Reliving Radio History This Halloween

This Halloween marks the 71st anniversary of the night The Mercury Theater aired a live production of the H.G. Wells story of a Martian invasion, The War of the Worlds.

At least two websites are offering streaming versions of this historic event that "panicked America."  Produced by and starring Orson Welles, the chilling tale was told as though the radio broadcasters themselves were part of the story at first.

Soon, the conditioned ears of the listeners took the news events coming out of their radios as the truth, and, while there is some speculation of reports like this:
[P]anic ensued, people fleeing the area, others thinking they could smell poison gas or could see flashes of lightning in the distance.

It's still fascinates to this day.  The actual 1938 broadcast of the show is going to be streamed live at WarOfTheWorldsTribute at 8:00pm EST on the 30th of October, and it's really worth a listen.

Also, on Halloween night, student radio station WKNC will do the same with a modernized version here at 7:00pm.

via kottke. | Photo: Orson Welles (Wikimedia Commons)

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Thanks for the memory jog Johnny Cat!

I should have added:

--The playback was from a really bad "quick" recording just for the one advertiser Campbell Soups so that CBS could verify that the commercials ran as scheduled. That was the ONLY recording made of the broadcast, and CBS execs were upset that the "death ray" segment was played a number of times for the reporter's amusement.

It's that same lousy recording that is still playing today on nostalgia re-broadcasts of the Mercury Players Theatre.

One year previous, btw, was the famous "Adam & Eve" skit between Charlie McCarthy and Mae West. So, between the two shows a lot of broadcasters feared that the FCC would really crack down on broadcast rules and regs. In reality, Mae was "banned for life" on radio, which only lasted a few years.

WW 2, on the other hand clamped down on all weather forecasts, non-scripted comments, and dramas purporting to be newscasts.

I would encourage all to listen to the War of the Worlds broadcast.... with the lights out!
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Welles was more interested in opening his "Julius Ceasar" Broadway play than working on his Halloween Mercury Players radio show, so he asked Howard Koch to come up with some content that included a monologue for himself (Welles).

Orson Welles walked into the studio only twenty minutes before air and did the broadcast. Americans were tuned into the Charlie McCarthy show and some 18 minutes into the program, they featured a not-so-good singer and Americans changed the dial just as the Martians were landing at Grovers Mill, NJ.

Some listeners were convinced that the broadcast was code for a Nazi invasion of NY from Canada, while some gathered at churches to pray. Some went to the train station for a ticket anywhere except NJ.

There were no recorded deaths, nor panick, and at the half-hour mark when CBS identified the attack as mere drama, most returned to the Chase & Sanborn hour, missing Welles 20 minute monologue.

The next day Welles held a press conference to apologize, but the reporters only wanted to hear the death ray and Welles left in disgust, turning his attention to the successful Julius Ceasar Broadway show.

Remember that Koch "adapted" War of the Worlds to fit Welles radio format. In the 1980s (I believe) there was a two-hour TV docudrama on the radio broadcast which still might be available.
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