August 3, 1979: Completely Freaked Out

(Pictured: Yaphet Kotto, Sigourney Weaver, and Ian Holm in Alien, 1979.)

August 3, 1979, was a Friday. Headlines on the morning papers include a government report that blames operator error for the Three Mile Island nuclear accident last spring. Investigators say that operators interfered with automated safety procedures that would have minimized the accident if left alone. Also in today’s headlines: New York Yankees catcher, team captain, and 1976 American League Most Valuable Player Thurman Munson died in a private plane crash yesterday in Ohio. He was 32. Today’s Yankees game against the Baltimore Orioles goes on as scheduled at Yankee Stadium. The Orioles win 1-0. Also today, President Jimmy Carter swears in Patricia Harris as his new Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Harris moves over from the top position in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Harris move is part of the cabinet shakeup Carter launched on July 18. Provincial elections are held in Iran to select members for a new national council to advise Ayatollah Khomeini and other leaders. Many major parties and candidates have dropped out, calling the elections “undemocratic and unlawful.”

On Navy Pier at Chicago’s lakefront, Chicagofest opens its 10-day run. The second edition of the annual festival was in jeopardy for a while earlier this year after cost overruns in 1978, but Mayor Jane Byrne was forced to back down from her proposal to replace the fest with a series of smaller neighborhood festivals. There are eight stages, each representing a different genre. Tonight, the rock stage is headlined by Jay Ferguson, the jazz stage by McCoy Tyner, the folk stage by Tom Paxton, and the country stage by the Dirt Band. Muddy Waters plays the blues stage, and he is joined by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the Blues Brothers. Main stage headliners during the fest include Bobby Vinton, a triple bill of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Fats Domino, the Charlie Daniels Band with Dr. Hook, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson on separate nights, Shaun Cassidy, Helen Reddy with Jim Stafford, and Chicago with Orleans. Several Chicago radio stations will broadcast from the festival, and The Mike Douglas Show will be taped at Chicagofest on weekdays. Over 100,000 advance tickets have been sold at $3.50 each. Admission at the gate will be $5.

Future actress Evangeline Lilly is born. The Muppet Movie, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and North Dallas Forty, starring Nick Nolte, open in theaters this weekend. So do The Amityville Horror and The Wanderers, which is advertised with a pull quote from a Newsweek review calling it “Grease with brass knuckles.” During the day, the three broadcast networks air 11 soaps and 10 game shows along with repeats of Laverne and Shirley, All in the Family, and M*A*S*H. Shows on TV tonight include Diff’rent Strokes, Hello Larry, The Rockford Files, and Welcome Back Kotter. Following the late local news, ABC shows 15 minutes of highlights from the PGA Championship golf tournament. (Ben Crenshaw holds a one-shot lead after the second round; he will lose a three-hole playoff to Australian David Graham on Sunday.) ABC follows the golf with a repeat of highlights from California Jam II, a rock concert held in March 1978, starring Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Heart, Foreigner, and others.

At WLS in Chicago, “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward and “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer hold at #1 and #2 on the survey that will come out tomorrow. At #3, Cheap Trick swaps positions with Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff,” now at #4. No song among the station’s top 12 moves more than one position up or down. The biggest mover within the survey is “My Sharona” by the Knack, up 15 spots to #16. (The debut album from the Knack is new at #1, knocking Cheap Trick at Budokan to #3; Supertramp’s Breakfast in America holds at #2.) Barbra Streisand’s “The Main Event/Fight,” the title song from her current movie with Ryan O’Neal, is up to #24 from #38. “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” by Dr. Hook is up to #30 from #41.

Perspective From the Present: I have written elsewhere that in the summer of 1979 I worked Saturdays and Sundays at KDTH in Dubuque and bunked with a couple of college friends on Saturday nights. One weekend—and we might as well call it the weekend that started on Friday, August 3—we went to see Alien, which had been in theaters all summer. It was the first movie we’d ever seen with a soundtrack in stereo. When the alien sneaked up on somebody from behind and we heard the sound behind us before we saw it, we were completely freaked out. Moviegoers take such effects for granted now, but when they were new, well, damn.

February 18, 1979: Destiny

(Pictured: the Jacksons, onstage during the Destiny tour, 1979.)

February 18, 1979, is a Sunday. The top headline on the Sunday newspapers regards China’s military invasion of Vietnam. Americans are concerned about rising gasoline prices, which have reached 70 cents a gallon in the Midwest. Also in the Midwest, a major snowstorm strikes, taking aim at the East Coast, where it will drop 18 inches of snow. Snow is also recorded in the Sahara Desert, in southern Algeria, for the first time in history. Over eight inches of rain falls in Greenville, South Carolina. The all-time low temperature record is tied in New York State, when a reading of 52 below is recorded at Old Forge in Herkimer County. President and Mrs. Carter spend the weekend at Camp David, although they zip back to Andrews Air Force Base at midday for a ceremony marking the return of the remains of Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs, who was killed in a firefight after being kidnapped last week. Following their return to Camp David in the afternoon, the Carters go cross-country skiing with family and friends. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper runs a feature story about the history of Coca Cola and illustrates it with a photo of the handwritten original recipe for Coke, thus revealing the drink’s secret formula, but nobody notices until 2011.

The Daytona 500 is broadcast live in its entirety for the first time. Richard Petty wins after a last-lap crash involving Cale Yarborough and  Donnie Allison, who are battling for the lead. Yarborough and Allison get into a fistfight on the track after the crash. Amy Alcott wins the LPGA Elizabeth Arden Golf Classic. On ABC, the first episode of Roots: The Next Generations airs. Other shows on TV tonight include Battlestar Galactica and All in the Family. On the radio, The Dr. Demento Show, heard around the country this weekend, features an interview with voiceover artist Mel Blanc; “Fish Heads” by Barnes and Barnes, who also guest on the show, tops the weekly Funny Five countdown.

The Jacksons’ Destiny tour plays Manchester, England, the Outlaws play New York City, New Riders of the Purple Sage play Rutgers University, Status Quo plays Zwolle in the Netherlands, Frank Zappa plays Hammersmith Odeon in London, and Frank Sinatra plays Chicago. Rod Stewart tops the Billboard Hot 100 for a second week with “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” (Stewart’s album Blondes Have More Fun holds at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart.) “YMCA” by the Village People sticks at #2. The lone new entry in the Top 10 is “I Was Made for Dancing” by Leif Garrett. There’s very little movement within the Top 20; the Bee Gees’ “Tragedy” leaps to #19 from #29, where it entered the Hot 100 the week before. The highest debuting song within the Top 40 is “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits at #33.

In Wisconsin, a college-radio DJ spends the weekend back home with the family. He’ll return to school that night, weather permitting, to a single room in the dorm, a luxury made possible when his roommate decided to quit school after one semester. He hates living in the dorm, but he loves radio, and radio is what he’s there for.