One of the joys of working in the media is you often get a front row seat to history.
My chance came on July 13, 1985 at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, where I field produced Live Aid (the original one) for KDKA-TV. My reporter was Mt. Lebanon resident Mary Robb Jackson.
The 16-hour concert, held simultaneously on two continents, was one of the largest satellite link-ups of all time. The live broadcast was watched by an estimated 1.9 billion viewers globally.
I won’t get into the minutiae of what it took technically for a local TV station to report live from an event of this magnitude back then. Suffice it to say we had some very talented engineers at the helm.
Thirty-eight years have passed since that monumental day. Here’s what I remember: It was very hot! So hot, the thousands of fans on the field had to be hosed down by fire hoses so they wouldn’t pass out.
The number of artists on the bill in Philadelphia was staggering: Duran Duran, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Pretenders, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams, The Cars, The Beach Boys and on and on. Imagine how much a ticket to see that many performers would cost today? The majority of the 90,000 tickets sold at JFK Stadium cost $35!
Philadelphia band The Hooters opened the show in America. I later read concert organizer Bob Geldof was not happy about that.
Jefferson Airplane/Starship’s Grace Slick did most of the pre-concert media interviews. It was a thrill meeting someone who performed at Woodstock!
I remember passing Chrissie Hynde, from The Pretenders, as we made our way backstage. But, my most memorable backstage moment is when a security guard stopped Billy Ocean, of Caribbean Queen fame. Billy politely held up his pass and said, “I’m one of the performers.”
One of my concert highlights was Mick Jagger and Tina Turner’s performance of State of Shock and It’s Only Rock and Roll, during which Mick famously tore off Tina’s skirt. After spending much of the day running back and forth from the press box and backstage on that blisteringly hot day, many of the media crews took time out and headed to the roof of JFK Stadium to dance along with Mick and Tina.
It was a long, exhausting day, but I’m glad I got to witness this chapter in music history.