Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend Recall The Who Concert Tragedy For WCPO-TV Special

Nov 21, 2019

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend share their memories of The Who concert tragedy in 1979 in a one-hour WCPO-TV special on Dec. 3 called The Who: The Night That Changed Rock.

Eleven died trying to get into the concert in Riverfront Coliseum, now known as Heritage Bank Arena.

Tanya O'Rourke, who grew up in Finneytown not far from three students who died that night, will host and report the special 8 p.m. Dec. 3, exactly 40 years after the concert began.

Roger Daltry talks with Tanya O'Rourke before The Who's Oct. 19 concert in Seattle.
Credit Courtesy WCPO-TV

She interviewed Daltrey and Townshend, the only remaining full-time members of the band, and their longtime manager in Seattle before their October concert. At their request, she interviewed them separately.

"While they didn't do anything wrong, they've carried this with them all their lives. Eleven people died who came to see them play. It was not their fault. That's a heavy burden," O'Rourke says.

Townshend and Daltry rehearsing.
Credit Courtesy The Who

Townshend told her: "You know, I'm still traumatized by it. 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," Daltrey told her, "became one of the worst dreams I've had in my life."

The band members told her that "their longtime manager told them to go out and play that night, and to leave town the next day." Daltrey was interviewed the next day on a flight to Buffalo by the Enquirer and a WLWT-TV reporter, and the band members have spoken on various programs about the tragic night over the past 40 years.

A historical marker was dedicated Dec. 3, 2015, on the plaza in front of the coliseum.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

Daltrey also visited Finneytown High School in July 2018 to meet with supporters of the P.E.M. Scholarship Fund, named for Finneytown High School concert victims Stephan Preston, Jackie Eckerle and Karen Morrison.

A historical marker was unveiled on Riverfront Plaza outside the arena on Dec. 3, 2015. In recent years, vigils have been held outside the arena  on Dec. 3.

O'Rourke says she started on her passion project after completing her special about WCPO-TV's 70th anniversary in July.

"I was born to do this story. I was 10 years old when this happened. My brother was supposed to go to the concert. He was in the class of '82 at Finneytown High School."

Here's the WCPO-TV release:

THE WHO: THE NIGHT THAT CHANGED ROCK

Pete Townshend, 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

Nov. 21, 2019

Cincinnati – The Who band members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey share their detailed personal accounts of what happened the night of Dec. 3, 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 concertended, 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 letthe 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.

“Dec. 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 Dec. 3, the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, at 8 p.m. Eastern on WCPO-TV and stream live on wcpo.com. The documentary and expanded interviews will also be available wherever you stream WCPO. A companion podcast will be available Dec. 4.

About WCPO

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