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'War of the Worlds' broadcast turns 75


Posted on Thursday, 31 October, 2013 | Comment icon 25 comments

Many listeners believed the broadcast was genuine. Image Credit: Henrique Alvim Correa
It has been three quarters of a century since Orson Welles' infamous broadcast about an alien invasion.
For the radio adaptation of H.G Wells' classic 1898 novel "The War of the Worlds", Howard Koch produced a modernized version in the form of a faux news broadcast complete with special bulletins and an announcer giving live updates as though it were a real event.

The broadcast went out on October 30th 1938 and was read by Orson Welles who provided a chilling and convincing performance as he told terrified listeners that invaders from Mars had arrived and were slowly taking over the planet.

The broadcast gained legendary notoriety because it was so convincing that many people at the time believed that the invasion was actually happening. There has been much speculation over the years as to whether the extent of the panic experienced following the broadcast had been exaggerated by the press, but the fact remains that it caused quite a bit of panic.

"I'm not denying at all that people weren't emotionally engaged," said associate professor Michael Socolow. "I'm not even saying they weren't scared - I'm saying the reports of panic or terror were enormously exaggerated."

According to 81-year-old Grovers Mill resident Robert Sanders, Jr. who recalls the broadcast first-hand, the street outside his house had become jam-packed with vehicles as people rushed out to catch a glimpse of the invaders. Reports also suggested that one resident named William Dock even fired a gun at a local water tower because he believed it to be an alien war machine.

Source: National Geographic | Comments (25)

Tags: War of the Worlds

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #16 Posted by psyche101 on 1 November, 2013, 2:58
well, now he's gonna play everyone. all the roles. in everything. tom cruise as emma, in "emma: the tom cruise story"! based on a novel by tom cruise. :D :tu: :lol: After Jack Reacher, he might be better playing a woman than a big tough guy........ You guys do realise that Paul Hogan is out of work these days............... wouldn't hurt to step up a bit...... Hang on, what's that movie where the hero dies pretty early in it?? We might be able to work something here......
Comment icon #17 Posted by highdesert50 on 1 November, 2013, 12:27
The original broadcast is an great example of how we as humans respond to novelty, where novelty is defined as the unexpected given a specific setting. This effect is further exaggerated when the potential for injury or death is involved in the event. Yet, once realized, the novelty becomes learned and potentially benign if not amusing.
Comment icon #18 Posted by scowl on 1 November, 2013, 16:17
One of the first motion pictures was a simple scene of a train racing down the tracks toward the camera, when people say it they jumped out of the way, fearing they would actually be run down by the locomotive. I have heard it said (although it may be apocryphal) that when King Kong first aired some people ran screaming from the theater. Urban legends, both of them.
Comment icon #19 Posted by kannin on 1 November, 2013, 22:28
epic prank, legandary
Comment icon #20 Posted by Gomar on 8 November, 2013, 23:59
A case of crying wolf. What if it does happen for real, ET lands on Earth, and says howdy. Will anyone believe it, or will the little green man be taken to a big white room?
Comment icon #21 Posted by DONTEATUS on 9 November, 2013, 3:38
Lighten up on Tom Cruise ! HE`s got a ticket to Ride ! And the Sooner he gets on the Nike express to Where ever the Hell they think there from the Better Earth will be ! I say Get Off my Planet A$$#OLE
Comment icon #22 Posted by YoshiYoshi on 14 February, 2014, 17:59
oh, it's true. we americans are always ruining english classics with 75 year old radio broadcasts. can't hardly stop us. in fact, i'm gonna go and ruin northanger abbey with a 75 year old radio broadcast right now! where did i put my time machine? Ahaha yes i agree, we americans are all fans of george bush! We love our apple pie and sure as sugar do love ruining the morally and verbally superior Brits
Comment icon #23 Posted by DBunker on 14 February, 2014, 20:20
The truth is that the panic was exaggerated. The majority of listeners did not think it was real. I think a handful of ignorant red-necks got scared back in the days.... I wonder what it would take, to day, to freak people out like that??
Comment icon #24 Posted by DONTEATUS on 15 February, 2014, 3:29
I think a handful of ignorant red-necks got scared back in the days.... I wonder what it would take, to day, to freak people out like that?? DId you see the B-movies ? Clover field ? I think That was the movies name. It was kinda scary ! It came out in 08 . What If they really came to feast ? We would be toast !
Comment icon #25 Posted by scowl on 17 February, 2014, 17:52
I think a handful of ignorant red-necks got scared back in the days.... I wonder what it would take, to day, to freak people out like that?? The War of the Worlds prank was repeated in Quito, Ecuador in 1949 which really did cause panic. It was caused mostly by secondhand information of what was really being broadcast being passed to people who weren't listening to it. Most people thought that another country (most likely Peru or Chile) was attacking their city with powerful weapons never seen before. Since this was the beginning of the Atomic Age, it wasn't hard for people to believe that sec... [More]


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