The Who: The Night That Changed Rock

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey sit down for their very first long-form television interview about what happened 40 years ago when 11 people died outside Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Who band members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey share their detailed personal accounts of what happened the night of 3 December 1979, when 11 young people were killed outside a coliseum before their concert started. In the WCPO documentary, The Who: The Night That Changed Rock, they talk about how this single event forever changed rock and the lives of so many people. While they didn’t know about the deaths until after the concert ended, they have lived with the pain of the losses for 40 years.

“You know, I’m still traumatized by it,” says Pete Townshend. “It’s a weird thing to have in your autobiography that, you know, 11 kids died at one of your concerts. It’s a strange, disturbing, heavy load to carry.”

“That dreadful night of the third of December became one of the worst dreams I’ve had in my life,” recounts Roger Daltrey.

The band’s long-time manager, Bill Curbishley, witnessed the deaths and made the call to let the band play. “Despite everything,” says Curbishley, “I still feel inadequate. I don’t know about the guys, but for me, I left a little bit of my soul in Cincinnati.”

Survivors of that night and family members of some of the victims also provide new and chilling accounts of the crowd crush responsible for the deaths. They share intimate details of their loved ones to mark 40 years since the event. The band members and Finneytown residents also reveal a special relationship between The Who and Finneytown High School, where three of the victims were students. The documentary shares how that relationship has turned a horrible night into something positive.

The documentary, created and hosted by Emmy® award-winning anchor Tanya O’Rourke, tells the stories of those who died and those who survived and examines how it changed her small community. O’Rourke grew up in Finneytown, the small suburb of Cincinnati where three of the 11 who died also grew up. Along the way, she and the WCPO team discovered the long-term effect the tragedy had on concerts across the country as well as on the individuals who survived the incident and the family members of those who did not.

“December 3, 1979, didn’t just change some details at rock concerts. That night changed the lives of many in our region,” said Mike Canan, senior director of local content for WCPO. “This documentary is an unprecedented effort to tell the story of that one night and its impacts. I’m proud of our team’s work in commemorating those who were lost that night. I’m equally proud of Tanya and our team’s empathy for the victims and those who have dealt with loss and guilt from this incident for 40 years.”

This 60-minute documentary will air on 3 December, the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, at 8:00pm. Eastern Time on WCPO-TV and stream live on The documentary and expanded interviews will also be available wherever you stream WCPO. A companion podcast will be available 4 December.

Read WCPO’s digital preview of The Who: The Night That Changed Rock here.


19 thoughts on “The Who: The Night That Changed Rock”

  1. Clayton Irvin says:

    I was right in the middle of that mob that night and survived! I think about it every time I hear a song by the Who.

  2. Gary kolarich says:

    I saw The Who the next night played one song and dedicated the concert to the 11kids who died in concinati

  3. C. Martin says:

    As a Finneytown alum of that era I am eager to see this documentary! It is great for the P.E.M Memorial and Scholarships to have the attention they deserve. It has taken years of hard work by a handful of intrepid volunteers to fund the scholarhips and to engage The Who’s support in such an intimate way.

    I was at the front of the crowd for a Tull concert that summer and felt the intense physical pressure of the thousands behind our small group at the door. If I had not been away at college, I would have been at The Who show as well. It could have happened at any concert in any town and I am grateful that the safety of the fans became a priority nationwide after this horrifying incident.

  4. Rachel Tovinitti says:

    I was born about 9 years after The Who tragedy occurred so I was not there when it happened, but am very familiar with what happened from word of mouth while growing up. About a year ago, I stumbled across the song ‘Baba O’Riley’ in an episode of House and then seeing the short documentary of when Roger came to Cincy to visit Finneytown H.S., I became more interested in the band and came to fall in love with their music. I also read Roger’s last autobiography and I found a new level of respect for them. I ended up traveling from Cincinnati to Noblesville, IN, this year to see them perform and was completely blown away by their performance. I was so blown away that I asked my friend if she would want to see them perform in LA if I come out there to visit her and I saw them again. Once again, they put on an amazing performance.

    I completely understand and respect their decisions for not wanting to come back to Cincinnati, but should they ever come back to tour again in the U.S., I do hope they would consider coming back to Cincinnati (perform at Riverbend or Paul Brown or Great American Ballpark instead of at Heritage Bank Arena aka Riverfront Colliseum). I know that if they do come back, they would find some way to honor and respect the 11 victims who never made it to the first concert.

    If this ends up being their last year of touring in the US, I’m extremely grateful that I discovered their music last year and got the chance to see them perform twice this year. Would totally see them again if they come back to the US.

  5. mike says:

    I grew up with Peter Bowes and it had nothing to do with The Who but Riverfront. How do I watch the show if out of Cincy?

  6. Otto says:

    Sorry. Can’t imagine. About time the band spoke about this on film. I visited the tribute marker on the Ohio river a couple years ago.

  7. Joe Rosenkranz says:

    I was there Dec. 3rd. It changed me on the way I think about crowds nowadays and I will never forget that night The only people we can blame for what happened are the people at the venue not having more doors or better entryways.

  8. Lisa says:

    I was there! The crowd was so tight like a wave of people. I was off the ground at times because the crowd was so tight! It was crazy and scary. No one knew what had happened until we heard it on the radio on the way home!

  9. Jane Watters says:

    One of my brothers closest friends died that night. I still remember how hard my brother took the news. It was a very tragic event for everyone. My heart goes out to all.

  10. Brad Dempsey says:

    I was center 1 row back from the stage and the pressure of the pushing crowd was palpable and painful. Two cracked ribs and a beat up camera but I survived. Great show BTW. I didn’t find out until I returned to my car.

  11. Timothy Listermann says:

    I remember that night like it was yesterday.The day started like any other day except instead of going to school. I was going to see the Who! It’s the most impacting experience I’ve had I knew the three victims from Finneytown and I was friends with only one but I am blessed to have know Steve even though it was a short time my heart is and always will be with all 11 victims and their families.Thanks for the friends of mine who has put together the P.E.M. Memorial it’s a good thing love you all! Tim

  12. Tom Schermer says:

    I was 16 and took 2 of my nephews 15 and 14 to the show. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as the crowd pressure pushed the air out of our lungs. It lifted our feet off the ground and we strained our necks upward to get more air. Luckily we were pretty close to the doors and managed to pop thru after only a few minutes. I had the same experience earlier that year at another show and thought that it could never happen again. It was definitely not The Who’s fault only the idiots that managed the coliseum. I’m still very leery of large crowds but I’ve managed to see The Who several times since then. Long live rock !! Tommy “The Who” Schermer NCH

  13. Drew says:

    December 3, 1979 was my 18th birthday. I was given a ticket to the Who concert as a birthday gift. Having already made other plans, I was unable to attend. As I understand it the ticket was re-gifted (a couple of times) and the recipient was one of the 11 lost that night. My thoughts go out to all the families and friends.

  14. Rick Kellermeyer says:

    I chartered a bus and and traveled down from Columbus with (36) friends to the concert night on that “Magic Bus”…..many of us got caught up in the swelling wave of people carrying us wherever it decided to go……the problem started when the venue opened only two doors….the band was doing a sound check inside and the crowd having heard the music went into a panic, thus the tidal wave effect toward the two doors…..and the result was 11 dead fans… an interview that morning with the now out of existence Columbus Dispatch I explained it was like being born again, popping thru that door with my girlfriend Vikki and being able to breathe again…..I have always had that newspaper interview framed and hanging on my dressing room wall…….occasionally I stop to read it and reflect back on that very happy but SAD day and like all of you that were there, thinking it seems like only yesterday this happened… would be great if “The Who” would come back for a tribute concert and provide a section for those of us who were there for that concert to sit in……

  15. Jackie Roth says:

    I was 17 years old and went to the concert with a group of high school friends from New Richmond. It was my first concert. I remember how scared I was. The pressure of the crowd would lift you completely off your feet. I remember how hard it was to breath and luckily I am tall so it helped to put my head up to get air. I am thankful that my friends and I made it home safe. I will never forget that night.

  16. Mike Heid says:

    Just announced tonight The Who coming to Cincinnati April 23rd 2020 i will be there!

  17. Saralynn1975 says:

    My uncle was a cop on duty in Cincinnati that fateful night!

  18. allan wilson says:

    My thoughts go out to all. lucky to see the ‘Oo with all member combinations, but my thoughts with families and friends.

  19. I was at home that night, and about 8:00 that evening the National news broke out on the tv saying that people died at the Who concert and they didn’t know at the time what had happened. My brother Timothy Listermann was there. My mom and I just were besides ourselves, we lived in Finneytown and we knew Tim had left early that day to be the first in line to get tickets! But never dreamed that was what at first was the issue! Festival seating!?? As the night went on and the updates on the news went on panic started to really started to set in as what really happened set in. We only knew there were fatalities and injuries but how many at the time we had no idea. We waited,and waited for my brother to come home. It was getting later and later. By 1 am I personally started to think the worst . I kept thinking he should be home by now but he wasn’t! We waited another hour and still no Tim! About 15 minutes later he pulled up. He came in the door unaware of anything that happened. He said he just waited for the people he went with to come back to his car but they didn’t come so he figured they went home with someone else and most I guess they did he didn’t ever say that I remember. I didn’t ask. But the next day the tragedy set in 3 of them were from Finneytown! How could such a tiny town outside city limits have 3 pass away is still beyond my imagination. But it hit my brother, his friends, our home and the families of those who lost their lived one’s, our school, our community in a way Finneytown would never be the same. But thru it all people over the years have come together and The Who now and we have our PEM scholarships in honor of those who list their lives, and those 3 will never be forgotten and will forever live in the hearts of all of us those who lived in Finneytown! I love you Tim, and Mike Simpkin, Matt Wergers, Tammy, Steve amazing heartfelt interviews! I cried!

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