Radio History: 'War of the Worlds' 70 Years Later

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Radio History: 'War of the Worlds' 70 Years Later

Oct 31, 2008 9:12 AM

New York - Oct 30, 2008 - The 70th anniversary of the Mercury Theatre On the Air's presentation of War of the Worlds, the groundbreaking radio broadcast that terrified millions of Americans who thought that the fictional audio play was real and Martians were actually landing in Grover's Mill, NJ, is being remembered by the Radio Heard Here campaign. The original hour-long broadcast aired on the eve of Halloween, Oct. 30, 1938. During the CBS Mercury Theatre On the Air, the program was directed and narrated by Orson Welles, adapted from the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds, with the audio play written by Howard Koch (writer of Casablanca). It simulated a live news report of a Martian invasion with a series of realistic newscasts seeming to interrupt regularly scheduled programming.

According to Ron Simon, curator of radio and television at the Paley Center for Media, "Blurring reality and fiction so seamlessly, Orson Welles established himself as a major artist, and helped to legitimize radio as an artistic medium and major force in American culture."

The broadcast is said to have been heard by over 6 million people that night. According to historians, various factors contributed to the widespread reaction: Tensions were running high leading to World War II, the convincing natural delivery of the cast, long stretches of commercial free airplay and only three disclaimers during the broadcast clarifying its fictional nature. As a result, the show ignited a reaction of fear and confusion among listeners across the country. News reports cited people fleeing their homes, and police lines flooded with listeners trying to determine the validity of the Martian invasion.

The broadcast, considered one of the great moments in media history, continues to live-on through re-airings, live re-enactments and adaptations all over the world, introducing a new generation to the power of radio. Listen to the entire original broadcast at