By September of 1979, the gas shortage had eased, and the tensions with Iran had not yet escalated to crisis-level. It may have seemed like a calm month, but there were things happening in the news that you may want to revisit.
September 1-30: A dominant song
The number one song for the entire month of September was “My Sharona” by The Knack. You couldn’t escape hearing the thumping melody that autumn. The band’s debut single stayed at #1 for six weeks and became Billboard’s #1 song of 1979.
Some now consider The Knack to be a one-hit wonder, even though they had two more Top 40 singles over the next year.
September 1: The Lone Ranger unmasked
Clayton Moore starred as the Lone Ranger in TV and movies in the 1950s. After the TV series ended in 1957, Moore continued to make public appearances as the Lone Ranger in full cowboy regalia, including the character’s iconic mask.
By 1978, television producer Jack Wrather, who owned the rights to the Lone Ranger, wanted to put a stop to Moore’s appearances. There would soon be a Lone Ranger movie with a much younger actor. A year-long lawsuit ended on September 1, 1979, when a Los Angeles court ordered Moore to stop wearing the Lone Ranger mask in public. Moore complied, and instead wore dark wraparound glasses when he made public appearances.
The legal battle did not end until 1984. Shortly before he died, Wrather gave in and allowed Moore to wear the mask again.
September 2: Hurricane David
Hurricane David had already ravaged the Dominican Republic as a category 5 hurricane in August, leaving 2,000 dead and another 200,000 homeless. After being downgraded to a tropical storm, it regained hurricane strength on September 2 and skirted the coast of Florida, causing millions of dollars in damage. Hurricane David made its final landfall in Savannah, Georgia, on September 4.
The year 1979 was the first year that hurricanes were given men’s names, and the name David was permanently retired from the list due to its deadly impact.
September 7: ESPN premieres
The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) launched on this date in 1979. At the time, there was some doubt as to whether people would watch sports on a cable channel. Forty years later, ESPN airs in over 200 countries with its flagship channel plus multiple subsidiary and subscription channels and streaming services.
September 7: Chrysler asks for $1.5 billion
Lee Iacocca, the head of the ailing Chrysler Corporation, approached Congress on September 7 and requested $1.5 billion in loan guarantees. The U.S. complied, and Chrysler instituted reforms and produced the economical K-car and minivans to turn the company around.
The loans were paid back by 1983.
September 8: Tracy Austin breaks a record
Tracy Austin won the U.S. Open, beating Martina Navratilova in the semifinals and Chris Evert-Lloyd in the final. That in itself is notable, but Austin was only 16 years and nine months old, making her the youngest U.S. Open winner ever.
September 16: The great balloon escape
Before dawn on September 16, police in the town of Naila, West Germany, encountered two men who asked if they were in the West. They were Peter Strelzyk and Günter Wetzel, who had spent the past year-and-a-half designing and building a hot air balloon in which to escape East Germany, despite the fact that they had no instructions nor any experience with balloons.
They had loaded their wives and children, eight people in all, into the homemade balloon and flew across the border. The 28-minute flight had taken them 25 kilometers. During that time, they discovered a hole in the balloon, fought a fire, and encountered freezing temperatures. Wetzel injured his leg in the landing.
Their story made worldwide news and was made into a Disney film, Night Crossing, in 1982.
September 22: The Vela Incident
Was there a nuclear explosion on September 22, 1979? Officials assume that there was, but we still don’t know where, or who was responsible.
The American Vela Hotel satellite, deployed to detect nuclear tests, registered a “double flash” signal over the Southern Hemisphere on September 22. Every double flash signal received before that time coincided with a nuclear test, but no nation had publicly scheduled or admitted to a test on that date.
While some sheep in Australia were found to contain iodine-131 after the event, there was not enough evidence to conclude that a nuclear device had been tested. Some details of the incident remain classified.
September 23: Anti-nuclear demonstration
Nearly 200,000 people descended on New York City to protest the building of nuclear power plants. The rally was on the fifth day of a week-long series of the No Nukes Concerts organized by Musicians United for Safe Energy. Speakers included Ralph Nader and Jane Fonda.
The protest was one of many that year, sparked by concerns after a partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in March of 1979.
September 23: Trapper John, M.D.
Of the three M*A*S*H spinoffs (although it was technically a spinoff of the 1970 movie MASH), Trapper John, M.D. was the only one that lasted more than two seasons.
The series premiered on September 23, 1979, three-and-a-half years before M*A*S*H ended. Pernell Roberts played Trapper John McIntyre, a surgeon drafted into the Korean War played by Elliot Gould in the movie and Wayne Rogers in the TV series M*A*S*H. Set in the present time, the show aired on CBS until 1986.
September 24: CompuServe goes online
CompuServe was founded in 1969 as a computer sharing service, accessible by phone. In 1979, the company’s MicroNET project launched as a service to provide home computer users with news, forums, and games. As such, it was the first internet service provider.
MicroNET soon changed its name to CompuServe Information Service (CIS) and introduced chat and email. CompuServe was clunky and expensive, but it was the go-to online portal before the World Wide Web was born.
September 25: Evita hits Broadway
The Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita had been performed in London for a year, and in a couple of theaters in California, when it opened at the Broadway Theater in New York City on September 25, 1979. The original Broadway cast was led by Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Evita ran for 1,567 performances plus 17 previews, and finally closed in 1983.