It aired on a regular short feature called, “Streets of Philadelphia.”

Historical footnote #2: Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Streets of Philadelphia,” written for the film, Philadelphia, was released in 1994. My WMMR news feature of the same name dates back to 1978. Just saying. [smile emoji]

More stories like this: click here

“Festival seating,” the general-admission arena floor ticketing plan which encouraged a crowd rush when doors open, was the culprit in the eyes of many. Cincinnati banned unassigned seats at concerts, but the ban was repealed in 2008

In 2015, a historical marker was placed at the Coliseum, now known as Heritage Bank Center. It honors the memory of the eleven rock fans who died and the many injured.

In the 40 years since the Cincinnati Who disaster, sadly, music concert audiences have learned to be perhaps less worried about crowd control than the possibility that guns and explosives could generate worse mayhem.


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